Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spinoff band consisting of core members guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann along with keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, bassist Oteil Burbridge, and guitarist John Mayer, is now into their fifth year of touring. The band pulls from tradition in basing their shows off the Grateful Dead’s two-set format, drawing from an active repertoire of around 125 songs almost exclusively from the Grateful Dead’s repertoire of almost 500 originals and covers. Dead & Company setlists are normally assembled on the day of the show, and fans can usually attend at least four consecutive shows without a song being repeated during that span.
Now that the start of Dead & Company’s annual summer tour is nearly upon us, with the first show this Friday, May 31st at Shoreline Amphitheatre, it’s time for the annual guessing game of what songs might be debuted by the band during this summer run. It’s usually a lot trickier than people like to think, as was evidenced by our (sad trombone) 10.25% hit rate on last summer’s pre-tour “guess list” of 23 songs—only “The Eleven”, “It Hurts Me Too”, and “Supplication Jam” (partial credit) turned out to be correct.
So, let’s try again.
When trying to guess what songs might be added to the setlist, we normally start with Grateful Dead originals, and at first glance, some notable omissions are there.
“Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks”
“Weather Report Suite”
“Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks”: The absence of this song, the second-oldest original in the Grateful Dead catalog, gets more glaring each year in the Dead & Company universe. It’s not just because it’s one of the two remaining untouched epics from the 60s era – it’s also because it seems to have been tailor-made for guitarist John Mayer and that silver PRS 594 guitar that he uses for those thicker tones. Oh, and also because this is a Pigpen song that Bob Weir did not resurrect later in the Grateful Dead’s career (e.g. “Good Lovin’”, “Turn On Your Lovelight”), it seems more likely that John might also get the nod to handle its vocals. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea to give John 20 minutes to tell us about that time he sought out that that (currently elusive) gypsy woman, does it?
“Alligator”: We’re including this because it’s the other remaining epic from the 60s that has not turned up in a Dead & Company show, and because it precedes “Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks” to make up all of side 2 of the Anthem of the Sun LP. This pairing was consistently maintained throughout Grateful Dead live shows from 1968 to 1970, and together the two songs could last up to an hour if a drum duet was also included. However, we think this Lesh/Hunter/Pigpen song is a more of a long shot to make an appearance with Dead & Company, but for its consistent link to “Caution” when it was in the Grateful Dead’s rotation and for John’s propensity for digging out and playing the Pigpen tunes.
“Weather Report Suite”: Found on side 2 of 1973’s Wake of the Flood LP, “Weather Report Suite” stayed in heavy rotation in Grateful Dead shows for two years but was retired in October 1974 along with the famous Wall of Sound. However, the second half of the suite, “Let It Grow”, stayed in the repertoire all the way to the end in 1995 and it currently gets 2-5 airings a year with Dead & Company. However, the entire Weather Report Suite turned up in no less than 10 Bob Weir and Wolf Bros. shows over the last year, so we know for certain that Bob knows it, and we are salivating at the possibility of Dead & Company using “Weather Report” to launch those massive ’73-’74-style jams like the ones you’d find here.
THE GARCIA BALLADS
“To Lay Me Down”
“So Many Roads”
The worst-kept secret in Dead & Company world is that Oteil Burbridge does a masterful job singing some of the most delicate Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter ballads, such as “China Doll”, “Comes A Time”, and “If I Had the World to Give”. We’d heard rumors that two of the three songs listed above were shortlisted for the 2018 summer tour, and the fact that Oteil & Friends included “To Lay Me Down” in a live set last July just two weeks after Dead & Company’s summer tour wrapped may or may not be a coincidence. “High Time” and “So Many Roads” also turned up in Oteil & Friends shows last winter too.
THE PIGPEN TUNES
“Hard to Handle”
As mentioned earlier, John Mayer has been consistently mining the Pigpen catalog throughout his tenure with the band, but these two have yet to be touched. “Hard to Handle” remains one of rock ‘n’ roll’s best songs, and the folks in Generation X got to know this Otis Redding classic when the Black Crowes’ version from their 1990 debut LP became a rock radio staple, 19 years after the Grateful Dead retired their version from live shows. And since John broke out Pigpen original “Mr. Charlie” last summer at The Gorge, it’s not a stretch to think “Chinatown Shuffle” could get the nod this year.
EVERYBODY SING A VERSE
“Death Don’t Have No Mercy”
Most Deadheads got to know this Reverend Gary Davis classic from its inclusion on Side 4 of 1969’s “Live Dead” LP, and after shelving it for 19 years the Grateful Dead dusted it off for a handful of performances in 1989 and 1990, with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and keyboardist Brent Mydland each singing one verse before singing the final verse together. The Dead & Company version could easily dole out the verses, just like they currently do with their version of “The Weight”.
BOB WEIR & WOLF BROS
Next, we looked through the Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. setlists from the past year for other songs from the Grateful Dead repertoire that have not yet been performed by Dead & Company, and we found some interesting possibilities. First, there’s one final-era Dead original that we can easily see in a Dead & Company show:
And then, there were these covers:
“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (Sonny Boy Williamson)
“K.C. Moan” (traditional jug band tune)
“Oh Boy!” (Sonny West, Bill Tighman, Norman Petty)
“Tomorrow Never Knows” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney))
“Fever” (Eddie Cooley, Otis Blackwell)
“Me & Bobby McGee” (Kris Kristofferson)
And since that Bob has included “Even So” in Dead & Company shows, there remains the possibility of other Ratdog originals from the Evening Moods LP appearing, and also keep in mind that keyboardist Jeff Chimenti is a co-writer on all of them. The three most likely suspects?
“Ashes and Glass”
OTEIL & FRIENDS
And finally, bassist Oteil Burbridge’s headlining shows from the past year provide another source from which we can make some educated guesses. While Dead & Company has, to date, included only one song from the Jerry Garcia Band repertoire that was not part of the Grateful Dead repertoire (Lennon/McCartney’s “Dear Prudence”), Oteil & Friends play a number of originals and covers (writers in parentheses) from the JGB repertoire that could, in theory, find their way into a Dead & Company set.
First, the Garcia/Hunter originals:
“Reuben & Cherise”
“Cats Under The Stars”
“Run For The Roses”
“Rhapsody in Red”
And these are the covers that we think might have a shot:
“Tangled Up In Blue” (Bob Dylan)
“Waiting For A Miracle” (Bruce Cockburn)
“How Sweet It Is” (Marvin Gaye)
That’s What Love Will Make You Do (James Banks, Henderson Thigpen, Eddy Marion)
As the tour progresses, we’re looking forward to finding out if we got luckier than we did last year or whether we’ve whiffed once again. We hope you play along too, and we hope you enjoy the tour as much as we will—from Shoreline all the way to Folsom Field.
Safe travels and see you out there!