Dead & Company returned to New York’s Citi Field on Friday for the third show on the band’s highly anticipated 2021 tour.
The New York Mets‘ digs on Seaver Way have provided a welcome home for Dead & Company every summer since the band’s inception, and the continuation of the tradition in 2021 marked a milestone moment for many in attendance. It truly had been a long, strange trip since the Grateful Dead offshoot’s last trip to Citi Field, when John Mayer availed himself of Jerry Garcia‘s “Wolf” guitar for the entirety of the performance.
Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Mickey Hart (drums), John Mayer (guitar/vocals), Oteil Burbridge (bass/vocals), and Jeff Chimenti (keys/vocals) made their intentions for the evening known early, opening the festivities with the Dead & Co debut of Sam Cooke‘s “Good Times”, a later-years live staple for the Grateful Dead.
Dead & Company – “Good Times” (Sam Cooke) [Pro-Shot] – 8/20/21
[Video: Dead & Company]
Mayer, Weir, and Chimenti all took their turns on vocals on the call for celebration before letting the good times roll right into a Mayer-led “Bertha”, giving the band a chance to start stretching its legs. Keeping the mood light and the vibe right, Dead & Company moved into “Good Lovin”.
Island jams shifted to cold iron beds as Mayer—clad in a cutoff t-shirt with a neon pink “ROCK OUT” across the front from the Sob Rock collection—steered the train into “Big Railroad Blues”, giving the guitarist a chance to flex his blues chops before Chimenti stepped in for his first of many MVP moments on the night with a searing piano solo.
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From there, the band sauntered into “Ramble On Rose”, Weir seizing the moment—back in this cavernous stadium after a year locked down—by putting some extra gusto into key lines. The audience responded in kind, particularly on the obligatory explosion for “just like New York City.” This version rambled out to more than eleven minutes in length, powered nonchalantly by Oteil’s low-end bounce and Chimenti’s Frenchmen St. swagger on the keys.
After a pause, the bobbing momentum of the opening set continued with “They Love Each Other”. One of Mayer’s standout tunes with Dead & Co, this rendition saw him experiment with his delivery of the adored Robert Hunter lyrics as he played cat and mouse with Burbridge’s winding bassline and traded guitar lines with Weir.
Weir, looking right at home onstage in his shorts, retook the reins next for one of his signature tunes, “Cassidy”, which wielded to the storm of jazzy, ambient flourishes to fly out on a soothing improvisational voyage.
A set-closing “Casey Jones” offered up some fun locomotive visuals from behind the band, though some lyrical flubs and missed connections kept it from picking up as much steam as usual.
The band retook the stage just after 9:25 p.m and jumped into a flowing “Eyes of the World” that allowed them ample time and space to explore as they painted watercolor tones and bounced freeform musical ideas off of each other over the course of nearly twenty blissed-out minutes.
Dead & Company – “Eyes of the World” – 8/20/21
[Video: Dead & Company]
The music eventually found its way into “Uncle John’s Band”, yet another launchpad for 15+ more minutes minutes of moody, swaying, full-band improv. From the ashes of this jam rose a Burbridge-sung “China Doll” that could bring a tear to a glass eye, followed by a thoroughly satisfying run through the classic “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” combo, an emotional and energetic highlight of the performance.
A very special Drums/Space ensued, as Mickey Hart interpolated some new audiovisual content from his Voices of the Rainforest project into his nightly foray into the rhythmic unknown alongside Bill Kreutzmann and their recently-inducted third Rhythm Devil, Oteil.
The “Space” was just as interesting as the rainforest “Drums”, as the band wove into a lengthy “Spanish Jam” to add some Latin flavor to the soundtrack before gliding into “Althea” and, in turn, a gorgeous “Stella Blue”.
Back on March 27th, 2020, when the realities of the pandemic were just setting in, I wrote an earnest but lighthearted opinion piece for this publication called “Quarantine Is The Drums And Space Portion Of Your Life.” Its titular metaphor was culled from the loftiest of all scholarly media: a meme.
My timelines were way off, and we’re far from “out of the woods” even today, but the core of the metaphor has held up until now. You can read the unnecessarily deep dive into the concept here, but the gist of the piece—in my naive, March 2020 mind—was this: “We’re about to journey into some serious ‘unknown.’ We don’t know how long it will last, or what will happen in the meantime, but just like Drums/Space, we know that the soft embrace of a Grateful Dead ballad awaits us on the other side.”
When I wrote that piece, this was the moment I had in mind: standing on the concourse at Citi Field with my friends, breeze rippling through the crowd as we dive into the ether with Mickey and Billy and wind up in “Stella Blue”, back where we began, same as it’s always been. I’ve seen plenty of concerts since live music flipped back on, but this one struck a special chord.
With time for just one more, the band closed out set two with “U.S. Blues” and returned for an encore rendition of The Band‘s “The Weight”.
The weight of reality reared its head on Friday night, too, as news of a fan’s fatal fall from the stadium balcony during the show spread across the internet. The tragedy hung over morning-after memories, a sobering reminder that even as we emerge after a year and a half of being mindful of COVID’s risks, the other risks of being out in the world remain. Take care of your people, practice moderation, be safe, be sensible, make wise choices. We want to see you again next time.
Dead & Company tour continues tonight, Saturday, August 21st, with a performance at Philadelphia, PA’s Citizens Bank Park. For a full list of upcoming Dead & Co tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Citi Field | Queens, NY | 8/20/21
Set One: Good Times*, Bertha > Good Lovin’ > Big Railroad Blues, Ramble On Rose, They Love Each Other, Cassidy > Casey Jones
Set Two: Eyes of the World > Uncle John’s Band > China Doll# > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > Spanish Jam > Althea > Stella Blue, U.S. Blues
Encore: The Weight
^featured “Spanish Jam”
#Oteil on lead vocals
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