Dead & Company Celebrate Halloween At Madison Square Garden

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Images by: Adam McCullough

Dead & Company :: 10.31.15 :: Madison Square Garden :: NYC

Read on after the gallery for more on Saturday’s show.

Earlier this week, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh told the New York Times that he wasn’t looking to play to large audiences much anymore explaining, “It definitely has its limitations artistically, because of the disconnect between the stage and all of those people.” While there is something to be said for the connection between artist and audience at intimate venues, there is also something to be said for a large group of concertgoers experiencing the music they love with each other. The energy of 18,000 Deadheads at Madison Square Garden in New York City last night cheering in unison when Dead & Company hit a peak or kicked into a beloved song was powerful and a sight to behold.

Dead & Company, performing in public for the second time following Thursday night in Albany, continued to gel as Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann teamed with bassist Oteil Burbridge, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and guitarist John Mayer on Halloween night at a venue the Dead sold out 52 times between 1979 and 1994. Mayer’s time at “Grateful Dead University” over the past six months paid huge dividends, while Burbridge brought a more “in-the-pocket” sensibility to the music of the Dead and Weir was in fine form after taking more than a year off from the road.

Twenty years after Jerry Garcia’s death the music of the Grateful Dead is still in high demand as Dead & Company sold out MSG, while Lesh’s Phil & Friends outfit played before a capacity crowd about 45 miles away at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. The audience at MSG featured Deadheads of all ages, backgrounds and genders showing there are many who found the Grateful Dead’s music even after Jerry’s passing.

While some Deadheads voiced disappointment in the selection of Mayer in the days after the lineup for Dead & Company was publicly announced, none of the musicians on stage received bigger cheers from the crowd than the guitarist. John earned the hoots and hollers thanks to a near-flawless evening as he’s developed a sound that mixes his trademark tone with the tones that Garcia perfected over the last few decades of his life. Mayer shined brightly on “Morning Dew,” nailed the vibe and tone of “Estimated Prophet” and left many jaws on the floor with the rapid-fire licks he laid down on songs such as “Deal,” “Eyes Of The World” and “China”/”Rider.” The Connecticut native’s voice fits Jerry songs well and he channeled Warren Zevon with aplomb on the traditional Grateful Dead Halloween cover of “Werewolves Of London,” the evening’s lone encore.

Ever since the Grateful Dead formed in 1965, Bob Weir has been a road warrior. He wasted no time booking long tours for RatDog in the years following Garcia’s death and even hit the road with Kingfish during the one and only Grateful Dead hiatus in 1975. Weir’s time on the road came to a sudden stop last summer, when he suddenly canceled all future dates to work on his health. Dead & Company’s first tour marks Bobby’s return to the road after the longest layoff of his career. The time off seems to have done the guitarist well. Not only did he impress at Fare Thee Well, but he was in strong voice and his signature, weirdly awesome rhythm work propelled Mayer’s leads to great heights at MSG.

Oteil Burbridge seems to be getting comfortable with a canon of material that he hasn’t played often in his career, so it will be interesting to watch how his playing and approach progresses over the course of the next few months. The bassist found the pocket on nearly every tune and received one of the night’s biggest ovations following a sensational solo in “Eyes Of The World.” At times Oteil played a four-string bass, but for most of the evening he used his usual Modulus six-string. There were a number of times he’d pick up on something one of his bandmates was playing which would quickly get their attention and garner huge smiles. After the first set was over, Mayer immediately walked over to Burbridge and gave him a huge hug as if to say, “wow, you are the real deal.”

In Albany, tempo was a big story of the night as many songs were played at a slower pace than typical GD versions. Perhaps it was the setlist in NYC, but the pacing of each song didn’t seem to drag and the tempos weren’t noticeably different from what Deadheads have come to expect. Jeff Chimenti seemed unchained at MSG as he wailed away on grand piano, Brent Mydland’s Hammond organ, synth and Rhodes. It appeared Chimenti didn’t want to step on Bruce Hornsby’s toes with Fare Thee Well, but last night he crushed every solo he was offered. Jeff is underrated as a backing vocalist and one surprising aspect of the night was how tight and powerful the backing vocals were.

Less than a year ago Bill Kreutzmann began his return to the stage following a few slow years after he folded 7 Walkers. The rust Billy showed last December and at the start of 2015 was a thing of the past as he provided a firm rhythmic foundation at Madison Square Garden. Mickey Hart let Kreutzmann do the heavy lifting and was content to throw fills into the mix at a less aggressive level than he did with Fare Thee Well. Hart shined brightest on “Drums” as he helped deliver a dance-friendly start to the segment and later provided the backbone for “Space” by strumming “The Beam.”

The weeks of rehearsals Dead & Company put in before tour was evident. These six musicians will continue to mesh as the tour progresses, but the sextet has already set the bar high just two shows into their debut run. Another impressive aspect of the evening was the production. The lights were strong yet tasteful and the band’s team utilized a giant Steal Your Face logo effectively by working animations into the skull such as a truck driving down a road in “Truckin'” and left the Mets logo within the skull during setbreak. Dead & Company return to Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

Videos (by Scott Gibson)

[Werewolves Of London]

[Terrapin Station]

[Estimated Prophet]

[Althea]

Setlist (compiled by Rob Scalcione for Deadheadland)

Set One: Jack Straw bw jm > New Speedway Boogie bw, Brown Eyed Women jm, Ramble On Rose bw, Althea jm > Cassidy bw > Deal jm

Set Two: Jam > Truckin’ bw > Wang Dang Doodle bw > Truckin’ bw, Estimated Prophet bw > Eyes of the World bw > Jam > Lady With a Fan jm > Terrapin Station bw > Drums > Space > China Cat Sunflower bw > I Know You Rider bw jm jc > Morning Dew bw > One More Saturday Night bw

Encore: Werewolves of London jm bw