Thursday night marked the debut of Dead & Company at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York and John Mayer’s first show with original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
The Grammy-winning guitarist and singer-songwriter, who had been rehearsing the Dead catalog tirelessly for months with a lineup that includes Jeff Chimenti (Ratdog, Furthur) on keyboards and jamband veteran Oteil Burbridge (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Allman Brothers Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band) on bass (Phil Lesh, who’s battling cancer, is sitting out the tour), was seen as a wildcard going into this firm date, with many Deadheads wondering (aloud) whether he was the right fit for the latest incarnation of an iconic band.
With Fare Thee Well, the Grateful Dead’s five-show run over the summer featuring Trey Anastasio on guitar, skeptics became believers. So how did Mayer do? By most accounts, Mayer fared well in what was viewed as a warm-up show to a two-night stand at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. From the opening chords of “Playing in the Band,” then segueing into “Cold Rain and Snow,” fears were immediately allayed as the expert guitarist played with a tone reminiscent of Jerry Garcia’s own, while bringing his own bluesy style to familiar licks. And once Mayer got his first crack at vocal duties, he also didn’t disappoint.
Indeed, social media was buzzing in Deadhead land as thousands watching live streams at home, and those inside the arena, reacted with such comments as: “Are you listening to this?!? He’s killin’ it!” And “Can you imagine? They’re only going to gel more!” One critic remarked plainly: “I was wrong, I take it back.”
As for the rest of the group, Weir led a romp through beloved Garcia/Hunter classic “Tennessee Jed,” “Feel Like A Stranger” found the entire band in great form, and having Weir and Mayer trade verses during “He’s Gone” gave the anthem a novel feel.
But it was during “Bird Song” that Dead & Co. truly soared. An extended jam had Mayer displaying a fantastic emotive and intuitive sense of where to go next. The song, which Robert Hunter penned the lyrics to in memory of fallen friend Janis Joplin, then transitioned seamlessly into a rollicking version of “The Music Never Stopped,” which capped off an 80-minute first set.
Set two featured the triumvirate of “Help On The Way,” “Slipknot!” and “Franklin’s Tower” and received the biggest applause from the audience. Save for an awkward 20 seconds at the start of “Franklin’s,” the medley was superbly delivered.
The rhythm section shined during “Drums,” adding layers of samples and textures over beats they were creating. Burbridge was terrific all night long, perhaps playing in the pocket a little more than the Dead’s signature lead bass style of Phil Lesh, and the jam from “Space” into “The Other One” allowed him to bounce around the fretboard and explore the low-end with even more gusto.
A tender “Stella Blue” sung by Weir followed by a rocking “Not Fade Away” closed out the night, with “Touch of Grey” as an encore.
Playing in the Band
Cold Rain and Snow
Feel Like A Stranger
The Music Never Stopped
Saint of Circumstance
Help On The Way
The Other One
Not Fade Away
Touch of Grey