Dead & Company – Much More Than Expected

Henya Emmer
Photo by Henya Emmer

Dead & Company was an idea that to most, floating on an initial thought, may have been hard to conceptualize. To a very large amount of the Grateful Dead community there was a vast amount of skepticism around how it could be possible for John Mayer to find his place as the lead guitarist for an adaptation of the Grateful Dead, involving three of the ‘Core Four.’  To many of his faithful fans, Mayer could do no harm.  However, even those who bridged the gap between Mayer fans and Deadheads would likely respond that Mayer may be most likely to have what most would see as a tenuous grasp of the Dead musical lingo.  After all, John Mayer had little knowledge of the depths of the Grateful Dead library until he signed on to this project.  On October 29 in Albany, NY, Dead & Company officially began their first tour.

Fast forward a little over a week, five live shows into what seemed like an experiment.  This newly created band called Dead & Company takes the stage at Madison Square Garden for the sixth show of their first tour; a free show to those lucky enough to score a ticket in a small number of lotteries between sponsoring names like American Express and Headcount.  One could tell from the initial sounds of what would turn into a “Shakedown Street” opener that this experiment had completely transitioned into a band that had found their groove.

The communication among the bandmates was obviously fluid; they were on the same page.  The first set was solid and showed great signs of how this band has matured in a short period of time.  From the first show, it was clear that there was confidence in each individual player, but from the first moment of the first set on November 7 there was an immediate indication that all involved were working as one, including the crowd.

Three of the ‘Core Four’, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, were joined by three other musical monsters, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti, and moved deftly through a quick, hour-long first set, bringing home in strong fashion songs like “I Need a Miracle,” “Cold Rain and Snow,” and “Jack Straw.” The quick set brought up thoughts of whether this free show was going to be a layup for the band and allow them to have a brief two sets, while still keeping their fans happy.

Then came set two.  A strong and long second set is something anyone would be looking for and even more so after a short first set, and what was sought after was certainly delivered.  Bobby, John and the crew came out and fired off with “Help on the Way” and from there they could not be stopped.  One amazing rendition of what could now be seen as age-old jam band tunes flowed into the next.

Jaws were dropped multiple times as Mayer and Burbridge conveyed just how hard they have worked to contribute to this next step in Grateful Dead adaptation.  Dead & Co. gracefully and masterfully presented the crowd with a wonderful, heartfelt “Franklin’s Tower,” sung by Mayer, and really showed what potential they have with a “St. Stephen,” that caused the fans to erupt in cheers multiple times.  This second set, which was nothing short of magical, flowed through eight continual songs that ended with “Drums>Space>The Other One,” before a break in the action was taken.  The set was capped off with Bobby warming the audience with “Stella Blue” and a seamless transition into “Not Fade Away,” which did not seem to end until the band came back out for encore. The crowd just could not be silenced, clapping the drum cadence and continuing to sing, “You know our love will not fade away!”

When the boys did return for encore, everyone was announcing what song they expected for encore and even those who did not guess right were not disappointed.  Dead & Company finished off their sixth show of the tour, the third at Madison Square Garden, with an unbelievable “Brokedown Palace.” Everyone has heard Bob Weir sing that song many times.  However, hearing John Mayer contribute to the singing with Bobby was something that brought a free concert, filled with such fun and emotion, to a very happy ending.

Setlist:

Set One: Shakedown Street > I Need A Miracle > Cold Rain & Snow, Tennessee Jed, They Love Each Other, Jack Straw

Set Two: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, He’s Gone > St. Stephen > Drums > Space > The Other One > Stella Blue > Not Fade Away

Encore: Brokedown Palace