After a pandemic that saw the stages of the world fall silent, it’s safe to say we’ve all been more than a little music-starved for a while. But with live shows roaring back to life this summer and the announcement of Dead & Company’s rescheduled summer tour, it’s finally time to return to everyone’s favorite annual game: guess the song debuts!
It’s been six years, over 150 shows, and even more songs to fill the air since the strange trip of Dead & Company began in 2015. The popular post-Grateful Dead spinoff band has certainly come a long way since then, but dozens of tunes have been left unsung. Given the post-pandemic energy and the long list of stops, there’s no doubt that Dead & Company’s comeback summer tour 2021 will be one for the ages. But when it comes to their repertoire, are our boys bound to cover just a little more ground? On to the list, and see you on the road!
Foolish Heart: One of the most enduring tunes from the 1989 album Built To Last, “Foolish Heart” is a fan favorite that would be a thrill to hear this summer. It has the perfect energy for an arena song and stands out as one that rhythm guitarist Bob Weir could potentially adopt rather smoothly on vocals. While Dead & Company has already cherry-picked “Standing On the Moon” about 22 times, the Grateful Dead’s final studio album represents a relatively unexplored frontier for the band’s latest incarnation. Along with “Foolish Heart”, the album could feasibly supply “Picasso Moon” as well since Weir already provides those vocals. These two songs stand out from the rest of the album as the most likely to be debuted in 2021, with “Foolish Heart” winning by popularity.
Grateful Dead – “Foolish Heart” – Thornville, OH – 6/11/93
[Video: Grateful Dead]
Alligator: A holdout from 2019’s song debut prediction list, “Alligator” is a raucous jammer from the Grateful Dead’s second studio album, 1968’s Anthem of the Sun. Anthem is certainly due a revisit: aside from frequently played “The Other One” and several first-tour performances of “Cryptical Envelopment”, the album’s songs have been largely neglected. Maybe some of them venture just a bit too far from the mainstream for today’s audience, but “Alligator” or perhaps even “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)” could slip into a setlist this summer. Indeed, fans have been waiting impatiently to hear Dead & Company’s take on these early favorites since the band’s formation in 2015. Surely the Rhythm Devils (drummer Bill Kreutzmann and percussionist Mickey Hart) would love to take a crowd through the mid-song percussive breakdown of “Alligator” almost as much as Weir and lead guitarist John Mayer would love to lead the band through the song’s manic outro.
Grateful Dead – “Alligator” – Seattle, WA – 1/22/68
Lazy River Road: Several beloved Jerry Garcia songs have been given a remarkable second life in Weir’s hands–“Ripple”, for example, becomes more and more Weir’s own with each performance. This year as with 2019, “Lazy River Road” has a spot on this list because of its potential to be one of those songs. Weir certainly struggles on some Garcia tunes and shines on others, but his now-raspy voice and folksy vocal phrasing would likely give this one a brilliant treatment. Dead & Company has paid fair attention to later Garcia/Robert Hunter compositions like “Liberty” and “Days Between”, and this bodes well for the possibility of a “Lazy River Road” debut this summer.
Grateful Dead – “Lazy River Road” – Chapel Hill, NC – 3/25/93
Hard To Handle: Mayer has already demonstrated a wonderful affinity for Ron “Pigpen” McKernan songs, lending his trademark blues-inflected treatment to tunes like “Easy Wind”, “It Hurts Me Too”, (originally by Elmore James), and “Mr. Charlie”. A cover of Otis Redding’s 1968 classic would feel right at home in a Dead & Company setlist, perhaps in the first set or as an encore, and seems like the kind of song that the entire band would have a blast playing. Surely keyboardist Jeff Chimenti would love to spice it up with a blazing organ solo just as much as Mayer would enjoy delivering those catchy lyrics and ripping some bluesy guitar fills.
Grateful Dead – “Hard To Handle” (Otis Redding) – New York, NY – 4/29/71
Eternity: Drawing again from the trove of late-era Grateful Dead tunes that never had much of an opportunity to mature, “Eternity” would join songs like “Corrina”, “Easy Answers”, “Days Between”, and “Liberty” that have already been performed by Dead & Company. This Weir/Willie Dixon songwriting effort already lives in the Bob Weir & Wolf Bros repertoire, and the extended drum fills seem absolutely tailor-made to allow Kreutzmann and Hart to shine like they did in the good old days. The performance of this song by Dead & Company seems more likely compared to the prospect of integrating a pure RatDog original or another Bob Dylan cover.
Grateful Dead – “Eternity” – Richfield Township, OH – 3/21/94
[Video: John Philbin]
Dear Mr. Fantasy: This cover of the Traffic original found its place in quite a few setlists during the Brent Mydland years, but so far Dead & Company has steered clear of tunes sung by the late beloved keyboardist. That may be for good reason; who could hope to reproduce those gritty, powerful vocals? Still, the song’s chord progression could feel right at home in Mayer’s technique the way “They Love Each Other” already does, and if the group were to break out a Mydland-driven song to debut this summer, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” would be a pretty good bet, regardless of its status as a cover. Plus, a possible combination with The Beatles’ timeless classic “Hey Jude” would go over quite well with new listeners and nostalgia trippers alike.
Grateful Dead – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (Traffic) > “Hey Jude” (The Beatles) – Foxboro, MA – 7/2/89
[Video: Grateful Dead]
Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl: Pigpen’s signature contribution to the Grateful Dead’s eponymous 1967 debut album stands out as ripe for the picking. A Sonny Boy Williamson cover, “Schoolgirl” is just the kind of loping blues jam that Dead & Company thrives on, using atmospherically similar songs like “New Speedway Boogie” and “Big Boss Man” to showcase Mayer’s blues background and Chimenti’s penchant for initiating ever-escalating exchanges of musical dialogue with the lead guitarist. Albummates of “Schoolgirl” that Dead & Company have already performed include “Beat It On Down The Line”, “Cold Rain and Snow”, “Morning Dew”, “New, New Minglewood Blues,” and “Viola Lee Blues”.
Grateful Dead – “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl” (Sonny Boy Williamson) – San Francisco, CA – 2/14/68
Catfish John: In the past, Dead & Company has performed songs more closely associated with Jerry Garcia Band that the Grateful Dead themselves never played, most notably “Dear Prudence”. So, it’s feasible that this summer the boys might bust out “Catfish John”, originally by Bob McDill, a song reminiscent of a lazy jaunt on the banks of the Mississippi on a sticky August day. The flexibility of the song’s tempo and structure might well appeal to the band, who often find new feels and rhythms in playing their infamously “relaxed” tempos. Other contenders in this more Garcia Band-oriented space might include “Tangled Up In Blue” (originally by Dylan) or “How Sweet It Is” (originally by Marvin Gaye).
Grateful Dead – “Catfish John” (Studio Outtake from Terrapin Station)
[Video: Grateful Dead]
Might As Well: A romping swing through the hazy memory of 1970’s Festival Express traveling music festival (made famous by the 2003 documentary film of the same name), “Might As Well” was played over 100 times by the Grateful Dead, and it’s simply about time we hear this song from Dead & Company. Chimenti’s saloon-style piano playing and Mayer’s crisp staccato soloing would serve this tune’s energetic simplicity well, and its chorus might prove to be a wonderfully entertaining ensemble affair.
Grateful Dead – “Might As Well” – Detroit, MI – 11/1/77
[Video: Park Lots]
So Many Roads: For many Deadheads, this late Garcia ballad embodies the retrospective bittersweet nostalgia of the Dead’s final years; it has just the kind of earnest, energetic soulfulness that would have lent it some serious staying power had it arrived a few years earlier than it did. Bassist Oteil Burbridge has already handled songs like “China Doll” and “Comes A Time” with his delicate but powerful vocals, and “So Many Roads” remains a glaring gap in Dead & Company’s “Garcia ballads” category. The song has popped up in Oteil & Friends sets in the past and would be a welcome sound this summer.
Grateful Dead – “So Many Roads” –Las Vegas, NV – 6/26/94
[Video: A Very Grateful Dad]
“Death Don’t Have No Mercy”
“Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)”
“Me & Bobby McGee” (Kris Kristofferson)
“Mission In the Rain”
“Dupree’s Diamond Blues”
Catch Dead & Company on the band’s 2021 summer tour, beginning on August 16th at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, NC. For tickets and a full list of tour dates, head here.