Images by: Adam McCullough
Words by: Scott Bernstein
Dead & Company :: 11.12.17 :: Madison Square Garden :: NYC
Check out Adam’s gallery after the review.
Madison Square Garden came alive with the music of the Grateful Dead on Sunday night, when Dead & Company began a fall tour that was never really supposed to happen. Guitarist John Mayer was expected to focus on his solo career outside of a one-month summer tour with Dead & Company in 2017. However, the summer run went so well on many levels that the band, including Mayer, didn’t want to wait very long before regrouping. Signs of Dead & Company’s summer blossoming were on display in New York City, as the sextet shook off some rust and reached into the Grateful Dead repertoire to unveil a pair of debuts.
Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann along with Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti took the stage shortly after the 7 p.m. start time. The set design included a pair of large screens in which images of the musicians were projected as well as a smaller, more circular screen featuring Grateful Dead iconography and graphics which fit each song. When Dead & Company lit into “Shakedown Street” to start the show the circular screen displayed a 3D image of a disco ball. Looking around The Garden it was hard to find an empty seat and most of those in attendance were loud and in a singalong mood.
At first the sextet sounded well rehearsed and seemed to have shaken off any dust. Mayer’s bluesy licks helped propel the “Shakedown” jam to a high level, while Bob Weir’s chunky rhythms may be often imitated but have never been duplicated. The biggest and most exciting surprise of the night came next as Dead & Company finally played “Greatest Story Ever Told.” Weir was in fine voice and the band was tight as they made their way through the song Bob wrote with Robert Hunter using biblical figures for his debut solo album Ace.
John Mayer had his first chance to sing lead on “Bertha.” Mayer, who wrote a beautiful note about standing in the shadows of Jerry Garcia that he shared before the show, continues to complete the greatest crossover in jam scene history. He is who he is and if you don’t like his voice and the more blues-oriented style in which he solos, odds are he’ll never win you over. But if you do like his voice and soloing style, you’re in for a treat.
“Cassidy” followed “Bertha” and saw Oteil shine in leading the jam into uncharted territory. Burbridge was so in the pocket all night long. Even though his style is far from that of Phil Lesh, it still sounds natural with these songs. The evening’s second and final Dead & Company debut came next in the form of a Weir-sung “Beat It On Down The Line.” D & C’s cohesiveness throughout this song and the first four that started the night was impressive, yet at the end of “They Love Each Other” they had a trainwreck moment. The six-piece couldn’t decide where to end the tune and Weir tried to compensate by laying into “Cumberland Blues.” However, it took his mates a few moments to finally follow along. The cheeky grins to which each member responded showed the band knew there would be moments like this and Weir eventually commented, “Just like a Swiss watch.”
After an obscenely long setbreak, Dead & Company returned to the stage to serve up the familiar pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider.” The band was in fine form throughout the suite (outside a few lyric flubs) and the crowd reacted in kind. Weir’s vocal phrasings on Jerry songs take getting used to and the audience was having none of it. Fans sang the climax of “Rider” at the cadence Garcia did, while Bobby had his own take on such lines as “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train.”
Oteil had his lone chance to sing lead as part of a tandem with Mayer on “Ship Of Fools.” Though D&C played “Ship Of Fools” during their inaugural tour in the Fall of 2015, the song was shelved until the summer tour finale. Apparently, that version at Wrigley went well as “Ship Of Fools” returned for the fall tour opener. Next up was an impressive “Terrapin Station” in which the Weir/Mayer interplay was divine.
The Rhythm Devils were left to their own devices following “Terrapin Station.” Hart and Kreutzmann have a new setup at the middle of stage featuring glowing red pads which are linked to samples. The beginning of “Drums” was interesting, yet it dragged a bit before the instrumentalists returned for “Space.” Hart accompanied Oteil, John, Bob and Jeff throughout the quick “Space” segment. Weir seemed ready to move on, but Hart was focused on The Beam. Billy leaned into his talkback mic and said something to his mates that led Mickey to strum The Beam again. Kreutzmann laughed, while Weir seemed unimpressed.
“Standing On The Moon” was the call out of “Space” and though a slow song following 15-20 minutes of “Drums”/”Space” might not have seemed to be a wise choice, Dead & Company pulled it off. Bobby’s voice fit the Hunter/Garcia ballad nicely and he belted the lyrics from his heart with the “San Francisco” mentions garnering applause from some in the audience. “Standing” gave way to a wild “The Other One” featuring a particularly bluesy intro led by Mayer that showed the Stevie Ray Vaughan influence in his playing. “The Other One” was by far the improvisational highlight of the night thanks to risk-taking and adventurous performing from all six members of the band.
“Casey Jones” ended the second set and gave the packed MSG crowd another chance to sing their hearts out. Dead & Company returned to the stage for a “Samson & Delilah” encore, a fitting choice for a Sunday. However, just when fans thought the show was over, the sextet had other plans. Mayer and Weir traded verses on a fun cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London” to bring the night to a close. Dead & Company continues fall tour on Tuesday back at Madison Square Garden. A webcast of the second show and all D&C fall performances are available via livedead.co.
Photos by Adam McCullough
Pro-Shot Video via nugs.tv
Videos (Captured by btragal)
Dead & Company at Madison Square Garden
- Shakedown Street
- Greatest Story Ever Told
- Beat It On Down the Line
- They Love Each Other
- Cumberland Blues
- China Cat Sunflower
- I Know You Rider
- Ship of Fools
- Terrapin Station
- Standing on the Moon
- The Other One
- Casey Jones
- Samson and Delilah
- Werewolves of London
- Upcoming Shows