Thank You For A Real Good Time: Dead & Company Return To Citi Field – Review, Photos & Videos
Words by: Chad Berndston
Images by: Adam McCullough
Dead & Company :: 6.26.16 :: Citi Field :: Queens, NY
OK, I’ll buy it: Dead & Company are for real.
That’s a qualified statement, because if you’re heading into a Dead & Company show with a certain set of expectations, you might ignore an impulse to just enjoy – to have the proverbial good time – and give in to a more cynical, disappointed point of view.
You’re not going to find a primal, hard-charging, furiously energetic interpretation of Grateful Dead music; if you’ve been nourished by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, this sounds maddeningly slow. You’re not going to find the same experimental jones that can make Phil Lesh & Friends a “will the magic visit tonight” kind of wild card. You’re not going stroll through a lot scene like the one at Citi Field and be able to ignore that this all might be as tired-looking as the greybeards who’ve been working that scene for decades.
Here’s what you will find, though: a buoyant band, with a welcoming spirit, that, judged on its own merits and aware of its strengths and how to play to them, is a pretty damn good experience with Grateful Dead music.
It was a gorgeous night in New York, people seemed to be smiling and vibing in the right direction, and you could feel a collective warmth whenever Dead & Company hit some golden moment of lagniappe – such as Oteil Burbridge getting to sing a verse of “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” not long after a “Let Oteil sing” sign flashed on the jumbotron cam, and the crowd going wild as a result.
I felt that more frequently than I thought I would during this sprawling show, which hit on a nice Sunday rock ‘n’ roll feel with “St. Stephen,” “The Music Never Stopped” and “Bertha” in the first set and gave into tender folk, patient groove, impressively out psychedelia, and a proper gospel-boogie finale with the inevitable “Samson & Delilah.” I felt it when John Mayer hit the note again and again during a ribbony “Franklin’s Tower” solo, or when he and Weir and the others sang passionately in the final verses of “Box of Rain,” the honesty in the singing making you temporarily forget that this is a band of thin, wobbly singing voices. I felt it seeing Donna Jean, whose contributions were more symbolic than musical, reclaiming her spot up there as a member of the extended family. I felt it especially so at the beginning of the second set, when the band lit into a slow, lilting, just-this-side-of-reggae groove and surprised the crowd a bit when it became “Truckin’,” the usual chug to begin that song sneaking up on us instead of making itself obvious.
“Truckin’” took its sweet time – this isn’t a freight-train kind of band, isn’t trying to be, and celebrates, rather than resigns to, what it can do with a midtempo groove. The jam out of “Truckin’” insisted we move at its speed, such that when the band shifted into a marvelous “He’s Gone,” time had slowed, the groove had slowed, the vibes had cooled, but we weren’t sleepy, we were locked in. We were so locked in that we were right there with every last “Nothing’s gonna bring him back” vocal refrain, and then as the band wound down and lit into “Help On the Way” – would they play the entire Help/Slip/Franklin’s meal right in the middle of the set? Yes, they would! – it zapped the whole place like a lightning bolt.
Dead & Company took some time to grow into itself – and has much room to grow still, and will, if the band members are willing. But you also get the sense this band knew what it was from the first day, even if the rest of us weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Weir looks like he’s having fun, and the drummers are egging each other on when it comes time to really make that multi-armed octopus stir up a ruckus. Oteil has brought this music into his orbit – he’s not here to be Phil – while serving it faithfully. Jeff Chimenti is as reliable as a setting sun – he’ll be remembered as one of the great swingmen of the post-Jerry era of Grateful Dead bands. And Mayer, well, yeah: he’s earned his place here, and seems above all earnestly interested in what he can lend to this legendary music. I bought that he treats this – all this – respectfully, but not as a temple where nothing can be touched or altered and he’s merely expected to play some gnarly guitar parts. Guy can shred, as more than one person has noted, and he can also hang.
How they arrived at this interesting personality so quickly is something only they know, but Dead & Company would be a different band with any one of these players missing or different. This might just have legs.
Videos (Captured by Sean Roche)
Set One: St. Stephen, The Music Never Stopped*, Bertha*, Black Throated Wind, Peggy-O, Box of Rain, Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad*
Set Two: Truckin> He’s Gone* > Help On the Way* > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower* > drums > space > Days Between > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider*
Encore: Samson & Delilah*
* w/Donna Jean Godchaux-Mackay, vocals