Dead and Company Bid New York Goodnight at Citi Field

If it’s summertime and your 7 train is unusually filled with riders in tie-dye, you can be sure Dead & Company is playing at Citi Field.

Since forming in 2015, the Grateful Dead spinoff act featuring an assortment of old band members (guitarist Bob Weir, percussionist Mickey Hart, and (until this tour) drummer Bill Kreutzmann) and accompanying musicians (bassist Oteil Burbridge, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, drummer (and Kreutzmann replacement) Jay Lane, and guitarist John Mayer) has roamed annually—with the exception of 2020’s COVID hiatus—around the U.S., playing stadiums and inspiring fervor in fans both old enough to have seen the Dead in their prime and young enough to have been born after Jerry Garica died.

Discover Grateful Dead shows from over the years across New York State with our interactive map below

Every summer tour the group has embarked on has included a marquee stop at the large Queens venue, a homecoming of sorts for New York area Deadheads and the fanatical followers who hop from city to city to catch the band live.

For a band with songs in their repertoire that were written before the moon landing, Dead & Company has been very successful. Their 2021 summer tour sold the third highest number of tickets of any act in America; GQ noted that while there have been “lots of post-Jerry [Grateful Dead] iterations,” Dead & Co. have “created a nationwide flower-child wave so big that the whole traveling Deadhead apparatus sprang back to life in all its ’80s–’90s glory.” But nothing lasts forever, not even Mayer’s silky smooth solos during “Scarlet Begonias.” In September of last year, the guitarist announced on Instagram that the upcoming 2023 Dead & Company upcoming tour would be the group’s last, with stops in New York City on June 21 and 22, and a week prior at SPAC on June 17 and 18.

Given the advanced ages of the original band members, this tour could very well be the last chance to see what remains of the Grateful Dead as a traveling stadium enterprise. And since the 80s, no large-scale Dead event is complete without Shakedown Street, the impromptu vending area outside each show named after the much beloved song of the same name. I attended the June 21 show and saw fans transform Citi Field’s parking lot into an open air psychedelic bazaar. The stands and vendors were straight out of central casting, selling vegetarian food, floral dresses, homemade jewelry, and dancing bear and turtle doormats, though some were original like the person charging $2/min for back massages. My father-in-law, a Deadhead himself, said Shakedown Street is known for its burritos. After eating one prepared by a guy who looked like Post Malone, I see his point.

As I stood enjoying my dinner, I absorbed the lot’s soundscape: speakers playing “Jack Straw” and what I think was “Cold Rain and Snow” were dueling for aural supremacy, the music punctuated by the sucking and popping of nitrous balloons. Compared to concert concession stands where you have to use your elbows to get what you want, Shakedown Street was wide-open and welcoming, like visiting your hippie aunt and uncle except there are 2000 aunts and uncles, and 100s of cousins, all family here.

dead and company citi field

Getting to my seat after 40 minutes on Shakedown, Dead and Company opened the first night at Citi Field with an appropriate “Shakedown Street.” As the song’s opening guitar chord and drum pattern gave way to its well-known staccato bop, the entire stadium got on its feet and started dancing. I was sitting in the bleachers in Section 524, with “Shakedown” reducing the surrounding audience chairs and stair railings from helpful objects to obstacles impeding movement, as the audience swayed to the tinsel-tinted disco beat. Even from afar, the sound was crystal clear, each instrument discernible—Burbridge’s bass in particular guided the track through its choruses and jams. Next came “Bertha,” another crowd pleaser with an instantly recognizable intro, maintaining “Shakedown’s” danceable pace: for the duration of both songs, the crowd was in motion, flailing like inflatable tube men outside a used car dealership as band sang “I had to mooooove / Really had to move.”

“Ramble on Rose” slowed the set down, letting the crowd relax and sing along to its memorable, playful words. Dead & Co. concerts are social events too, and the slower moments give the audience time to connect with friends and family (or total strangers) at the show. This is, of course, unless you are one of the spinners nestled in left field who, barring terrible weather, just do not stop. They kept twirling during “Ramble’s” undanceable groove and a handful even persisted through to the gig’s end. Salut! Chimenti’s piano chops were on full display in the song’s outro, his fingers crashing on the keyboard with ragtime-like intensity.

Every year, John Mayer seems to get more comfortable playing Garcia’s ghostly role as the band’s lead guitarist. His arpeggiated lead lines are smooth and he’s even nailed down Jerry’s idiosyncrasies, using chromatic notes outside the given chord progression. But on songs like “It Hurts Me Too” and “Althea,” Mayer reminds you that he’s still his own man. During the former, he slaps listeners in the face a little bit with his bluesy note bends, sounding almost as much like Eric Clapton as he does Garcia. On the latter, he leads the band toward a synthesis of the Dead’s straight-ahead 80s rock and his own more in-your-face playing, steering the jam into aggressive directions Jerry’s restrained style was never able to reached “Althea” showed Mayer’s ability to develop his own voice within the confines of a well-established group, taking the song to newfound electric heights. Notably, “Althea” was the first Dead song he got into, he’s made it his own.

Even on the longest day of the year, the sun eventually goes down, and come “Dancing in the Street,” Dead & Co.’s incredible light show began in full swing, reaching a first set climax with “Let It Grow,” a slippery track verging on prog rock with lots of opportunities for jams to go off in different directions. Swirling beams featuring every color of the rainbow radiated behind the band, switching on a dime to visually match the group’s jazzy improvisations. According to Adam Josselson, a fan in attendance from South Jersey, “Let it Grow” was the “jam of the night.” I concur; its force and complexity were unmatched. The stadium, nearly packed to the brim, was most focused during “Let It Grow,” the show’s most technical, least poppy number.

Right before the second set began, Mayer had an announcement to make: he was going to play the rest of the show sitting down because he had hurt his back. After joking that he took a “white pill” and a “blue pill” to ease the pain and asking for sympathy from the middle-aged attendees with back problems of their own, the bouncy opening notes of “China Cat Sunflower” started and the set was off. “It’s nice to see that John Mayer is human and that he suffers from the infirmities that we all do,” said Rich Zweiback, a New York native who saw over 200 Grateful Dead concerts starting in 1979. “The only drugs I took yesterday were Advil and Aleve,” he said. Maybe Mayer should have spent time in Shakedown Street at that makeshift massage parlor?

Naturally, “China Cat Sunflower” flowed directly into “I Know You Rider.” The two songs have been a staple second set pairing since 1969. When “China > Rider” is having a good night, the exact point at which “China” turns into “Rider” is indeterminable. I tested myself, sitting down and listening closely, to see if I could identify the moment when the tunes changed over, and was relieved to have failed. “China > Rider” crams Dead & Co.’s dynamic and emotional range into one song, slowly building toward a loud exclamation.

“St. Stephen” soon followed. After a ferocious jam that rivaled “Let It Grow” in its vigor—one which received loud applause—the song stopped abruptly: some member(s?) missed the re-entry point out of the jam into a verse that caused the band to sound like a skipping CD. Wrapping up early before the famous “William Tell Bridge” could finish, Dead & Co., looking a little frazzled, started strumming “Uncle John’s Band”—it took them time to settle back down. For “Drums,” Mickey Hart played a xylophone-style instrument and was joined by guest percussionist Jeff Russo. Stretching out “Drums” with Russo’s addition led to a shorter “Space,” which soon curled into “The Eleven” jam I was expecting to hear after “St. Stephen.” I love these exploratory parts of the set, but I understand the concertgoers who use them as stretch or bathroom breaks.

Weir’s preeminent moment came in the form of “Stella Blue.” “[He’s] finally old enough that he can lend [the] gravitas that’s needed to that song,” said Zweiback. A tune of solemn wisdom that understands that time vanquishes us all, Weir’s ragged baritone vocals perfectly transmit the song’s pain. Finishing off set two with an upbeat “U.S. Blues” got the crowd hollering and jumping together again, and the encore, “Black Muddy River,” followed right after – performed without a break to accommodate Mayer’s back. Mayer lead the tune, singing in a way that was reminiscent of his soft rock solo albums.

“I was pretty much blown away,” said Greg Schmalbach, a fan who had seen Dead & Co. three times already on this tour. “They’ve been bringing it and they brought it.” Schmalbach caught the Dead in the 90s but was underwhelmed. In 2015, however, he revisited the band around the time of the Fare Thee Well 50th anniversary celebration and has since seen Dead & Co. around 40 times. He claims this recent string of concerts is the best he’s seen the band.

“I can’t argue in good faith that [Dead & Co.] is better than Jerry Garcia, but it’s like a parallel universe where it’s very, very pleasing to my ear,” said Jamie Bliss, a Canadian Dead fan following the band around for five shows with a friend. Dead & Co. gets criticized by some Deadheads who consider them a pale, slow imitation (Dead & Slow is a popular pejorative nickname) of a legendary act, a nostalgia-driven cash-in for corporate rockstars. Bliss isn’t buying it. “When people dismiss older bands as essentially being a nostalgia act, I like to remind them that sometimes nostalgia is all we have left,” he said. To my ears, a jumpy, uptempo song like “Dancing in the Street” was too slow to be effective—it lost its punchy might—but groovy numbers like “Shakedown Street” and “Bertha”—ones with a beat you can settle into—were fine slowed down, as they leave room for the musicians to jive around and explore new sonic territory.

“I didn’t go to a Dead & Co. show until 2020 when I met my wife because I was like, “John Mayer, I just can’t do that, I can’t get on board with this,”” said Josselson. “I basically was dragged there by her and I was pleasantly surprised by his emulation of Jerry. I think the biggest thing about Dead & Co. shows is that the Grateful Dead concert vibe is there, that family culture, you feel that when you’re at that show.”

As I re-boarded the 7 train home after the show, I was surrounded by a true cross-section of Deadheads: old hippie true believers; corporate 50-somethings; bros looking to dip their toes in the counterculture; Gen-Zers sporting Steal Your Face-branded streetwear. All of them had gathered together, differences aside, for roughly four hours to see the remnants of an American institution approaching 60 years. I cannot think of anyone or anything else in this country that can do the same.

Dead and Company – Citi Field – Queens, NY – June 21, 2023

Set 1: Shakedown Street > Bertha, Ramble on Rose, It Hurts Me Too, Dancing in the Street, Althea, Let It Grow

Set 2: China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, St. Stephen, Uncle John’s Band > Drums > Space > The Eleven > Stella Blue, U.S. Blues

Encore: Black Muddy River

Dead and Company – Citi Field – Queens, NY – June 22, 2023

Set 1: Feel Like a Stranger > Franklin’s Tower, Mama Tried, Alabama Getaway, Dear Mr. Fantasy > Hey Jude (Reprise) > Truckin’ > Deal

Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Estimated Prophet > Drums > Space > All Blues > Cumberland Blues > All Along the Watchtower > Morning Dew

Encore: Brokedown Palace

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