Saratoga Performing Arts Center hosted Dead & Company with John Mayer on Monday, June 11, bringing in over 17,000 head nodding, barefoot dancing, arms-in-the-air, grooving fans to SPAC.
True confession: this was my first experience with a Dead & Company show. And I wasn’t sure what all the fuss would be about. I’d listened to the Dead plenty of times, and while I liked the music, it wasn’t life altering to listen to alone in my room or the car.
The experience of the jam music, however, surrounded by thousands of joyful, if not chemically altered, adults was entirely different than anything listening to tapes could prepare you for. The band opened up with “Jack Straw,” a well-loved favorite. The band felt slower than usual, and like they were struggling to get their feet under them. But the audience didn’t mind, grooving along and smiling. There was a long guitar introduction and what felt a bit like an extended warm-up; fans were tolerant and were overjoyed by the band’s very presence.
John Mayer improved the energy, taking the lead on “Easy Wind” and then “Friend of the Devil.” There was an ease to Mayer’s voice and playing that fit the folk feeling perfectly. John Mayer’s ease stepping in Jerry Garcia’s role enhanced the music with a fresh voice and picking soul, refreshing old folk music with a new vibe.
And the music didn’t stop, it simply picked up the pace in the second set. Varying from jam music to bluegrass to soul, the band played for 90 minutes for their first set, with only a short intermission before returning with a roaring cover of “The Weight.” They played furiously to the end of the set, hitting on old favorites like “Uncle John’s Band” and closing with “Touch of Grey.”
While there were some shockers for this writer, including how absolutely stereotypical the drug use and over drinking was among the crowd, the true surprise of the evening was how intensely relaxing and fun the music could be when played live. The mellow groove that shifted into familiar songs as the night wore on made for a really fun community experience with music. Parents with young children, adults who were old enough to know better (but still drank too much), and young people alike danced together, sang together and remembered their common humanity together.
It is worth a visit to a live Dead & Company concert, if only for the social experiences and energy from the band that changes the sound from what you might hear on the radio to a magical community experience.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Saratoga Performing Arts Center | Saratoga Springs, New York | 6/11/18
I: Jack Straw, Easy Wind > Friend of the Devil, Minglewood Blues, Ship of Fools, Corrina, Cassidy
II: The Weight, Other One Jam > Truckin’ > He’s Gone > New Speedway Boogie > Uncle John’s Band > Supplication Jam > Drums/Space > Uncle John’s Band, Black Peter > Good Lovin’
E: Touch of Grey