The reveal, greeted with resounding cheers, followed several more New Year's surprises. Chief among them: a giant flying joint that crisscrossed the arena with Jerry Garcia's daughter Trixie and longtime Dead representative Bernie Cahill at the steer and the Star Wars theme as its soundtrack. The faux-burning lit end, fashioned in the shape of a rose (a key image in Dead iconography), landed on the stage with a cloud of smoke, where it was greeted by former NBA star and longtime Deadhead Bill Walton -- dressed as Father Time and brandishing a lightsaber -- along with friends and extended family members in costume. (According to an insider, Hart worked up the idea.) The chaotically colorful scene even had Mayer craning his iPhone to capture the moment, just one of many during what he described as a "musical experience [that] has changed my life forever."
Indeed, while Mayer is a relatively recent convert to the Dead's music, the months of practice, both onstage and off, seem to have paid off at the Forum where he played with a looseness and confidence that built from set to set. On night one, Mayer remained in his wheelhouse taking the lead on bluesy numbers like "West LA Fadeaway" and picking up the pace on favorites like "Bertha," "Althea" and "China Cat Sunflower." Weir highlights included his handling of the anthemic "Shakedown Street" and "Playing in the Band" and sharing vocal duties with Mayer for the show's encore-closer, the murder ballad "Friend of the Devil."
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It took night one for the six-piece to find its footing -- voices strained in certain spots and the beat slowing at times -- but the band's effort to come together sonically made for a more satisfying show on night two. It was a more ambitious set list as well. Spread over three sets from 8 p.m. to well past 1 a.m., the band tackled the trippy arrangements of "Terrapin Station" and "Dark Star" and delivered crowd-pleaser singalongs like "Sugar Magnolia," "Scarlet Begonias" and "Uncle John's Band," while Mayer, wearing a dark blue robe for the first half of the show, let loose on solos throughout, engaged with the crowd and complementing Weir's vocals in sweet spots like the chorus to "Ramble On Rose." At midnight: a rollicking cover of the 60s soul classic "In the Midnight Hour," appropriately enough.
Two intermissions and an entire year behind them, the band members harmonized beautifully on the slower-paced "Brokedown Palace" and solemnly sent the faithful back out into the night, but not before some parting words from Mayer, who said, humbly, "Thank you or accepting me into this beautiful home."