Dead & Company‘s Oteil Burbridge is a hard-working man. After holding down the low end with the Allman Brothers Band for nearly two decades, the consummate bass player now carries the torch for the latest incarnation of another American rock institution. With all these hours under his belt, it’s easy to forgive the man when he decides to take a break. And it’s a whole lot easier when he invites legendary The Meters bassist George Porter Jr. to fill in for him.
That’s what happened last night when Dead & Co made their long-awaited New Orleans debut at the Smoothie King Center. Three months after John Mayer’s pesky appendix forced the band to cancel its previously scheduled appearance at the venue, Mayer, Burbridge, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, and Jeff Chimenti finally took the Big Easy by storm—and it’s safe to say this one was worth the wait.
Dead & Company roared out of the gate with a “Feel Like A Stranger” that seamlessly veered into another Bob Weir/John Perry Barlow favorite, “The Music Never Stopped”. The tune offered Mayer an early opportunity to dive into an expansive jam, and he took it without reservation (while also letting out a solid Donna Jean impression behind the mic). “The Music Never Stopped” eventually gave way to “Cold Rain and Snow”, which quickly became the night’s first singalong as the crowd was bathed in light with each chorus. After three big numbers, Dead & Company took things down a notch with a gorgeous “Peggy-O” that put Weir front and center before meandering into a “Friend of the Devil” that elicited cheers with its opening notes.
After wrapping up the American Beauty staple, Burbridge quietly abdicated in preparation for the night’s most delightful surprise: a perfectly executed sit-in from hometown hero George Porter Jr. of The Meters fame. The funk pioneer and bonafide Crescent City icon provided a sturdy foundation for a spot-on rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”, even playfully growling his way through his portion of the lyrics. Porter’s magnetic playing eventually drew in Mayer, who went to toe-to-toe with the New Orleans bass master during his solo—a move the pair would repeat with the “Bertha” and “Sugaree” that followed.
While that “Bertha” was a certainly a treat, the “Sugaree” that closed out the set was arguably the night’s high point. Porter may not be an expert on the Grateful Dead canon, but “Sugaree” has been in his repertoire for some time, and his confidence with the song was on full display as he led the band through the Garcia/Hunter classic. If his smile was any indication, the tune was a special moment for Porter—just as it was for the thousands of people who showered him with applause as Dead & Company headed off stage.
Burbridge was back in the saddle when the band returned to open the second set with a fantastic “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” combo. The beloved pairing was a great way to start things off before the group delivered what had to have been the night’s most highly-anticipated and historically-loaded offering—”Truckin’”. That history was not lost on the people of New Orleans, who are acutely aware of the story that was immortalized in the words “busted down on Bourbon Street.”
In addition to inspiring some choice lyrics, the Grateful Dead’s 1970 run-in with the New Orleans Police Department caused the band to sour on the Big Easy for over a decade, scaring them away from the city during the height of their powers and leaving NOLA’s ‘heads with an unsatiated craving for Dead music that lasts to this day. Perhaps that’s why the crowd went absolutely nuts for the duration of the tune–and particularly so when the famed “busted down on Bourbon Street” lyrics came into play.
“Truckin’” kept going right into a pleasant “Ship of Fools” that saw Mayer and Burbridge going back and forth behind the mic. The sublime ballad meandered into an even more pleasant “Uncle John’s Band” that set up some inspired jamming on its way to the improvisational wizardry of “Drums”. Burbridge once again joined Hart and Kreutzmann at the back of the stage, with all three of them banging away over a bassy drone until Weir, Mayer, Chimenti returned for a far out “Space” that eventually coalesced into “Stella Blue”. Mayer nailed the peaks on the Wake of the Flood ballad, and the band effortlessly switched gears as the majestic number melted into “One More Saturday Night” to wrap up the set. Burbridge belted out a glorious howl during the tune, whose appearance surprised absolutely no one considering the day of the week. Yet the howl was a harbinger of things to come, as the band came back out for a “Werewolves of London” that had the rest of the arena howling along with them.
Dead & Company will continue their run of make-up shows this week with performances on Monday, February 26th in Sunrise, FL and on Tuesday, February 27th in Orlando, FL. For a full list of upcoming tour dates, head to the band’s website.
You can check out a beautiful gallery of photos courtesy of photographer Matthew Rea and watch a selection of high-quality crowd-shot videos from Dead & Company’s New Orleans performance below:
“Feel Like A Stranger” [Pro-Shot] – Dead & Company:
Dead & Company w/ George Porter Jr. – “The Music Never Stopped”
Dead & Company – “Friend of the Devil”
Dead & Company w/ George Porter Jr. – “Smokestack Lightning”
Dead & Company w/ George Porter Jr. – “Bertha”
Dead & Company w/ George Porter Jr. – “Sugaree”
[Video: George Porter Jr.]
“Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain” [Pro-Shot] – Dead & Company:
Dead & Company – “Truckin'”
Dead & Company – “Uncle John’s Band”
Dead & Company – “Werewolves of London”
Setlist: Dead & Company | Smoothie King Center | New Orleans, LA | 2/25/18
Set 1: Feel Like A Stranger > The Music Never Stopped > Cold Rain and Snow, Peggy-O, Friend of the Devil, Smokestack Lightning*, Bertha^, Sugaree*
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, Truckin’ > Ship of Fools > Uncle John’s Band > Drums/Space > Stella Blue > One More Saturday Night
Encore: Werewolves of London
*with George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on bass, vocals
^with George Porter Jr. (The Meters) on bass