Dead & Company featuring Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart joined by John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge played one of the country’s most historic ballparks on Friday with their first of two shows at Fenway Park in Boston. Once again, one-time Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux – who previously joined the group at Bonnaroo and at Citi Field in New York City – sat-in with Dead & Company.
The six-piece opened with a fierce jam they eventually worked into “Jack Straw.” One of Donna’s signature songs, “The Music Never Stopped” came next and featured her first guest spot of the night. The tune saw Mayer use a particularly Jerry-esque tone. While the tempo of “Jack Straw” and the beginning of “Music” were slow-paced, the band picked up steam as they barreled through the jam of the latter Dead song. Earlier this month Dead & Company debuted their take on Junior Parker’s “Next Time You See Me” and Fenway fans were treated to the group’s second-ever rendition. The blues classic was right in John Mayer’s wheelhouse both vocally and instrumentally. “Next Time You See Me” also contained a frenetic organ solo from Chimenti.
Dead & Company took it down a notch with a “Loser” delivered by Weir. Godchaux emerged to add harmony vocals on the Hunter/Garcia gem. Hart and Kreutzmann provided a throbbing beat as Bobby sang from his heart and John wailed on his Paul Reed Smith axe. Donna Jean sat out the next one which Bobby described as “one for the kids” and “another slow song” – “Peggy-O.” From there, the sextet launched into “Help On The Way.”
Mayer sang lead with back up from Godchaux and ripped throughout the solo before the band embarked on the “Slipknot!” that linked “Help” and the set-closing “Franklin’s Tower.” Oteil was in fine form throughout the triumvirate as he has clearly become more comfortable with the material. Burbridge also sported a huge smile throughout the set and worked a nifty “Blue Sky” (Allman Brothers Band) tease into “Franklin’s.” Donna Jean made her fourth appearance of the set on “Franklin’s Tower.” Weir urged concertgoers to take the time to visit HeadCount’s Participation Row during setbreak, register to vote and “vote the assholes out of office and then we’ll all be a lot better.”
Watch Oteil throw a “Blue Sky” riff into “Franklin’s”:
The band came out swinging with a “St. Stephen” to open the second set after a 40-minute setbreak. Both Mayer and Burbridge went to town during the meaty “St. Stephen” jam stringing together licks and leads that left many jaws on the floor. The Live Dead era nuggets kept coming with “Dark Star.” Weir and Chimenti shined in particular on “Dark Star” with Jeff making full use of nearly every keyboard in his rig and Bobby throwing in deliciously weird chords. Mickey Hart went over to The Beam at one point to add a drone to the wild improvisation. The music eventually faded to near quiet, when Bobby led a transition into “Terrapin Station.” Donna Jean Godchaux returned to the stage ahead of the “Inspiration” part of “Terrapin” which was sung by Weir while Mayer sang “Lady With A Fan.” The sextet then built the coda to a furious climax.
An eventful “Drums” saw the guitarists stick around for a bit, while Hart utilized a theremin. “Drums” also gives Dead & Company’s light designers a chance to show off wild graphics to accompany the beats. Oteil moved over to Mickey’s rig to work over a vibraphone, while Kreutzmann pounded away and Hart honked a series of horns that are part of his massive rig. Burbridge got in on the action by squeaking a few brass horns of his own. Jeff Chimenti also returned to the stage to get in on the “Drums” action.
The instrumentalists returned as Hart garnered drones from The Beam and one of the more melodic “Space” segments of the tour started. Mayer and Chimenti hinted at “The Wheel,” but when the full band came back Dead & Company took a few more shots at the end of “Terrapin Station.” The final notes of “Terrapin” gave way to “Morning Dew.” John Mayer first played the Bonnie Dobson cover that the Grateful Dead made their own when he helped Phil Lesh & Friends re-create Cornell ’77 back in June ’15 and it was his best song of the night. D&C’s “Morning Dews” have been showcases for Mayer’s emotional riffing with the guitarist upping his game seemingly on each one. The Fenway “Morning Dew” featured another powerful solo from the Connecticut native who was urged on by Oteil’s out of the box bass work and Jeff’s beautiful piano melodies. Bobby should also be commended for his powerful vocal delivery.
Up until the final song of the set Donna Jean Godchaux had spent little of the second set on stage. Donna did return to join Bobby, Jeff and John in singing the “Casey Jones” set closer. Dead & Company performed “Casey Jones” at a fairly fast tempo especially as they barreled through the end of the song. Four shows into this tour D&C debuted a Mayer-sung “Black Muddy River” and just a few weeks later the fourth version of the run served as the first song of the encore in Boston. It’s no surprise the six-piece has played it so much since they do a wonderful job with the last song Jerry Garcia sang publicly. “U.S. Blues” ended the show, giving the audience one more chance to shake their bones. Weir and Mayer shared lead vocals with Donna Jean Godchaux emerging to sing harmony. The band returns to Fenway Park on Saturday night. A webcast is available via nugs.tv.
Full Show Audio (Taped by Keith Antaya)
Setlist (via RatDog.org)
Set One: Jam > Jack Straw (bw/jm) > The Music Never Stopped* (bw), Next Time You See Me (jm), Loser* (bw), Peggy-O (bw), Help On the Way* (jm) > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower* (jm)
Set Two: St. Stephen (all) > Dark Star (bw) > Terrapin Station* (jm/bw) > Drums > Space > Terrapin Jam > Morning Dew (bw) > Casey Jones (jm/bw)*
Encore: Black Muddy River (jm), U.S Blues (jm/bw)*
* with Donna Jean Godchaux
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