Dead and Company Roll into Darien Lake, pay tribute to Charlie Watts

Dead and Company continued their Empire State run on Wednesday, August 25 at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, with the amusement park behind the venue giving the performance an county fair vibe. John Mayer sported a pair of headphones after noticing a slight ringing in his ears post show in Bethel Woods and wanted to protect his hearing. The headphones also allowed him to hear the band better and in turn, play in the band better. 

photo by Josh Davis

Mayer immediately lit up the show with opener “Viola Lee Blues.” In a Tales from the Golden Road conversation with NYS Music, Mayer said he loved bringing his approach to the Grateful Dead’s mixolydian blues catalog. “A song like ‘Viola Lee Blues’ I can really pull the Hendrix thing to it. It’s not that different.” Thus, “Viola Lee Blues” jammed and was weaved into both sets. Mayer stayed out front vocally on “Cold Rain and Snow” that hit inland from Lake Ontario to cool off the summer crowd. Bob Weir got on the mic for “Feel Like A Stranger” to remind the crowd that it’s “gonna be a long long crazy silky night” with Oteil Burbridge really fueling the funk level. He told NYS Music earlier this year  “Well I mean there is so much funk in the Grateful Dead’s music. The Jerry Bands’ music. It’s just like there for the picking. So I just lean into it” Oteil and John really bring a new energy to this celebrated catalog and traded lead vocals on a swaying “Ship of Fools.” 

The New York western plain vibe continued with “Friend of the Devil” that had Jeff Chimenti leading with saloon style piano – Chimenti has been playing with Bobby in “Ratdog” for a reason for over 20 years. Bob Weir started howling vocally on “Loose Lucy,” with a tone that night very in the moment and full of raw emotion. Mayer got another stab at the mixolydian blues to close the set with “New Speedway Boogie”.  Mayer said of the musical concept in Dead and Co., “It’s very ascending and descending that’s what’s allows people to ride it”  

photo by Josh Davis

The second set started with a nod to the western terrain of Darien, with “Truckin’” (up to Buffalo), followed by the first song Dead and Company ever played as a group, naturally, “Playing in the Band.”  A beyond welcoming composition for Mayer, Burbridge, and Chimenti who joined the 3 core members on this musical journey six years ago.  Burbridge said in an interview with NYS Music in Miami about the band’s first gig: “That was a harrowing night. That was a trip. That beginning time. But when Bill Walton says you’re good, you stop worrying.”

Visit NYS Music’s interactive Grateful Dead in New York series, So MaNY Roads

The ensemble then unfolded a “China Cat Sunflower” into a “I Know You Rider” that shone the light back on Weir’s vocals, taking on the spirit animal of an old wolf howling under the night tent at Darien. This sole survivor momentum lead into the band’s tribute to Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts who passed earlier this week with a cover of “The Last Time”. Again Bob Weir lead the pack in the moment, “This could be the last time, I don’t know.” Billy and Mickey’s “Drums” segment opened up some chakras with their vibrations, and the band returned for “Space.” After orbiting it was time to bring the children home with “Uncle John’s Band”  The final song of the evening brought great imagery to a late August night with “Wharf Rats” and the band came full circle by closing the show with a reprise of “Playing in the Band.” 

The encore was truly chilling as they covered Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heavens Door.” Although Bobby and John both sported cut off tees like Guns & Roses, this was truly their take on this song, a very heavy way to end a show. A night of music like this brings all your feelings to the surface. Jerry Garcia once said of music’s effects  “I don’t know why. It’s the same reason why you like some kind of music and not others. There’s something about it YOU like. Ultimately I don’t find it’s in my best interests to try and analyze it. Since it’s fundamentally emotional.”

Dead and Company – Darien Lake Amphitheater, Darien Center, NY – 8/25/21

Set 1: Viola Lee Blues > Cold Rain and Snow, Feel Like a Stranger, Ship of Fools, Friend of the Devil, Loose Lucy > New Speedway Boogie

Set 2: Truckin’ > Playing In The Band > Viola Lee Blues > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > The Last Time> Drums/Space > Uncle John’s Band > Wharf Rat > Playing In The Band (Reprise)

Encore: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Photos by Josh Davis

Darien Lake Performing Arts CenterDead and Companygrateful dead