Dead & Company Welcomes Justin Vernon At Alpine Valley
On Saturday night Dead & Company continued their third multi-night stand of the summer with the second of two shows at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. For their finale in East Troy, the six-piece act welcomed their first guest of the summer for a string of songs in the first set which was followed by arguably one of their best sets from this run.
Dead & Company got their third set at the 37,000-capacity shed going with a slow and patient version of “The Music Never Stopped.” The Blues For Allah track segued straight into “Easy Answers” giving the start of the evening a swampy funk bent. John Mayer got his first chance of the night to sing lead next on “Alabama Getaway.” The mostly straightforward rendering featured some heavy bass lines from Oteil Burbridge, which were again heard during “Big River.” The Johnny Cash cover contained a fantastic solo from Jeff Chimenti who was utilizing his Hammond B3 organ as well as Mayer’s first standout work of the night. Some brief noodling led D&C into “Jack Straw” as Mayer and Weir swapped lyrics as it gradually built up steam, but never quite got worked into a frenzy as past versions.
Weir next welcomed out his “new friend Justin” to the stage as Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon emerged. Vernon’s appearance wasn’t that much of a surprise as the singer-songwriter announced that he would be sitting in with the band earlier in the day via Twitter. The Eau Claire, Wisconsin native took front and center as he sang lead on “Black Muddy River” offering up his signature vocal style including his falsetto on the latter-day Grateful Dead favorite. Vernon had previously teamed up with his first band DeYarmond Edison to back Bruce Hornsby on a studio version of the In The Dark track for The National’s Day Of The Dead charity compilation. Vernon & Co. reprised their role on the song as Hornsby’s backing band in 2016 during the Day Of The Dead set at the Eaux Claires Music Festival.
Vernon would stick around for the remainder of the set. The ad-hoc ensemble offered up a slightly sloppy take on “Friend Of The Devil” that featured Weir, Mayer and Vernon each singing a verse. The highlight of the set came next as the now seven-piece act dug in on a must-hear version of “Bird Song.” Last night’s take on the ode to Janis Joplin saw Mayer and Vernon locked in throughout as they played face-to-face serving up a few extended psychedelic-tinged stretches that helped bring the opening frame to a close.
The second set of the night got underway with “The Weight” as Weir, Mayer, Burbridge and Chimenti shared vocal duties on The Band’s signature song. A lengthy take on “Shakedown Street” followed as the band moved from disco-funk into free-form exploratory territory as they once again showed off their adventurous side. “Althea” was tapped next. With Weir on slide guitar, Mayer delivered another exceptional version on what has become his signature tune with the band. The stand out stanza continued with a burner of a take on the traditional pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider.” The stage was then turned over to Mickey Hart and Bill Kruetzmann as The Rhythm Devils put their arsenal of percussion instruments on display during “Drums.”
A foray into “Space” eventually worked its way into “All Along The Watchtower.” Weir delivered one of his best turns of the night on the Bob Dylan tune. An impassioned take on late-period Dead chestnut “Standing On The Moon” followed. D&C brought the Saturday night party vibes back with “Sugar Magnolia” which featured an odd moment as Weir knocked over his microphone stand in frustration as he had been having issues with his mic cutting in and out during the set. The move elicited a roar from the crowd and a fiery ending to the set. The sextet brought their two nights in the Milwaukee suburb to a close with a day appropriate “One More Saturday Night” to conclude one of their best sets of the summer.
Dead & Company are now off the road until Friday when they will kick off the West Coast leg of their tour at The Gorge in George, Washington. A webcast will be available via nugs.tv.
Set I: The Music Never Stopped > Easy Answers, Alabama Getaway, Big River, Jack Straw, Black Muddy River*, Friend Of The Devil*, Bird Song*
Set II: The Weight, Shakedown Street, Althea, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > All Along The Watchtower > Standing On The Moon > Sugar Magnolia
Encore: One More Saturday Night
* with Justin VernonDead & Company