Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spinoff band featuring rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, bassist/vocalist Oteil Burbridge, keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Chimenti and lead guitarist/vocalist John Mayer completed their two-leg, ten-date Fun Run tour on New Year’s Eve with a sold-out show at the new Chase Center in downtown San Francisco (and live TV interview on CNN). Now that the Dead & Company Fun Run is over, let’s take a look back at the highlights.
For the first time, Dead & Company scheduled a significant break of forty-eight days between legs of a tour, which was bookended by holiday shows on Halloween and New Year’s Eve. The first six dates took place on the east coast, with four shows in the metropolitan New York area (New York’s Madison Square Garden on October 31st and November 1st, and Uniondale’s recently refurbished Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on November 5th and 6th) and two in Virginia (Hampton Coliseum on November 8th and 9th). These fall Fun Run shows were followed by four west coast dates in California during the December holidays (Los Angeles on December 27th and 28th, and two hometown shows in San Francisco on December 30th and 31st).
ROBERT HUNTER (1941 – 2019)
The Dead & Company Fun Run began on Halloween night at a sold-out Madison Square Garden with a sparse and touching tribute to lyricist Robert Hunter, the non-performing member of the Grateful Dead who co-wrote many of the Grateful Dead’s original songs with lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. As a black and white photo of Hunter was projected onto the video screens above the PA, Weir walked onstage for the first set dressed in a kilt and began the show with an acoustic rendition of the signature song “Ripple”, gently backed by Kreutzmann and Hart. The longtime Grateful Dead members performed the first two-thirds of the song as a trio, with the three “new kids” joining in during the final minute. The band would go on to play a show consisting entirely of Garcia/Hunter songs, save for a Halloween-appropriate cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” for the encore.
RHYTHM DEVILS +1
At the conclusion of that very same opening set on Halloween, another surprise was in store courtesy of Kreutzmann and Hart, who came to the front of the stage after the conclusion of “Terrapin Station” to formally and humorously induct Oteil Burbridge into the Rhythm Devils, the informal group of musicians (primarily drummers) that dates back to the late 1970s and the recording sessions for the soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Apocalypse Now. As Hart and Kreutzmann placed a ceremonial mask Burbridge’s head, he was visibly moved and said as much to the crowd. It was yet another example of the genuine camaraderie that exists between the OG and new school members of Dead & Company.
BEAN THERE, DONE THAT
Over on the gearhead front, there was justified excitement from John Mayer’s decision to incorporate a Travis Bean TB1000A into his rotation of stage guitars during the Dead & Company Fun Run. Made during 1970s by master luthier Travis Bean (1947–2011), TB guitars’ sound remains highly distinctive due to their aluminum necks and pickups mounted on an aluminum base within the body of the guitar. Not coincidentally, Jerry Garcia frequently played two different Travis Bean guitars in the mid-to-late 1970s with the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band, so their rich tones generate a lived-in, familiar feeling for many Deadheads. However, Mayer still used his PRS guitars during the majority of the time he was on stage with Dead & Company during this run.
The second night at Madison Square Garden on November 1st brought a welcome surprise: Grammy-nominated singer Maggie Rogers joined the band onstage late in the first set for a stirring rendition of “Friend Of The Devil”. She would later return for the first encore tune to help sing “The Weight”. The 25-year-old made her presence felt on each song, and they—along with “Ramble On Rose”, “Althea”, and “Morning Dew”—would prove to be the highlights of the night.
The only other musical guest would join the band on New Year’s Eve at the Chase Center, longtime Hart collaborator Zakir Hussain would join the Rhythm Devils, and his presence would spark the most distinctive and powerful “Drums” segment of the Fun Run. They did, however, welcome a number of non-playing guests during their New Year’s Eve show. More on that later.
[Photo: Keith Griner]
NUMEROLOGY: 2 x 33 in the (310)
Deadheads with an interest in numerology may want to seek out the second set of Dead & Company’s first of two nights at the Los Angeles Forum on December 27th. The two musical peaks of the show were the “Playing In The Band” > “Terrapin Station” that opened the second set and the “The Other One” > “Drums” > Space” > “The Other One” that followed shortly thereafter. Each of these passages lasted 33 minutes, and any numerologist worth their salt will quickly tell you that the number 33 is known as the master teacher and revered as a deeply spiritual number. In fact, Deadology author Howard Weiner made the decision to write a book about 33 significant days in Grateful Dead history for this very reason. Read our recent interview with Howard Weiner about Deadology here.
NASSAU LONG AGO, THE RETURN OF THE MOTHERSHIP, AND CUT TO THE CHASE
While Madison Square Garden and The Forum are both long-standing and familiar venues to both the Grateful Dead and Dead & Company, the Fun Run also featured Dead & Company’s inaugural visits to three venues.
Nassau Memorial Veterans Coliseum opened its doors in 1972, just before the Grateful Dead became an arena-headlining act in the New York area, and they would go on to play 42 shows at the Long Island venue between 1973 and 1994. The arena recently underwent a much-needed refurbishment that was completed in 2018, and the first night of Grateful Dead music there in over 25 years on November 5th was highlighted by a well-chosen and unique pre-Drums progression of “Here Comes Sunshine”, “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven”, “Comes A Time”, and “Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad”.
Hampton Coliseum needs little introduction amongst Deadheads, but here’s one anyway just in case you need a primer on the venue known as The Mothership. The first two-night stand of Grateful Dead music there since 1992 was a success on all levels, with the band’s lengthy take on Miles Davis’ “Milestones” on November 9th serving as of the highlights of not just the tour, but also the entire year. On top of that, the arena has been lovingly preserved and looked almost exactly as it was in 1992—the only obvious change was the sight of www.hamptoncoliseum.com on a couple of banners and the arena’s scoreboard.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…Dead & Company gained themselves a brand new home court when the Chase Center opened in downtown San Francisco in September 2019. Built as the new home for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, the luxurious and compact arena replaces the still-standing Oakland Coliseum Arena, which was the Warriors’ home from 1971 to 2019 as well as the site of 66 Grateful Dead concerts over the years. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, Dead & Company used the encore of their tight and focused inaugural show at Chase on December 30th to debut their version of Bob Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn”, exactly 34 years after the Grateful Dead’s first performance of “Quinn” to start the second set at…wait for it…Oakland Arena, then known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena.
There was only one breakout during the Dead & Company Fun Run, the aforementioned “Quinn” on December 30th. But as far as mixing things up from night to night, Weir and his manager, Matt Busch, delivered the goods by assembling setlists containing no fewer than thirty-one songs that were only performed once over the ten-show tour, with each show containing at least one of the one-offs:
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
10/31 – “Werewolves of London”
11/1 – “Row Jimmy”, “Smokestack Lightning”, “Brokedown Palace”
11/5 – “Peggy-O”, “Easy Wind”, “Here Comes Sunshine”, “Comes A Time”, “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”
11/6 – “Feel Like A Stranger”, “Dire Wolf”, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”
11/8 – “Good Lovin’”, “Black-Throated Wind”, “Throwing Stones”, “My Favorite Things”, “The Days Between”
11/9 – “Black Peter”
12/27 – “Alabama Getaway”, “Me & My Uncle”, “Don’t Ease Me In”
12/28 – “Viola Lee Blues”, “Big Boss Man”, “West L.A. Fadeaway”, “Lost Sailor”, “Saint of Circumstance”
12/30 – “It Hurts Me Too”, “High Time”, “Quinn The Eskimo”
12/31 – “Midnight Hour”, “Iko Iko”
The band’s propensity for noodling on jazz standards somewhere in or near the “Drums” and “Space” portion of the second set is not a new thing, but there were three full-blown occurrences of this on the Dead & Company Fun Run, each time coming out of “Space”. On November 8th in Hampton, the band galloped through a spirited take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things”, while similarly deep explorations took place via Miles Davis’ “Milestones” in Hampton on November 9th and San Francisco on December 31st. Each time, the journey was led by the interplay between Mayer and Chimenti, whose chemistry continues to grow with each tour. More of this, please.
TOP 4 SHOWS
During a pre-show conversation at Nassau Coliseum last month, tour-famous philosopher Dean Sottile proposed a tongue-in-cheek theory to Live For Live Music that Hampton Coliseum’s propensity for generating legendary shows by the Grateful Dead and Phish is because the venue was built on top of a massive deposit of magic crystals. Hey, we’re cool with that theory—and why not? For the first time since the Eugene show in 2018, a clear “Best Show of the Tour” took place on Dead & Company’s first night at Hampton Coliseum on November 8th.
The first set was tight as hell and had a great list, but the second set was The One, i.e. one of those sets where the band is completely dialed in and the timing and delivery we just on. From the classic pairing of “Estimated Prophet” and “Eyes of The World” to the “My Favorite Things” jam out of “Space” leading to a definitive version of “The Days Between” to the deft placement of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” combo as the set closer, this was one of those sets that prompts Deadheads to keep coming back to see as many shows as possible the in hopes of catching one like this again.
Three of Weir’s best original songs anchored the first set, with “Feel Like A Stranger” as the opener and the duo of “Cassidy” and “The Music Never Stopped” to close. Not long after the lights came on for the set break, a large tie-dyed banner celebrating the 44 combined shows at Nassau Coliseum by the Grateful Dead and Dead & Company was hoisted into the rafters.
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A banner raised to the rafters at #NassauColiseum for the #GratefulDead & @deadandcompany last night honoring 44 combined shows at the arena, the most of any band. For you purists out there, the @gratefuldead technically still hold the Nassau record at 42 total shows… . #gratefuldead #deadandcompany #nassau #livemusic #concerts #liveforlivemusic @nycblive
The second set did full justice to this honor with a lengthy “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower trio, a rare and fortunate occurrence of the band’s two biggest improvisational vehicles, “Dark Star” and “The Other One”, turning up in the same set, and what may have been the year’s best version of “Wharf Rat”. Out in the real world, Nassau’s resident sports tenant, the NHL’s New York Islanders, were off to the best start in team history as this show happened, so this venue’s mojo was working pretty well that week.
As justifiable and as fun as it might be to poke fun at Los Angeles and its multitude of fripperies, one has to begrudgingly admit that it’s also a place where really great Dead & Company shows happen regularly. This one kicked off with a version of the primal classic “Viola Lee Blues” that was split up into three parts over two sets, a “Big Boss Man” augmented by mesmerizing backing vocals from Weir, Chimenti, and Burbridge, and crisp renditions of Weir’s intricate “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance” to close the first set. The second set featured a “China Cat Sunflower” that built to a beautifully orchestrated peak, a “Dark Star” that got extra visual accompaniment from twinkling star lights in the Forum’s rafters that switched on as Weir sang the song’s first verse, a powerful “Morning Dew”, and a set-closing “One More Saturday Night” whose faster tempo recalled the Grateful Dead’s later versions of the song. Rawk on, El Lay!
The first set kicked off with an appealing and upbeat salvo of “Midnight Hour”, “Big Railroad Blues”, “Iko Iko” and “Mr. Charlie”, and the clear musical highlight of the night came from the 40-minute journey in the second that consisted of “Eyes Of The World” > “Drums” (with guest Zakir Hussein) > “Space” > “Milestones”. But a New Year’s Eve show of Grateful Dead music is about more than just the music, and this marathon 3-set, 5-hour show had all the things that characterized several of the Grateful Dead’s best ones: a sellout, an elaborate New Year’s celebration (a “Roaring ’20s” theme with a line of dancers doing the Charleston and a biplane “flown” over the crowd by Trixie Garcia and Sunshine Kesey), a New Year’s countdown led by Bill Walton and Wavy Gravy, and the traditional balloon drop at midnight as the band started “Sugar Magnolia”.
[Photo: Keith Griner]
In the moments just before all that happened, sharp-eyed Heads watching the rear of the stage would have spotted band members giving massive hugs to one another, with Chimenti going next-level and missing an impromptu band photo with Walton and Gravy because he was visiting every last crew member at their posts to hug them and thank them. One would like to think that Uncle Bill Graham was proudly looking down on all this, and perhaps, for a minute or two, he may not even have had a single nit to pick about anything he saw. Here’s hoping this becomes an annual ritual once again.
[Photo: Keith Griner]