Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spinoff band featuring John Mayer (lead guitar/vocals), Oteil Burbridge (bass/vocals), and Jeff Chimenti (keyboards/vocals) alongside Grateful Dead alumni Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Mickey Hart (drums), and Bob Weir (rhythm guitar/vocals), recently completed their first tour since the COVID pandemic shut down the live music industry in March 2020.
The loosely-branded What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been tour was the longest in the band’s six-year history, lasting 31 shows split into three legs spanning from August 16th through Halloween. The shows continued the band’s established practice of playing two sets of material from the Grateful Dead’s repertoire, focusing heavily on original songs co-written by late guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia and the late lyricist Robert Hunter and Weir’s co-writes with the late John Barlow.
Because it was Dead & Company’s first tour since the pandemic arrived in early 2020, new protocols required that attendees were vaccinated or at least tested negative for COVID shortly before the event. However, early in the tour, there were enough no-shows by vaccinated-but-hesitant or unvaccinated ticketholders that people were actually giving top-priced tickets away on show days. By mid-October proof of vaccination became standard for ticketholders to gain entry while the number of no-shows lessened, with significant numbers of ticketless folks doing the one-finger shuffle outside all four Colorado shows and three of the four California shows.
Now that it’s over and we’ve more or less recovered, here’s a show-by-show recap, with our favorites listed at the end in the Top Shows section. We threw in some song statistics and a few other random details along the way too, so kick back, relax, and enjoy.
SUMMER TOUR, LEG 1 – AUGUST 16th – 28th
NORTH CAROLINA AND VIRGINIA
After 576 days without a Dead & Company show, the wait was finally over and the first show since January 2020 would finally happen, but not before one final setback from a thunderstorm that delayed the doors at the Coastal Credit Union Amphitheatre (aka Walnut Creek) and the start of the show. No matter. The band wordlessly took the stage to a deafening roar and kicked off a shortened six-song first set with the most meaningful version of “Touch Of Grey” in a long, long, long time.
The band was tight, rehearsed, and clearly happy to be back as well, as the second set’s pre-“Drums” ran eight songs, lasted over an hour, and included “Playing In The Band”, “Truckin’”, and the tour’s sole version of “Spoonful”. On the far side of “Space”, the band delivered the show’s highlight, a stunning debut of the blues dirge “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”, a yes-they-went-there moment if there ever was one, and the set ran so long that the venue’s curfew prevented an encore. Welcome. Back.
After a day off the tour resumed at the Jiffy Lube Amphitheatre in Bristow, VA outside Washington, D.C. After Mayer delivered strong versions of “Cold Rain & Snow”, “Mr. Charlie”, and “Dire Wolf” in the first set, he’d also get the nod to start the second with the Garcia/Hunter classic “Here Comes Sunshine”. This would be the first of several stellar versions of the song he’d deliver on the tour and take to a new level; in 2021 Mayer found his way to the heart of this song in the way that he’s previously done with “Althea”, “Deal”, and “Brown Eyed Women”. Not long after that, the first of only two uninterrupted versions of the classic pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire On The Mountain” on the entire tour would be another highlight.
NEW YORK AND PENNSYLVANIA
The tour’s third date was Dead & Company’s first post-lockdown show in a stadium, and seeing the band walk onstage at New York’s Citi Field made us feel like things were sort of getting back to normal. While the fact that the song had been overheard being played at soundcheck took the surprise factor away for some, the band opened the show with their debut of “Let The Good Times Roll”, a staple of Grateful Dead shows from 1988 onwards. Not only does this one fit the vibe like it always did, but the “everyone sing a verse” lyrics also allow monitors and PA levels to be adjusted as needed.
The second set kicked off with “Eyes Of The World” for the only time on the tour, and the “Drums” section would feature the debut of Voices Of The Rainforest, recordings sourced in Papua, New Guinea by Hart that included video footage to go along with them. The tour’s sole version of the elusive “Spanish Jam” followed “Space”, and aside from “Althea” and the encore of “The Weight”, the second set’s song list could have come from a Grateful Dead’s 1974 “Wall Of Sound” show.
We’ll talk more about the tour’s next four shows in Philadelphia, Bethel, Darien Lake, and Saratoga Springs in the Top Shows section at the end of the recap. And directly after them, the opening leg of the summer tour ended on a Saturday night at Hershey Stadium, which was the first night of Grateful Dead music at the venue since the OG band’s 1985 rain-soaked classic. Intentionally or not, Dead & Company’s show paid immediate homage to the peak of that 1985 night by starting with “The Music Never Stopped”, before deftly weaving Weir’s 90s-era Dead tune “Easy Answers” into it, a tricky tune that Dead & Company handle far more deftly than their predecessors. Later, the second set’s highlights came from another kaleidoscopic “Here Comes Sunshine” from Mayer, Weir’s second reading of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”, and the tour’s sole performance of “Quinn The Eskimo” as the encore.
SUMMER TOUR, LEG 2 – SEPTEMBER 2nd — 18th
MASSACHUSETTS AND CONNECTICUT
These three New England shows clearly meant a little something extra to Wilton, CT native and Berklee College Of Music student John Mayer, who’d posted a photo of the Wilton exit on I-84 and also say as much on the day of the first show. The band would also take the opportunity to actively treat this trio of shows as a distinct group by starting and ending the three-show run (two nights at XFinity Centre Amphitheatre [aka Great Woods] in Mansfield, MA, and one at Hartford’s Xfinity Theatre) by starting and finishing the run with the two halves of “Playing In The Band”, and the band would also split the tour’s first appearances of “Dark Star” over the two Great Woods shows as well. The aforementioned show-opening version of “Playing” combined seamlessly with “The Wheel” to last a combined 30 (!) minutes, while the second set kicked off with one of Mayer’s best versions of “Deal” on the tour, complete with him simultaneously fanning his guitar while repeatedly jumping up and down like a pogo stick.
After Friday’s Great Woods show (which we’ll talk more about in the Top Shows section at the end) and a day off on Saturday, the band made its way down I-84 to Hartford and picked right up where they’d left off, with a first set so stacked that the songs could have actually comprised a 1980 second set by the Grateful Dead if “Drums” and “Space” were added, and included “Shakedown Street”, “Samson & Delilah”, and “Franklin’s Tower”. The second set’s highlights came from the tour’s first versions of “St. Stephen”, “William Tell Bridge”, and especially “The Eleven”, and Hartford also scored the tour’s sole version of “Werewolves Of London” as the encore. All three nights of the New England run were strong individually, but collectively the shows wove themselves together into a distinct trio.
OHIO AND MICHIGAN
Next up was a drive west on I-80 to Ohio and the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls just south of Cleveland. As the band took the stage Mayer quickly won the “best-dressed band member” award by sporting a black satin shirt that would have passed Studio 54’s dress code, and he’d also deliver the tour’s sole version of “Next Time You See Me” early in the show before a strong pairing of “Cassidy” and “Bird Song” closed the first set. The second set truly caught fire with the version of “Eyes Of The World” preceding “Drums”, and the show’s peak occurred via an absolutely gorgeous transition from the end of “Standing On The Moon” into the extended final verse of “Viola Lee Blues” along with a lengthy, standout version of “Not Fade Away” to close the set.
Three days later the next stop was DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, MI (aka Pine Knob), whose first set featured a rare mid-set placement of “New Speedway Boogie” just before the tour’s first version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”. The second set’s highlight came early via Burbridge’s gorgeous vocal take on the Garcia/Hunter ballad “Comes A Time”, complete with an equally gorgeous closing solo by Mayer. If you were there you got lucky, because it was the only one on the tour.
Later highlights came from the “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” pairing that led into “Drums”, and the relaxed-but-welcome tour premiere of “I Need A Miracle” following “Space”. The following day found the band moving fast down I-75 to the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati for a show on Mickey Hart’s 78th birthday, but we’ll talk about that one in detail later, in the Top Shows section.
MISSOURI, INDIANA, AND ILLINOIS
The summer tour remained in the Midwest for its last week, with shows at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in St. Louis, MO (aka Riverport) and the Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center in Noblesville, IN (aka Deer Creek) that we’ll go over in detail in the Top Shows section at the end. From there, the summer leg closed with a pair of weekend shows within the friendly confines of 107-year-old Wrigley Field in Chicago. However, before the first show on Friday night, Mother Nature dropped a thunderstorm that caused two delays and worked heavily against the band.
The first set started late, was marred by equipment issues, and was then cut short after four songs. It was followed by a second set whose rushed pre-“Drums” did at least contain the sole “Dancing In The Streets” of the tour, but fortunately, the closing run of songs after “Space” was much stronger, with “Morning Dew” as the night’s highlight. The “Ripple” encore made for a nice finish, but overall, this was a rare off-night.
This wasn’t lost on the band, who’d make it up for it the following night. The first set started with a trio of second-set songs (“Althea”, “Uncle John’s Band”, and “He’s Gone”) and also contained the tour’s sole version of “Little Red Rooster”. But even better was the sprawling, generous second set that ran nearly two hours and contained, in Deadhead shorthand, “China” > “Rider”, “Estimated” > “Eyes” and “Help” > “Slip” > “Frank”. Yes, all of those in the same set plus “Milestones” and “Days Between” too, and after a double encore of “Brokedown Palace” and “Touch Of Grey” the band headed home for a two-week break before the fall leg commenced.
SONG STATS AND FUN FACTS
MOST AND LEAST PLAYED SONGS
Over the course of 31 shows the band played 119 different songs, aside from the “Drums” and “Space” segments each night during second sets. There was actually a 13-way tie for first place in the “most played song” category, with the following songs getting eight airings each: “Dark Star”, “Althea”, “The Other One”, “Deal”, “Playing In The Band”, “Uncle John’s Band”, “China Cat Sunflower”, “I Know You Rider”, “Bertha”, “Scarlet Begonias”, “Fire On The Mountain”, “Not Fade Away”, and “Franklin’s Tower”.
Right behind all those there was a 7-way tie for second place, with the following songs getting seven plays each: “Help On The Way”, “Slipknot”, “Let The Good Times Roll”, “Casey Jones”, “Jack Straw”, “Shakedown Street”, “New Speedway Boogie”, and “They Love Each Other”. On the other end of the statistics, 23 songs were only played once, with 14 shows getting one of them, the Raleigh, Bethel, and St. Louis shows each getting two, and the Dallas show getting three.
Dead & Company only added three new songs to the repertoire in 2021, but they were all winners. The Reverend Gary Davis blues dirge “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” debuted on the tour’s opening night (Raleigh 8/16), and Sam Cooke’s 1964 party anthem “Let The Good Times Roll” opened up the tour’s third show (New York 8/20). Both these songs remained in regular rotation for the entire tour, but the version of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” would sadly be a one-off, making its sole appearance at Darien Lake on August 25th as a dedication to Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who had passed away the day before.
ALTHEA’S HOT SPACES
In 2019 “Terrapin Station” was the song whose location in Dead & Company shows would constantly bounce around, but in 2021 Mayer’s signature song “Althea” moved into this welcome role. Over its 8 appearances, it kicked off the second set twice (Cuyahoga Falls 9/7 and Los Angeles 10/31) and appeared in the body of the second set’s pre-“Drums” twice (Atlanta 10/12 and Phoenix 10/25), but it also opened a first set (Chicago 9/18), led directly into “Drums” (Hershey 8/28), came out of “Space” (New York, 8/20), and served as the encore (Red Rocks 10/19).
SCARLET > FIRE AND FRIENDS
Another thing Dead & Company setlist architect Matt Busch did to keep people guessing in 2021 was add one or more songs into the middle of the “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” pairing, one of Deadheads’ most beloved song combinations since March 1977. This pairing was played 8 times in 2021, all in second sets, but only 2 were “traditional” and flowed directly into one another (Bristow 8/18 and Los Angeles 10/31). During the other six airings, the following songs flowed between them: “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot” (Saratoga Springs 8/27), “Viola Lee Blues” (Clarkston 9/7), “Deal” (Chicago 9/17), “Uncle John’s Band” (Charlotte 10/11), “Estimated Prophet” and “Eyes Of The World” (Red Rocks 10/19), and “Touch Of Grey” (Phoenix 10/25).
THE STORYTELLERS SPEAK
Another welcome change in 2021 was that the tour’s livestreams on Nugs.net now had hosts to fill the “Dead Air” before the first set and during intermission. They were familiar faces, too: Gary Lambert and David Gans, two longtime torchbearers of the Deadhead community who host Tales From The Golden Road, the weekly call-in show on Sirius XM’s Grateful Dead channel.
Not only was it fun to watch them recap sets and manufacture on-the-fly conversation to fill the final minutes before the band took the stage for the second set each night, they were also joined by guests of prominent stature from all eras of the Grateful Dead universe, and these are less than half of the names: GD family members (Trixie Garcia), OG GD extended family members (Ken Babbs, Rosie McGee), those who make official GD music releases happen (David Lemieux, David Glasser, Mark Pinkus), a podcast host (Jesse Jarnow), a Nugs founder (Brad Serling), and a musician or two (Don Was, Branford Marsalis, Denise Parent, Jeff Mattson, and some random guy named John Mayer).
YOU SHOULD BE MADE TO WEAR EARPHONES
When Dead & Company took the stage in Darien Lake on August 25th, there was a surprising sight on stage right: John Mayer was wearing headphones during the show, though aside from that he played and sang normally. And as soon as it got to intermission, Dead Air host Gary Lambert texted Mayer to ask about them, and Mayer texted him right back so Gary could get the word out: the headphones were to protect his hearing against (further) tinnitus and hearing loss, but they also help him to hear the band more fully, as he has the band’s front-of-house engineer mix piped in, so he’s hearing the very same mix by front-of-house engineer Derek Featherstone that Deadheads do. Want a pair for yourself? Go here.
FALL TOUR – OCTOBER 11th — OCTOBER 31st
NORTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND TEXAS
Originally, the fall leg of the tour was supposed to start with a pair of shows in Florida, in West Palm Beach on October 6th and Tampa on October 7th. However, on September 28th the band canceled these shows and issued refunds, citing “routing and logistics” as the reason and not elaborating further.
A week earlier the band had also added two dates at the 9,000-capacity Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. This was a surprising move for a band who draws over four times that number just up the road at Folsom Field in Boulder on a summer Saturday, but they’d pull this off by booking the shows on a Tuesday and Wednesday night in late October.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Tarheel State of North Carolina hosted their second kickoff show of the tour at PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte on October 11th. The opening “Let The Good Times Roll” was now clearly a band favorite, and it would be the only song of the night that wasn’t a Grateful Dead original. It was followed by an early-show surprise of “Cassidy” in the second slot, and the set’s highlight was the expansive “Bird Song” closer.
Related: Grateful Dead Studio Albums Ranked Worst To Best
The second set neatly incorporated half of the Grateful Dead’s classic 1970 Workingman’s Dead LP, starting with “Uncle John’s Band” between “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire On The Mountain” before “Drums”, and finishing with a post-“Space” segment of “New Speedway Boogie”, “Black Peter”, and “Casey Jones”. The following day the band traveled to Atlanta’s Cellairis Amphitheatre (aka Lakewood), which seems to have become a charmed venue for the band. Dead & Company’s two previous shows there in 2017 and 2019 were each among that year’s best, and since it happened again at Lakewood in 2021 we’ll talk about that one in more detail in the Top Shows section at the end.
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Well before Dead & Company arrived in Texas for a pair of shows in Dallas and Houston, the state created one of the year’s biggest political controversies by passing Senate Bill 8, a nefariously crafted abortion restriction bill that’s outrageous enough that it could be overturned by the most conservative Supreme Court in a century. Weir had already made his public pronouncement on the issue by posting photos of his and his wife’s attendance at the San Francisco edition of a national Women’s Rights march that took place on October 2nd, and the band’s first set at Dallas’ Dos Equis Pavilion would say much more.
After opening with the sole “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” of the tour, the rest of the set featured songs about beloved female characters in the Grateful Dead’s universe: “Bertha”, “Queen Jane Approximately” (the only one of the tour), “Brown Eyed Women”, “Peggy-O”, and “Sugaree”. After the dust settled from all that, the second set kicked off with the only “Deep Ellum Blues” of the tour as a friendly callout to the notorious Dallas nightlife district that spawned the song. Later on, the extended version of “The Other One” just before “Drums” would be the highlight of the show, and the band closed the night with one final, gentler political plea via their “Liberty” encore.
The band headed 210 miles south on I-45 the following day for a show at the Cynthia Woods Pavilion outside Houston, with the band competing against the Friday Night Lights of Texas high school football. Two of the first set’s big plays came from the hoped-for songs with local references (“El Paso” and “Jack Straw”), and the second set’s touchdowns came from yet another classic with a local reference (“Truckin’”), versions of “St. Stephen” and “The Eleven” whose jams took some slight darker turns, and one of the tour’s two versions of Miles Davis’ classic “Milestones”. Lastly, there was a classic sliver of sibling-style banter onstage after the “Black Muddy River” encore, an hour or so before Weir turned 74 and Mayer turned 44 on October 16th:
Burbridge: “An early ‘Happy Birthday’ to John and Bob!”
Hart: “The birthday boys…How cute.”
On paper, this was as good as things could get for Dead & Company and Deadheads in 2021, with two shows at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, just west of Denver. But just before the first show started, as the temperature was dropping to a bone-chilling 34 degrees, there was a stunning announcement.
Drummer Bill Kreutzmann had contracted a non-Covid 19-related illness and would not play, and Wolf Bros and Ratdog drummer Jay Lane would fill in for him. And when we say stunning, we mean it: Kreutzmann himself couldn’t recall ever missing a show in his entire career, which is fair, because a look through Deadbase revealed he had missed only one, on 11/22/68.
Rallying, defiant versions of “Not Fade Away” and “New Speedway Boogie” started the show and the “Eyes Of The World” in the second set would be the show’s powerful highlight, but at the conclusion of “Casey Jones”, the cold conditions and equipment issues forced Mickey Hart offstage for the rest of the night, leaving new guy Lane out there on his own for the closer and first-ever “Althea” encore. No pressure, man. It was a beautiful but cold setting and it was definitely a Dead & Company show, but the drummers’ circumstances made for an uncommon night onstage.
The second Red Rocks show on October 20th took place under a full moon, with slightly higher temperatures ranging from the low 50s into the 40s during the show. Lane would fill in for Kreutzmann for a second straight night, and the first set featured a nice run of 70s-era songs highlighted by “The Wheel” and “Black-Throated Wind”, while the 80s were represented by what was possibly the most relaxed version of “Hell In A Bucket” ever. And while the second set was solid throughout and highlighted by “Terrapin Station”, two quick moments after “Space” stood out: during the closing jam of “All Along The Watchtower” Lane unleashed a powerful blast of drumming that rippled right through the entire band, and then got in a second one with the same effect during the climax of “Standing On The Moon” two songs later.
While Lane has played with Weir for decades and was already familiar with a sizable chunk of the Grateful Dead’s catalog, these were breakthrough moments for him with Dead & Company, right after being airdropped into this madness. Two days later, the tour resumed just 25 miles down the road at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village with another pair of shows, and Lane continued filling in for Kreutzmann at both of them. Lane’s surges would prove a good omen for the Fiddler’s Green run, and his new-guy energy would help those shows become two of the tour’s best. We’ll talk more about them in the Top Shows section at the end.
ARIZONA AND CALIFORNIA
The weather warmed up considerably once the band moved on from Colorado to Arizona, but even more importantly, Kreutzmann was back on his drummer’s throne for the Monday evening show at Phoenix’s Ak-Chin Pavilion. Not only were Kreutzmann and the band in fine form all evening, the setlist would make fans of the Grateful Dead’s “dirty 80’s” era very happy: aside from the encore, every song could have been from a 1984 Dead show. In particular, we loved Burbridge’s “China Doll” and the “Let It Grow” from the first set, and the second set trio of “Scarlet Begonias”, “Touch Of Grey”, and “Fire On The Mountain”, a sequence the Grateful Dead would only do twice, on July 3rd, 1984 and July 13th, 1984.
Next up was a drive west on I-8 to the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, CA, just outside San Diego. Local boy (and World’s Tallest Deadhead) Bill Walton turned up, and beaming visage and outstretched arms were consistently broadcast on the video screens to the delight of the crowd, while the first set’s highlights came from another great “Cumberland Blues” and the “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” closer. However, the Chula Vista show would be set apart by its second set song choices, which included five songs from the Grateful Dead’s 60’s era and a looser, slightly rawer vibe to go with them: “St. Stephen”, “The Eleven”, “New Speedway Boogie”, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”, and “Good Lovin”.
The tour concluded with a drive up I-5 for three sold-out shows at the iconic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, with many folks taking advantage of Halloween weekend by dressing for the occasion on all three nights. (Skeletons were far and away the most common costume, followed by a respectable number of people dressed as The Dude from The Big Lebowski.)
Both sets on opening night were bookended by a Weir/Barlow classic: the first set started and finished with “Playing In The Band”, with highlights between them coming from “Deal”, “All Along The Watchtower”, and “High Time”. Not to be outdone, the second set kicked off with “Sugar Magnolia” and finished with its coda, “Sunshine Daydream”, with highlights in between coming from a dense “Slipknot!” and a lengthy “Estimated Prophet”. There was a somber note to this set, however, as right before the band started “Sugar Magnolia” Weir quickly said the song was “for Rob”. This rare onstage dedication was for Rob Lawson, Weir’s longtime driver and confidant who was in his final days and who would pass away on November 1st, the day after the tour ended.
Hollywood Bowl’s middle night on Saturday was rolling smoothly along after a first set highlighted by “It Hurts Me Too” and “Tennessee Jed”, and a second set that started with an agreeable run of “Jack Straw”, “Sugaree”, and the classic pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider”. However, before the band could start a fifth song Kreutzmann would leave the stage, and most of the band followed while Hart handled the “Drums” segment largely on his own. It turned out the band had prepared for this possibility and had kept Lane on hand, as he took Kreutzmann’s place for the remainder of the show, which had a heavier, more serious vibe during “Throwing Stones” and “Days Between” before the more upbeat, celebratory vibes of set closer “One More Saturday Night” and encore “U.S. Blues”.
The following morning on Halloween, Kreutzmann took a light tone on a social media post and apologized if he’d “spooked” anyone with his absence, while disclosing that he’d come back too soon from his illness and Lane would fill in for him one last time for that evening’s Halloween tour closer, and we’ll talk a little more about that one in the Top Shows section below.
TOP 8 SHOWS, PLUS 4 HONORABLE MENTIONS
The What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been tour lasted 31 shows and 77 days, and it more than lived up to its name, as you’ve read here and/or experienced firsthand. Over that time there were some shows that stood out from the others, and we kept track of them along the way. Since this Dead & Company tour was longer we expanded the customary Top 5 to a Top 8, and to 4 Honorable Mentions instead of the usual 3. So with a resounding Rhythm Devils drum roll and without further ado, here are 2021’s top Dead & Company shows, in chronological order.
TOP 8 SHOWS
August 21st – Philadelphia, PA
Just before the band took the stage for the fourth show of the tour, word came down that tonight’s show would have no intermission due to severe incoming storms and would instead consist of one solitary set that had to end by 10 p.m. But the Philly crowd took it all in stride and pushed the band the way they always have, and after a pair of rainbows formed over the stadium during the third song, “Jack Straw”, the band was off to the races for the rest of the night, with the pre-“Drums” highlights coming from Chimenti’s lengthy, fiery Hammond B3 organ solo in “Franklin’s Tower”, and a 35-minute journey through “Terrapin Station” and “The Other One”. However, the faster-tempo-than-usual “Morning Dew” that closed the set would not just be the peak of this show. Instead, Mayer’s closing solo ensured this song was the peak moment of the entire tour, and it will remain one of his signature moments with Dead & Company.
One of the trademarks of any band led by Bob Weir is that there’s an avoidance of nostalgia or simply recreating past glories. Weir’s focus is all about creating something new each night, so after a solid first set featuring four 80s-era Weir/Barlow classics, Weir stepped to his microphone at the beginning of the second set and delivered the biggest surprise of the tour.
Since the stage they were on that was adjacent to the site of the August 1969 Woodstock Music & Arts Festival and the Grateful Dead’s utterly disastrous five-song set there (thunderstorms caused life-threatening technical issues), Weir announced a “do-over” of that set, 52 years later. And to the crowd’s disbelief and joy, they’d run through “St. Stephen”, “Mama Tried”, “Dark Star”, “High Time” and “Turn On Your Lovelight”, and it would go a lot better this time. To finish the night off, “Ripple” would be the perfect encore at this proving ground of hippies with the best of intentions trying to make a huge rock festival work before anyone had truly figured out how exactly to do it.
August 27th – Saratoga Springs, NY
The 20-minute “Bird Song” that closed the first set of this show featured a jam with a heavy metal level of intensity, with David Gans and Gary Lambert later declaring it one of the best performances of the song by anyone in its 50-year history. The second set would stand up to it, too, with the front half featuring a sequence of “Scarlet Begonias”, “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot!” that recalled the Grateful Dead’s exploratory 1976 approach to each of these songs, and the show’s peak would be the definitive-D&C-version-so-far of “Cumberland Blues” out of “Space”, followed by Weir delivering the tour’s best version of “Days Between”. On its fifth try, the venerable Saratoga Performing Arts Center finally hosted a Dead & Company show that channeled the intensity of the Grateful Dead’s legendary 80s-era shows there.
September 11th – Cincinnati, OH
For the first time in Dead & Company’s six-year history, a show took place on a band member’s birthday, and the band would celebrate drummer Mickey Hart’s 78th trip around the sun by leading the crowd through a version of “Happy Birthday To You” before the second set, which was inspired and seamless. Highlights came from its opener of “The Other One” that would conclude over an hour later after journeys through “Uncle John’s Band”, the “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower” trio and another top-notch “Cumberland Blues” coming out of “Space”. The first set stood out too, thanks to a well-chosen run of five early-70’s Grateful Dead originals: “Tennessee Jed”, “Here Comes Sunshine”, “Loose Lucy”, “Mr. Charlie”, and “Looks Like Rain”.
September 15th – Noblesville, IN
The venue we still call Deer Creek once again served as the location for a night of magical Grateful Dead music. The first set peaked with Weir’s dramatic reading of the tour’s sole version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, and the second set got off to an unconventional start with Mayer leading the band through a stand-alone version of “Sugaree”.
But from there, the band would head straight to 1969 and stay there for the rest of the set, and if you allow “Space” to be considered the equivalent to “Feedback”, they’d play the entire Live Dead double album, slightly out of sequence and with the additions of “Drums” and “Casey Jones”. Once again, while it remains rare for Dead & Company to make clear and conscious nods to big, specific happenings from the Grateful Dead’s past, when it does happen the results tend to be pretty big as well.
For the third time in three Dead & Company shows at Lakewood, the show made our best-of-tour list. This one started with the best first set of the tour, which kicked off with 19 minutes of “Shakedown Street” and was later bolstered by the band’s then-and-there decision to try out the original, faster 1973 arrangement of “They Love Each Other” without ever having rehearsed it. It worked. But the second set eclipsed it, with an opener of “Playing In The Band” that segued into the first “Crazy Fingers” in two years.
After Mayer delivered his signature song “Althea”, the version of “China Cat Sunflower” > ”I Know You Rider” that followed lasted for an eye-popping 28 minutes, nearly three times the 10:35 duration of the Grateful Dead’s benchmark version from Europe ‘72. Hart’s segment on The Beam at the conclusion of “Drums” was also the tour’s best, and with all of this it’s unsurprising that the band ran so late with their set that the gorgeous set-closing reprise of “Playing In The Band” would be the final number of the night. But by then, an encore wasn’t really necessary.
After a first set that drew from six different eras of the Grateful Dead’s live repertoire, the second set kicked off with a stand-alone “Sugaree”. Once again it was a seemingly odd choice, just like it was in Deer Creek, but once again it would precede a continuous psychedelic blast that would last for the remainder of the set. This time, every song (including “Sugaree”) could have come from a Grateful Dead show from 1971, and the set’s centerpiece that was the highlight of the fall leg of the tour: a 45-minute excursion of “Dark Star” > “The Other One” > “Drums” > “Space” > “Dark Star” > “The Other One”.
Sets containing both of these open-ended classics were extremely rare after 1971 with the Grateful Dead, and it’s only happened a couple times before with Dead & Company, but this is the first instance we know of where either band played both songs and split them both in half in the same set. The band knew they’d nailed it all too, and they remained dialed-in for the “Wharf Rat” and “Sugar Magnolia” closers. Oh, and we almost forgot: Weir’s delivery of the “headlight” verse in “I Know You Rider” was the best one we can remember.
October 31st – Los Angeles, CA
Jay Lane had to sit in for Kreutzmann again on this night, but not for the first time; the band used the last night of the tour to stack the setlist and go for broke. The first set was highlighted by the opening “Samson & Delilah” and second-set-intensity versions of “Uncle John’s Band” and set-closer “Terrapin Station”. The second set closed out the tour with a list of favorites and stone-cold classics dished out with no-tomorrow energy, including opener “Althea”, a “Dark Star” > “El Paso” suite, and another strong “Eyes Of The World”. Following “Space”, the band dealt out the first uninterrupted “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” since the tour’s second show in Bristow back in August, and then follow it with a substantial “Morning Dew” to close the set. Enough classics for you? The only drawback was “Werewolves Of London” being cut from the encore because of the venue curfew, but by this point one could just blame it on the Dew and smile.
4 HONORABLE MENTIONS:
This day started on a somber note for pretty much everyone who’s ever liked rock ‘n’ roll, as the sad news came from London that Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts had passed away the day before at the age of 80. The news wasn’t lost on the band, who debuted their version of the Stones’ classic “The Last Time” as the Grateful Dead’s Steal Your Face skull logo broadcast on the venue screens with the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo in place of the lightning bolt.
The overall vibe of the show also contained several nods to the time when the Rolling Stones were young men and the Grateful Dead were even younger: “Viola Lee Blues” and “Cold Rain and Snow” date back to the Dead’s earliest days when the Stones were a big influence, but they also didn’t shy away from playing “New Speedway Boogie”, the song that memorialized the one time the bands tried to play together, with disastrous results, at Altamont Speedway in December of 1969. All in all, it was the celebration of the backbeat of one of rock’s greatest bands while also acknowledging that same band’s dark and dangerous side. And, just being able to hear “Truckin’” in Buffalo again was a joyous little celebration all by itself. This show had the dark and the light in spades.
Connecticut native and Berklee College of Music student John Mayer was excited and nostalgic about the trio of shows that took place in New England over Labor Day weekend (two at Great Woods in Massachusetts and one at Xfinity in Connecticut), and the second night of Great Woods would just barely outpace the other two in a strong weekend of shows. The first set featured no fewer than four songs with Mayer on lead vocals (“Cold Rain & Snow”, “Dire Wolf”, and “Sugaree” on his own, plus shared vocals with Weir on “Mississippi Half-Step”), followed by a second set that allowed numerous opportunities for Mayer to run wild as a player, including the big second set jam that started with “Truckin’” and ended over an hour later with “Morning Dew”. To wrap it up, Mayer would team up with Weir to belt out a perfectly-timed “U.S. Blues” encore to send everyone back out into the Massachusetts night.
September 13th – St. Louis, MO
The timing of this show ended up coinciding pretty closely with the announcement of the Grateful Dead’s Listen To The River box set, featuring seven complete shows played in St. Louis from 1971 to 1973. And setlist assembler Matt Busch made sure to take note of the location with “Big River” and “Black-Throated Wind” and their direct references to St. Louis making the first set, and St. Louis native Chuck Berry’s signature song “Johnny B. Goode” would get its sole airing of the tour as the encore. In between, the second set had a decidedly late-1978 vibe to it, with a “Bertha” > “Good Lovin” opener, and a mid-set “Shakedown Street” before “Terrapin Station” begat “Drums”, with “Wharf Rat and “Sugar Magnolia” serving as the two post-“Space” set closers.
Numerous shows on the tour were consistently strong from start to finish, but this final of the four shows in Colorado (and the fourth with Lane filling in for Kreutzmann) had that little something extra the whole way through that sets it apart. The first set nestled five classic 1970’s Garcia/Hunter songs (“Shakedown Street”, “Ship Of Fools”, “Brown-Eyed Women”, “Crazy Fingers”, and “Here Comes Sunshine”) in between two of the late Jerry Garcia’s most reliable Grateful Dead covers in “Iko Iko” and “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad”. Following that, the second set’s otherness came from the unusual turns in the jams in the opening “Truckin’” and the all-three-verse version of “Viola Lee Blues” that followed, with late-show highlights coming in the from of “Cumberland Blues” and a mesmerizing “Stella Blue”.
Dead & Company’s next shows take place from January 7th–10th and January 13th–16th, 2022 at the annual Playing In The Sand event in Cancun, Mexico. Get more information here.