It’s been over 30 years since the Dead were here, so it’s been a long wait for Texas Deadheads. Yes, what a ‘long, strange trip it’s been‘ (and continues to be). The Dead & Company current mix has been together two years and the buzz is it’s the best one ever. The band includes original members Bob Weir– guitar, Mickey Hart-drums, Bill Kreutzmann– drums, plus Mayer– guitar, Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band)- bass, Jeff Chimenti -Keyboards/Piano. The fact there have always been two drummers is quite unique and part of their success. With the original members over 70, and John at 40 there’s an age spread but Mayer brings youthfulness and energy (not to mention acclaimed guitar playing) that binds them. The only real visual differences were Weirs gray hair and Birkenstocks, and Mayer’s nice black kicks, Nike since he’s now a collaborator/designer, and no gray hair (yet). Although no one can ever replace Jerry Garcia, Mayer fills in with ease. For those still on the fence about Mayer, seeing him live they became true believers after the first set. Mayer isn’t the guy we knew a few years ago. He’s matured. You might say he’s so mature now that he’s playing with these legends (or is it the other way-Mayer injecting energy into these legends to keep them going?). He’s come a long way since the cocky, self-diagnosed egomaniac version in his 30s. After much bad press and self-imposed, silent exile in Montana recovering from throat surgery, he’s emerged a more thoughtful, respectful and humble person/artist. His heartfelt post on his Instagram page is a worthy read even if you don’t love social media: “This band has developed a soul all its own but I play in constant emotional, psychological and musical deference to Jerry Garcia”. Beautifully written and perhaps geared just as much, if not more, towards his band mates as to deadhead fans. Mayer just finished his own tour and posted on Instagram that his upcoming New Year’s Eve show will be his last solo gig for a while, hinting it’s better to be part of a group than go it alone.
Bob also finished a solo tour (for his 2016 album) and sounds fantastic and looks healthy, on top of his game. Looking a bit more like Garcia these days, thank God Weir is recovered from various addictions (drugs, painkillers, etc.) and is still here. He’s been open in interviews about past LSD and other drug experimentation. The longevity and endurance he’s had for almost 50 years in the band (he was only 16 when he joined) is likely a record. He’s hinted at getting the current guys to ride on the same bus together to get the same inspiration, collaboration and feel of the old days of Grateful Dead tours. His bio movie, “The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir”, shows a lot of what his life was like on the road with the band and is a must see for fans.
The show started slow and chill with “Jack Straw” but gathered energy and momentum almost with every song. There is dancing and spinning, tons of reefer smoke, and an unexplainable momentum of crowd energy that builds up during a song that reverberates throughout the arena. The show was jam-packed and ran 4 hours with 2 full sets and an intermission. Showcasing their timeless lyrics, simple words, and more jam than actual lyrics- it was heaven for true music/jam-band lovers. Jam band followers (think Phish, Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band) like to get lost in the music, appreciating musical talents, the imagery on-screen, really feeling or experiencing a show without being bogged down by lyrics. Mayer completely gets into a song and it’s fun to watch his many facial expressions as he loses himself.
The set list was truly unique and diehard fans loved it. We talked to serious Deadhead (over 50 shows) that were in heaven and had high praise for Mayer who had won them over watching him live. All the songs were from the original Grateful Dead catalog so it was nostalgic and euphoric and not a complete surprise. Newbies don’t know that not every show has big hits like “Truckin” and the set is completely different at every show, no two shows are the same. It’s their thing. It must take the band countless hours to create such unique and special set lists for the tour considering the vastness of the catalog. There was “Uncle John’s Band” for those that longed for the biggest hits. Mayer played a jammin’ “Ramble On Rose”. The two continued to trade the lead singer role throughout.
Visually the show is amazing with a cool ethereal, psychedelic, kaleidoscope of video and matching sounds. During one song, a tribute to Garcia when his head appeared on one of the klaidascope images on screen. The sun is a main focus and the lights were incredible, a full spectrum of yellow to purples and blues. There was a cool drum solo on vertical drums with Mayer filming from behind on his instagram live. The stage was massive and they needed it. Beautiful ethnic rugs on the floor, huge drum sets and a large piano and keyboard.
Being at this show is nostalgic and is an entirely new level of coolness. It takes you right back to the 60s peace and love movement. There is much of the same in society now with political unrest, social injustice, vast grass-roots movements. There were plenty of headbands, long hair, Garcia lookalikes, and an obsession of tie-die shirts. Just like the sixties, a full hippie festival was being held before the show in a park near the arena with vendor tents, Deadhead items for sale, a chill vibe, and good tunes.There’s plenty of memorabilia for the serious collector. Like before, diehard Deadhead fans following the band were outside the arena begging for tickets to the show. There were many groups of guys, buddies attending their billionth show together and being as in awe as ever before, remarkable. This show will definitely rank near the top of our “BEST CONCERTS OF 2017” out soon.
Notes: What we didn’t know at the time of the show was that Mayer would have emergency appendix surgery a few days later and the remaining shows were rescheduled for early 2018 giving the band an early break for the holidays. Also, each Dead show has had a special meeting for drug/alcohol free people at each show-they’re called Wharf Rats, named after a Grateful Dead song about a down-and-out wino. The band would originally allow them to set up a table at the concert and the band embraced them because Grateful Dead shows can be tempting for addicts. They call themselves ‘sober hippies’. Now you can find them at a table with yellow balloons to get the support you need in a ‘slippery environment’.
Cold Rain & Snow
Next Time You See Me
Ramble On Rose
If I Had The World To Give
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
The Other One
Uncle John’s Band
One More Saturday Night