Though Phil Lesh elected to not participate in the tour, three of the original Grateful Dead members made a Middle Tennessee stop recently with the latest incarnation of the group, The Dead & Company.
This ensemble includes John Mayer, the singer/songwriter responsible for the early-aughts popular tunes “Waiting on the World to Change” and “Your Body Is a Wonderland”; Oteil Burbridge, renowned bassist and longtime member of the Allman Brothers Band; and keyboardist extraordinaire Jeff Chimenti, who has collaborated with core Dead personnel on numerous occasions and projects.
After a massive “farewell event” with Trey Anastasio in Chicago in August 2015, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart just couldn’t stay off the road, and kicked off things with Mayer, Burbridge and Chimenti as The Dead & Company on Oct. 29, 2015, in Albany, N.Y..
The tour made a Music City stop on Nov. 18, taking over Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
After a little noodling around to make sure all of the instruments were in working order, the group launched into “Truckin’” to begin the party in Nashville. “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
The shows on the tour follow the typical Dead format: a first set of eight or so songs, intermission, the standard second-set spaceout and trippy percussion time morphing into a couple more songs, and finally an encore tune or two, which in Nashville happened to be Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”
The tour really highlights Mayer’s lead guitar abilities, as the band affords him long passages of solo time. There are critics among the Dead fanatics—his solos are straightforward, aggressive and blues-oriented, they say, and not as spacy, noodly and psychedelic as Jerry would have played them—but the crowd’s consensus seems to be: that Mayer boy can play, let’s enjoy the music, dance to it and all understand he is a different person than Jerry Garcia. Mayer is adding something fresh to this incarnation of the band; he laid it down and is holding his own among the veteran jammers. Others say overall the song tempos are a little slow this tour, and Mayer’s youthful energy is needed to keep the band rocking.
A massive Steal Your Face skull over the stage contained always-moving colorful, psychedelic graphics, giving the crowd some eye candy to take in.
The first set concluded with crowd favorite “Tennessee Jed,” featuring a nice instrumental jam, followed by a rousing version of “Deal,” most ideal for Mayer’s style.
“What will they have in store for us next?” wondered members of the crowd as the faithful rehashed the first set, shared some of each other’s favorite Dead moments and got to know their concert-going neighbors.
The second set took the crowd from Tennessee to California with “Estimated Prophet” along with “Playing in the Band” and “I Know You Rider.”
Mayer has drawn some new fans into the world of the Dead. Among the diverse crowd, with concertgoers representing a wide range of ages and fashion sensibilities, were those who were primarily John Mayer fans, now introduced to the legendary American jam band.
And with the band’s crossover appeal to both the old-school hippies and the fans of modern pop music, some predict the Dead & Company to be the “it” band of the 2016 festival circuit.
For now, the scheduled Dead & Company dates end with a two-night stint in L.A. at The Forum on Dec. 30 and 31. For more on the band, visit deadandcompany.com. For more on upcoming concerts at Bridgestone Arena, including appearances by Tool, Madonna, Blake Shelton, Justin Bieber and others, visit bridgestonearena.com.
Thanks to nognuisagoodgnu and other loyal tapers for preserving this chapter of Dead history so that everyone can experience the music. Listen to the entire Nov. 18 show from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena: