Concert Review: Dead & Company

Date: Thursday, October 14, 2021
Time: 7:00 p.m. Central
Venue: Dos Equis Pavilion
Place: Dallas, Texas USA

I love live music. I love it. I love it so much that I will willingly see bands I know I won’t like just because there are few things I enjoy more than live music. There are, of course, many exceptions. For instance, I would never in a million years see Nicki Minaj or Justin Bieber or Cannibal Corpse because those artists are in the extremes of genres of music I don’t particularly care for.

I love live music even when (and sometimes especially when) it’s just some rando at a bar playing guitar and singing covers. Austin is the best place on the planet for that kind of stuff, but where I live in Dallas has its own decent live music scene, so it used to be I could feed that desire whenever I wanted to. But then Covid happened and before this past Thursday I hadn’t seen a true concert since 2019. That sucked. I am not meant to go that long without seeing some form of live music.

For that reason, earlier this year when I saw that Dead & Company would be coming to Dallas in October, I immediately bought tickets. I bought two tickets before I had even asked anyone else to go with me. For those unfamiliar, Dead & Company is three members of the Grateful Dead (guitarist and singer Bob Weir and percussionists Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart) plus Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, Oteil Burbridge on bass, and some New England guitarist named John Mayer. They play just like the Grateful Dead used to: Long bits of improvisation in between mostly originals with a few covers of old blues tunes and the occasional Dylan song. It rocks.

So how was the show?

It Kicked Ass

I think that’s the industry term. “Kicked ass.” Yeah I’m pretty sure that’s how insiders and musical academics would have described it. Overall, the show was great. I’m a Deadhead through and through, so I love the long, arrhythmic improvs that sometimes seem like each member of the band is playing their own song completely separate from everyone else, but then everything comes together and it’s just…magical.

Obviously “kicked ass” is a little vague, so let’s be adults about this and talk pros and cons.

Cons

I want to preface this by saying that there was literally nothing bad about the music itself. We’ll talk more about that under the “pros” section, but for now let’s talk cons.

The first con is that beer was $17 and the vendors didn’t take cash. Obviously that’s not within the control of Dead & Company, but it was still a bummer. Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect to get fleeced on concessions at concerts, but seventeen dollars for a beer? I suppose in defense of the venue I should point out that all the beers were either 16 or 24 ounces, but still. And Bud Light was only $15, but then again if I wanted a Bud Light I’d just pay someone $15 to follow a stray cat around until it peed enough to fill up a pint glass. Bud Light sucks.

Another con that was not unexpected but still unpleasant was the number of unwashed hippies dancing in points of ingress and egress. One guy would have been the worst-smelling person on a 17th century merchant ship hauling manure, and I can tell you for certain I could smell that person from at least 35 feet away. Fortunately there weren’t too many people like that, but the ones that were there did seem to congregate in concourses right where those of us would do believe in deodorant and soap would have to walk by them on our way to buy a $17 beer. Of course, it is a Dead & Company show, so a certain amount of homo sapien funk is expected, but we as a society need to stress that bathing and contrarian lifestyles can sometimes go hand in hand.

There was one final con. One thing I enjoy at concerts is when the band interacts with the crowd a little bit. I don’t mean calling people on stage or whatever, but just providing a little backstory to a song or telling a quick joke, or even just a “hey, how ya doin?” But this concert didn’t have any of that, which is a bummer. Bob Weir did end the first set by saying, “We’re gonna take a quick break and we’ll be back soon,” or something similar, but those were the only words anyone spoke the whole night. I’m not even 100% sure anyone said goodnight, though to be fair at that moment I was facing the gauntlet of smelly hippies, so my sense may have been compromised. What I believe is that Jeff Chimenti, Oteil Burbridge, and John Mayer probably see themselves as supporting players in what is otherwise a version of the Grateful Dead and therefore don’t want to hog the spotlight by talking a lot. As for Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, my only guess is that they’ve been doing concerts since the early 1960s and maybe they just don’t have much more to say.

Pros

I’m going to have to limit myself here because the pros could fill several pages. But here we go.

The music was fantastic. I’m always wary of seeing bands with two drummers, but Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart aren’t exactly two drummers. Kreutzmann is more a traditional drummer with high hats and toms and cymbals and what not, while Hart is more of a general percussionist who works with bongos and all sorts of other percussion instruments. They work so, so well together. Jeff Chimenti did a wonderful job filling the shoes of so many Dead keyboardists of old, and fit the style of the band so well that he could have been Keith Godchaux or Brent Mydland. Bassist Oteil Burbridge brought all the note-perfection of Phil Lesh with just a little bit more soul and stage presence. He contributed both musically with his bass and as a guest percussionist during the Rhythm Devils portion, but also vocally during the band’s set two opener, “Deep Ellum Blues.” Bob Weir was great, with his age-worn voice providing a bit of soul that his younger self would likely be jealous of. This was especially evident during one of his staples, “The Other One,” and in a cover of the Reverend Gary Davis’s “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” His guitar playing was, as always, on point.

And then there’s John Mayer. How do I say this so that the gravity of my opinion is well taken? I don’t think there is anything on earth that I am as good at as John Mayer is good at playing guitar. I doubt I walk with the effortless precision with which he plays guitar. Watching him play a guitar is beautiful. This was my fifth or so time seeing him (I think), and each time it has been absolutely bananas how good he is. He makes it look so easy, and I think that’s what is so amazing, because to get to where he plays that well that easily, he has to have put in thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, and it’s just nice to see someone’s hard work pay off in such a visible way. He is likely one of the best five or ten guitarists walking the earth right now, and any time one gets a chance to see one of the best in the world practice their craft, that chance should be taken.

The visuals of the show were also great. There were some straight up trippy effects on any number of the twelve or so screens around the venue, but there were also some wonderfully artful shots showing various members of the band in cool angles with vivid backgrounds. Additionally, the light work was incredible. At different times the lights made the stage look like a reggae show with red, green, and yellow lights, and others bright white lights flashed directly at the crowd to emphasize a particular bit of music or lyrics. The video screens changed often enough to give each member of the band significant screen time, but not so much as to be disorientating or distracting.

Whether Bob Weir, John Mayer, or Oteil Burbridge was doing Jerry Garcia’s vocals, they did them in a way that was an homage without trying to stray too individualist or too impressionist. In other words, when someone was singing Jerry’s part, they did so in a way that was definitely their own but also stayed relatively true to Jerry’s style. This was especially true in Bob Weir’s vocals in “Peggy-O” and John Mayer’s in “Sugaree.” As a side note, it would have been really nice if someone had said something about Jerry during the show. There have to be thousands of Jerry stories, and even if it was just something like “that one was for Jerry” after a song, it would have added a lot to the show. It was a great time and I would 100% do it again, but I do wish there had been a little bit more personal touch.

The setlist (picture below from Dead & Company’s Twitter) was also fantastic. The Dead have hundreds of songs to choose from between their originals and covers they have played in the past, so narrowing a show down to 10–15 songs can be a challenge, I’m sure. The night started with, of all things, a cover of a Harry Belafonte song, “Man Smart (Woman Smarter).” It’s a great, fun way to start a concert, and anyone who has ever seen Beetlejuice knows how fun Harry Belafonte songs can be. The first set progressed with “Bertha,” Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately,” party song “Brown Eyed Women,” traditional Scottish folk song “Peggy-O,” Bob Weir classic “Cassidy,” and one of my all time favorites, “Sugaree.” The show started at 7:00 and the first set finished at 8:25, and the second set began at 9:08.

The second set began with a classic Dallas blues tune, “Deep Ellum Blues,” which made appearances on the Grateful Dead’s “Reckoning” as well as other Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia performances over the years. “Help on the Way” then slid nicely into “Slipknot,” with plenty of John Mayer guitar playing to keep things interesting. A groovy rendition of “Franklin’s Tower” came next before things got very psychedelic in the run between “The Other One” and the “Drums/Space” section. (As an aside, that part of “The Other One” that goes “The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began/There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of a bus to never ever land” was my favorite lyrical couplet of the night. The crowd got way into it.) Emerging from the psychedelia was Dead staple “Cumberland Blues,” followed by the dirge-like blues tune “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” with Bob Weir’s gravelly voice adding depth that the Rev. Gary Davis himself would surely have appreciated. “Sugar Magnolia” came next and was probably the song that included the most audience singing.

The encore was “Liberty,” a lesser-known Robert Hunter tune that fit the general theme of the night, which was songs with strong female overtones. It seems likely to me that the band was making a statement against Texas’s recent abortion legislation that many have seen as an affront to the rights of women. Whatever the message of the evening, the show as great.

Conclusion

This show was great. I have seen more exciting shows before, and I’ve had better seats, but there was something really special about this one. Maybe it was seeing John Mayer be awesome. He actually was kind of dancing and bobbing along to the rhythm on many songs, which is not something I’d seen him do before. Or maybe it was the weather. The forecast on Wednesday called for rain, but luckily they got it wrong and it ended up being 73° with very little humidity, so it was perfect. Or maybe it was getting to see some members of the Grateful Dead for the first time after many years as a Deadhead. Or maybe it was just the fact that I hadn’t been to a true concert in a relatively long, long time. Or maybe it was, as the kids say, the vibes. I don’t know. I really don’t. But what I do know is that it was incredible. It absolutely lived up to the insane expectations I built up in my mind, and that’s impressive.

I would encourage everyone out there to go see a show as soon as they can. Concerts are awesome and I am on the record as saying my least favorite part of Covid was the lack of concerts. Now that we’re able to have them again, I will not take them for granted anymore. Go see a show, and if you get a chance to see Dead & Company before their tour ends on October 31, I would highly recommend doing so.

Dead & Company, Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre, Castlewood, October 23 2021 |  AllEvents.in

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