The costumed crowds were out and about in Hollywood to kick off 2021’s Halloweekend. Granted, traditional, full-body costumes were scarcely seen among the masses that trudged up and down the hill to see Dead & Company at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday. By and large, the tens of thousands who gathered—vastly unmasked, irrespective of both the holiday and the pandemic—did so in the guise of the Deadheads that they were and are, sporting an assortment of tie-dye t-shirts, concert memorabilia from shows past and, of course, dreadlocks galore. After more than two years without a proper Dead show in Los Angeles, it was, in fact, high time to dust off those duds and live the good life again.

Indeed, well before the original trio of Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart took the stage alongside the more recent additions of John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti, Dead & Company’s long-awaited return to the Hollywood Bowl felt like a time warp—as much to the 1960s and 1970s as to, say, 2019.

For all that was missing from the music world during the thick of coronavirus’ initial spread, no group’s absence from the road was more conspicuous than that of Dead & Company. That was as much due to the iconic tunes that have tickled eardrums for the better part of a century as to the following that fills the seats and streets around each and every venue the band plays, no matter where it goes.

Thankfully, this latest (and, perhaps, greatest) post-Jerry Garcia iteration of the Grateful Dead hasn’t skipped a beat in the more than two years since it last stalked the Hollywood Hills in June of 2019.

Bobby, for one, was as steady and stoic as ever. The now-74-year-old sage from San Francisco sang and strummed gruffly through the portions of “Playing in the Band” that bookended the first set, and dominated the stretch of the second set that spanned the emotional spectrum from “The Other One” to “Standing on the Moon” and “Sunshine Daydream”.

Dead & Company – “Playing In The Band” – 10/29/21

Dead & Company – “The Other One” – 10/29/21

[Video: grunzy]

Oteil took his turn at the mic, as well, as is now customary. The 57-year-old D.C. native once again showed off his smooth vocals on “High Time”, in addition to his spectacular work on bass throughout the three-plus hours of Dead time on stage. He continued to cement his spot in Dead & Company’s rhythm section by banging away alongside Bill and Mickey on “Drums”, their beats echoing across corners of the sonic sphere, from West Africa to the Louisiana Delta and back again.

Mickey made the most of his time at center stage during “Space,” as well. The 78-year-old Brooklynite used The Beam to paint a cosmic soundscape under the stars on a particularly pleasant October evening. Jeff aimed to please with his work on the keys, as well, while Billy kept a steady beat of his own.

Still, if there was any lingering doubt about who would sit at the center of the Dead’s post-lockdown universe, John Mayer put that to rest without delay. Despite spending the entire show monitoring his own sound through headphones—and despite dropping a new solo album, Sob Rock, earlier this year—the 44-year-old “baby” of the band remained front and center with his signature vocals and exemplary guitar work. From bringing a sultry sensibility to “Deal,” stinging his strings on a Hendrix’d version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and bumping up the tempo on “They Love Each Other”, to taking leads on “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!”, “Franklin’s Tower” and “Estimated Prophet”, John continued to infuse Dead & Company with the energy and verve of his (relative) youth.

By and large, though, the sets served as a smooth introduction to the Dead’s triumphant return to Southern California for a good, old-fashioned Halloween run. Closing out the show with a semi-acoustic encore of “Ripple” gave the all-ages crowd an extra dose of warm and fuzzy feelings to ride into the night, with ample enthusiasm to spare for the rest of the weekend.

That Dead & Company could and would pack a house of 17,500 seats at the Hollywood Bowl was no surprise. That they did so on a night when Phish was diving deep into its own Halloween run less than 300 miles away in Las Vegas, amid a broader boom and bloom throughout the live music scene, speaks volumes of the Dead’s legacy, as well as its unceasing pull upon multiple generations to emerge from pandemic-induced hibernation in order to “Ramble On Rose” and smell the sweet scent of a familiar “Sugar Magnolia”.

Dead & Company – “Sugar Magnolia” – 10/29/21

Setlist: Dead & Company | Hollywood Bowl | Los Angeles, CA | 10/29/21

Set One: Playing In The Band > Deal > All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan) > Mr. Charlie, Ramble On Rose, They Love Each Other, High Time > Playing In The Band

Set Two: Sugar Magnolia > Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower > Estimated Prophet > Drums > Space > The Other One > Standing On The Moon, Sunshine Daydream

Encore: Ripple