Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spinoff band featuring guitarists Bob Weir and John Mayer, bassist Oteil Burbridge, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann kicked off their summer tour last night at the venue currently known as Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. But as one t-shirt read yesterday, “I still call it Great Woods.”
After a delay in opening the doors due to a sound check that ran late, Dead & Company took the stage just before 7:30 p.m. and dropped right into an 18-minute version of “Shakedown Street” to kick things off. The band sounded but rested and rehearsed, and the closing jam contained several highlights, including Mayer using a new guitar tone that resembled a flute, some fiery guitar interplay between Weir and Mayer as they faced each other, and a closing section that was based on the 8-note melody of the lyric “Nothin’ shakin’ on Shakedown Street”. With a groove now established, the band wasted no time giving the crowd the first debut of the tour: “Alabama Getaway”, with John handling the vocals on the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter classic that kicks off the GD’s 1980 Go To Heaven LP. It was a strong but short version that clocked in at around 4 minutes, with Chimenti taking a nice Hammed B3 solo in the song’s midsection. As the crowd roared and high-fived at its conclusion, the band started the second debut in the form of “All Over Now”, the Bobby & Shirley Womack classic that was a longtime resident of Bob Weir’s Grateful Dead’s repertoire. But the Dead & Company version had a couple of new wrinkles, with a slightly different arrangement and chord progression, with a breakdown in the middle of the song where Oteil, John, Bob, and Jeff each got a few bars to improvise some on-the-spot fills.
From there, the set headed into more conventional first-set Garcia/Hunter song territory with John knocking out an upbeat version of “Brown Eyed Women” and Bob following with a reading of “Tennessee Jed”, with Jeff’s piano work a highlight in each, earning strong responses from both bandmates and crowd. The first set concluded with a “Bird Song” > “Loose Lucy” > “Bird Song” sandwich that ran for 26 minutes. The first half of “Bird Song” was slower but exploratory, with Mickey gently strumming the beam to augment Oteil’s low-end rumbles. After several minutes of jamming, the transition into “Loose Lucy” was smooth, but it was hard not to notice the lyrical contrast between the two Garcia/Hunter songs. The transition back into “Bird Song” was a bit of a rough one, but hey, that’s the sort of thing that happens on the first night of a tour.
Since the first set had run 75 minutes and the venue had a strict 11:00 pm curfew, intermission was shortened and the band returned to the stage at around 9:15 and headed straight into “Scarlet Begonias”, which got its usual huge response. John’s mid-song featured a nice peak, but the highlight came in the song’s closing jam, which percolated along and stretched the song’s running time to over 14 minutes before the transition into “Fire On The Mountain”, with Oteil handling the lead vocal. After some onstage miscommunication, the song crashed landed an early close, but it led into the night’s highlight: a knockout version of “Althea”, with John nailing the vocals and then raising the temperature further after locking eyes with Jeff to kick off several minutes of guitar-keyboard interplay. As the song wound down, John also added some falsetto vocals that suited the moment perfectly. After a quick stop, “Estimated Prophet” followed, with John providing the song’s peak during the song’s solo by hitting a single note repeatedly as the band churned out a thick music bed for him to jump on. The song’s closing jam meandered along pleasantly–led by John’s use of his new flutelike tone–but eventually, the music became more insistent, changed keys, and transitioned into “The Other One” for a couple of minutes. But as the band slowed down to provide Oteil the opportunity to play the song’s famous bass intro, the band instead veered into a 16-minute “Eyes Of The World”–complete with more John-and-Jeff interplay after the second verse and an Oteil jazz-shred bass lead after the final verse.
Bob then nodded to Billy and Mickey and “Drums” was underway. However, it wasn’t long before Jeff came right back out to join them on a synthesizer, and shortly after that Oteil also joined in and took his bass up onto the drum riser to play along as well. The segment started with a distinct Middle Eastern flavor, and at this point, it became noticeable that Billy and Mickey are travelling with a significantly smaller array of drums on this tour. Mickey’s “Hall Of Drums” was not present, and it appears that The Beast did not get the nod for this tour either. Yet, the presence of four people out there made for an active segment, complete with John watching intently from side stage. Space was also an active pursuit, with John’s noodling, Bob’s only-Bob chords, and Mickey gently playing the Beam with a large bow.
The space segment concluded with all of the musicians slowing down to cue a ballad, and tonight Bob got the nod and led the band into “Stella Blue”, which was highlighted by a beautiful John solo at the end. It was at this point that time became a factor, as the band only had 9 minutes left before the 11:00 curfew. Rather than leave and return for an encore, the band decided to finish the set and the show with an upbeat “Touch Of Grey” that ended at exactly 10:59. As the band took their bows to signal that the show was over, they could clearly hear people yelling about the fact that there wouldn’t be an encore, which led to the big screens catching Bob making an apologetic shrug that let anyone who saw it know that this wasn’t a band decision. And besides, the show had already run for three and a half hours, so best to just shrug it off and head out.
Onward to Camden.
[Video: Dead & Company]
The band will pick things back up on Friday and Saturday night in Camden, NJ at BB&T Pavilion. Head to Dead & Company’s website for more information on upcoming concerts, tickets, and more.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Xfinity Center | Mansfield, Massachusetts | 5/30/18
I: Shakedown Street, Alabama Getaway, It’s All Over Now, Brown-Eyed Women, Tennessee Jed, Bird Song > Loose Lucy > Bird Song
II: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > Althea, Estimated Prophet > The Other One Jam > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Space > Stella Blue > Touch Of Grey