Arts, Blogs

Dead and Company is alive and well

Forty-thousand fans of the Grateful Dead showed up at Saratoga Arts Center on Aug. 27 to see Dead & Company.

On Aug. 27, I got a chance to go see Dead and Company, who, for those unaware, include former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart.

Joining those three were John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti, and Oteil Burbridge, respectively. Taking the trip to Saratoga for a Friday night concert and camp made me finally feel like life was starting to return to normal. Despite the fact that we had to wear masks on our bus ride to the venue, the sense of community was as strong as the various smells emanating from the campground.

Upon arriving, all we had to do was figure out where the buses were going to pick us up after staggering out of the venue, and show our proof of vax cards at the gate. I mean, the security guards barely scanned our pockets for metal, much less checked our pockets/socks for anything.

I mean, this is a Dead show after all, everyone knew what was up. For the sake of journalistic integrity, I won’t divulge my own enjoyment of the show too deeply.

A lot of people complain about the slowing of many Dead classics by the respective “and Company,” but guitarist and front man Weir considers them ‘new ways of telling old stories’, and the plodding, yet thundering “Shakedown Street” opener was indicative of this. A relatively hot “Bertha” followed, the first Mayer vocal of the night, and some sweet bluesy licks coming out of some classic Dead downbeat moments.

After they jacked us up a little bit, they took a step back with an acoustic “Peggy-O,” which on the nugs.net relisten, was actually a real highlight of a very strong first set. It also showed that Bobby’s vocals were on, which was a sign of a good night. Following “Peggy-O,” they stayed based in the acoustic realm with a nice, gallopy “Me and My Uncle,” which, despite normally having a little more pep, cruised along nicely.

The first set peaked starting after ‘Uncle,’ closing out with three that had plenty of space between them, and some sweet, sweet improvisational moments that you can’t help but think Jerry Garcia would approve of. Nearly 12 minutes of “They Love Each Other” was a great people watching moment for a lonely person, and another great Mayer vocal. Another plodding ‘retelling’ followed, with a 13:32 “West LA Fadeaway.” It’s really intriguing to think about that retelling, as well as a couple others, because in the absence of Jerry, Bobby has picked up some songs that were traditionally JG vocals. He added a level of breathiness and mystery to the famously ambiguous track, which could easily be argued was enhanced by a slower tempo.

‘Fadeaway’ went into a heady, heady jam, that was really taking people on a journey that we were all waiting to go on eventually. After we shifted from the key of A to the key of E (shoutout to my music theory people), Mayer started teasing a familiar mixolydian (shoutout to my music theory NERDS) lick that was hitting me in a place I needed to be hit at that point in my own journey of the night. It was especially neat considering my friend was calling that song on the car ride over, saying that was a “must-hear” for him. Eventually, we settled into “Bird Song,” and all felt right for the next 19:50, taking us right into set break.

Out of the break, the boys came back with the perennial classic “Let The Good Times Roll,” which hits now the same way it must have the first time someone heard that song, 50-plus years ago. I made the joke that as they were ramping into it, it could

have been a Dead and Company speed “Deal,” which is a joke that realistically, no one will get.

After “LTGR,” they ended up jamming and landing in B Major, and “Scarlet Begonias,” one of the Dead’s biggest, and most timeless hits. That song is also great to watch people during, and for me it was highlighted by a couple drunk old guys who were of very different ethnicities and seemingly, different lifestyles singing “strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand.” You hope for it, and when you get it, it’s just the best. After ‘Scarlet’ ended, they did that mixolydian thing where they’re teasing the ever loving shit out of “Fire On the Mountain,” but then they didn’t.

And THEN, the all too familiar F Minor stabs of “Help On The Way” hit, and I was confused and excited because I was like “oh wait fuck, I’m not getting my Scarlet/Fire” but I was also then like “oh wait FUCK, now I get a Help/Slip/Frank.”

I was both very right and very wrong. For the next 30 minutes or so, we went through another journey from the pleasant jangle of ‘Scarlet’ to an impossibly groovy ‘Help.’ “Slipknot!” was its typical weird self, and the unison licks were as tight as ever, with some nice counterpoint (hey music nerds) licks from Chimenti. And then, god almighty where did we land? Right back on that B mixolydian vamp into “Fire On the Mountain”

Son of a bitch.

Scarlet->Help->Slip->Fire.

Yeesh.

After they wore themselves out with that fantastic monstrosity, we went into “Drums” and “Space,” which were what they always are, and they had me hooked as much as any D/S I’ve ever heard. “Drums” included Oteil, who was great and added some wonderful syncopated moments. “Space” included Mickey’s “Beam,” which is always a treat.

Coming out of “Space” was a jam that evolved from E Minor to G Major, and some teasing that I didn’t pick up on immediately, that increased slowly in tempo until Billy and Mickey landed somewhere they liked and a needlessly ripping “Cumberland Blues” began. Not ripping in the sense that it was the fastest I’ve ever heard, as a notoriously fast studio song, just ripping in its licks, its hop, and was an absolute Chimenti highlight.

After that, we landed on a nice mellow “Days Between,” another Bobby take on a Jerry tune. One of the last Garcia/Robert Hunter writes, Bobby’s take on this was sad and plaintive, and Mayer and Chimenti added atmospheric space behind Weir’s vocals.

Fourteen minutes later, we ended up in E again, and a familiar bounce that is as synonymous with rock and roll as anything. Closing the second set with “Not Fade Away,” even without the “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” to follow it, was perfect. You know our love will not fade away, indeed.

Obligatory encore paragraph: “Black Muddy River” was an absolute treat and one of my favorite songs in general. Knowing that my friend hadn’t heard it yet enhanced it even more, as that song is notorious in its bringing of emotions.

I went to a Dead and Company show again, and I think you should too.