Dead & Company A Concert Review by Fred Stal
The latest incarnation of the legendary Grateful Dead, called Dead and Company, delighted an exuberant crowd this past Sunday night at Citi Field. The band consists of original members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Heart. The band also includes Jeff Chimenti on keys, the always-smiling Oteil Burbridge on bass guitar, and the well-known John Mayer filling in for the late Jerry Garcia. Filling in on many shows most recently, longtime Dead collaborator Donna Jean Godchaux.
The first set of music began with the old favorite anthemic “St. Stephen” which also featured a jam on the classic “The Eleven”. It was a blistering opener that paid homage to the early days of Dead. Next up in the set was the appropriate “The Music Never Stopped” with vocal assistance from Donna Jean Godchaux. Her image onstage and voice is a reminder of the 1970’s Grateful Dead in which her late husband Keith was the full-time keyboardist. It was a transitional period at that time for the band, and arguably their best era of music. During the evening, you could see many fans both old and new, closing their eyes and appreciating the music and the legacy of it all. Much more than nostalgia, this was a very energetic and novel take on a one of a kind band.
Other first set highlights included a vocal lead by John Mayer on “Bertha”, the Bob Weir penned “Black-Throated Wind”, and the traditional “Peggy-O”. “Box of Rain” was only missing one thing, the presence of original bassist Phil Lesh who wrote the tune with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. A deeply personal song, with lyrics that read “such a long long time to be gone, and a short time to be there”. To close out the first set was “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, which was originally written by Henry Whitter. The Grateful Dead were known for the subculture that grew around them, their early days of San Francisco free love, and improvisation. They also paid tribute to the early roots of American music, as well as themselves being great contributors to the American songbook. Much more than an extension of the 60’s, there is so much more about them that has gone overlooked by many.
The second set was introduced by a free-form jam sequence preceding the classic “Truckin”, followed by “He’s Gone”. The music turned, twisted and coiled like the old days, and somehow the spirit of Jerry Garcia was ever-present even in his physical absence. What very well may be the musical highlight of the entire evening was the composition “Help On the Way -> Slipknot -> Franklin’s Tower”. John Mayer definitely did his homework and really does understand the music of this band. Known for jamming, there is a lot of structure and composition in the music as well, and especially in this medley. It was indeed executed with precision, and the crowd certainly let the band know. A staple of Grateful Dead concerts, the Drums->Space was a different experience from previous generations. Very much alive and tuned in; Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (also known as the Rhythm Devils) provided a different kind of drum experience, incorporating some elements of both traditional and modern electronic as well as experimental music. Think Philip Glass meets World music meets EDM. It’s always a musical journey with those two together.
Next in the second set, “Days Between” was introduced by an extended piano solo that steered in a classical music direction. The song was penned by Robert Hunter (lyrics) and Jerry Garcia (music) in 1993. It is an inspired look back on the early days, the formative years before the Grateful Dead. The lyrics are also featured on the back cover of bassist Phil Lesh’s autobiography “Searching for the Sound”.
To close out this wonderful evening of music, the fan favorites “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” embraced the psychedelia and Americana that the Dead are famous for. Lastly, the traditional “Samson and Delilah” featured fine drums, biblical references and lyrics such as “If I had my way, I would tear this old building down”. Being at Citi Field, this was very appropriate and the band managed to do their magic. Giving depth, and breadth to the pioneering sound that no one can pull off quite like the Dead. The spirit of the music was ubiquitous throughout the evening. This is definitely worth checking out whether a big fan or not. Told with fresh perspective, this musical story continues to shine with the Dead and Company.