Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spinoff band consisting of rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, bassist/vocalist Oteil Burbridge, and lead guitarist/vocalist John Mayer resumed their summer tour at the venue known and loved by Deadheads since 1989 as Deer Creek Music Center, but whose current corporate sponsor has deemed it the “Ruoff Home Mortgage Center.” This was the first show after an initial run of six performances on the west coast as part of their ongoing summer trek that contained a few new songs and some nice peaks, and Midwestern fans were excited for their first in-person taste of this tour.

While the traditional Appalachian murder ballad “Cold Rain & Snow” was not an accurate reflection of the 70-degrees-and-humid weather at showtime, the Mayer-sung tune was nonetheless a well-received start to the show, and his mid-song guitar solo hit several satisfying notes to get things off to a solid start. Weir quickly followed with, the New Orleans classic “Iko Iko”, giving the Indiana crowd an early treat by moving this one forward to the first set after last week’s prominent second-set appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.

The party continued with the tour debut of Weir’s “Minglewood Blues”, one of the oldest and trustiest first-set numbers in the repertoire, and a song that was born in the 1920s as a Memphis jug band tune. The first Grateful Dead original came next in the firm of the “Tennessee Jed”, and this Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter classic fit the varied, but very American run of songs.

Then came a detour into back-to-back love songs, always a rarity in the live catalog used by the Dead and its various spinoffs. Mayer got the first shot at it with “Sugaree”, a timeless ode to a woman who has to remain secret, and an ode with three opportunities for Mayer to churn out bubbling guitar solos as the band swayed behind him. Not to be outdone, Weir responded with the tour debut of his classic “Looks Like Rain”, which was co-written with the late, great John Barlow and remains Weir’s most emotional lyric.

The American vibe soon returned with the mysterious world of “Row Jimmy”, which seems to be back in the band’s favor this summer. For the second time this show, a song whose tour debut was in the second set (this time at Saturday Shoreline), John Mayer’s vocals give Dead & Company versions and earthier, woodier flavor and he also played a beautiful solo, but by its end the band had aired four consecutive slower songs and a tempo change was needed.

Some familiar-sounding chords soon ushered in the first “Let It Grow” of the tour, and the first performance of the song since Shoreline last year. It was played at a slightly slower pace to start, but that didn’t affect Mayer’s ability to scatter beautiful, delicate leads throughout the verses and bridge. When it came time for the song’s larger jam that’s split into three distinct sections, Mayer’s smooth and subtle leads continued through the first section and maintained the slower pace, but as Weir led the band into the “quieter” second section, the band picked up the pace with Mayer’s leads growing more authoritative as Chimenti added thick piano chords behind him. The third and final section reverted back to a slightly slower tempo once again. The music quickly started to bounce thanks to Oteil’s heard-and-felt bass line. The jam soon regained full momentum when Chimenti was given an extended piano solo that he made the most of, only to hear Mayer returned the favor from a few minutes earlier by strumming some subtle power chords in support. All in all, a welcome closer to a generous and thematically consistent first set.

Watch the opening performance from set one below.

Dead & Company – “Cold, Rain & Snow” [Pro-Shot] – 6/12/2019

[Video: Dead & Company]

The second set started with a bit of a surprise in “Fire On The Mountain”, which for the second straight appearance was disconnected from its traditional partner “Scarlet Begonias”. The song got off to a quick, upbeat start as Oteil quickly dove into his first lead vocal of the evening, to a loud cheer from the crowd. Mayer’s solo after the final verse soon hit a nice groove as he stared into space and bobbed back and forth, allowing himself to just get lost in the music for a couple of minutes before circling back to the famous descending guitar solo line made famous by Jerry Garcia.

After “Fire” came to a full stop after 10 minutes, the mood changed dramatically with Weir’s opening chords to “Lost Sailor”, and a languorous vibe quickly washed over the crowd. It was a beautiful version of a song where Dead & Company’s style is perfectly suited to its every hook and melody. After the nice, expected crescendo, Weir led the band into “Sailor’s” longtime companion song “Saint Of Circumstance”, which was well-played but suffered from a slower tempo that affected the waves of momentum that this song can generate on its best nights.

The relaxed vibe continued with “He’s Gone” as Weir and Mayer traded vocals on the Garcia/Hunter classic that debuted way back on the incomparable Europe ’72 Tour. Chimenti’s piano added some bluesy flavor in between the vocal lines as the crowd sang along with all the big verse and chorus parts. During the vocal outro, Mayer’s bluesy solos slowly increased in intensity and prompted a gathering of band momentum, and after a minute or so it quickly became obvious that the band was heading right for one of the most tried-and-true options to flow from “He’s Gone”: the Grateful Dead’s signature song, “Truckin’”. After a spirited romp through the song, which started unusually by using its outro jam as the intro, the band served up another familiar and welcome progression, drifting into the Howlin’ Wolf classic “Smokestack Lightning” in a surely unintentional repeat of this pairing that occurred at the Dead’s first show at Deer Creek in 1989. There was further toying with the “Truckin’” riff during an outro jam that lasted several minutes before yielding the stage to the two drummers after almost an hour of music.

The “Drums” segment got off to a quieter start as Kreutzmann played syncopated beats on his kit while Hart gently pawed at the beam, and within a couple of minutes, Burbridge was out there using a pair of mallets to make it a trio. The relative lack of electronics gave the drums an “80s Dead” feel at times, but the closing salvo of the trio pounding away on drums with phased effects and an electronic sequence under it was very much a reflection of the drums segment as it exists in 2019. After Hart made a short return to the beam the frontline musicians returned for a brief “Space” segment, highlighted by Mayer’s use of a thick, dirty tone while playing short, sharp bursts of notes.

Soon the drummers returned and laid down a gentle beat while Mayer noodled for a couple of minutes, backed by Chimenti’s chords and giving no clear hint as to what was coming next. Eventually Weir sprung the three-chord progression that comprises Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, but this version opened at a slower tempo until Mayer’s quick solo after the first verse prompted a welcome increase in velocity. Mayer’s final solo hit a nice peak before a reggae-style vocal outro led by Weir slowed the tempo to allow “Stella Blue” to make its drifting entrance. This is one of the Garcia ballads where Weir’s vocal phrasing really works effectively, and rather incredibly. Back out in the real world, the NHL’s St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup since their inception in 1967 during the song’s final minutes.

The set came to a more upbeat close by circling back to the show’s opening Americana themes via a spirited “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad”, Woody Guthrie’s Great Depression-era lament that was somehow recast as an optimistic song once the Grateful Dead got hold of it. Weir, Mayer, and Burbridge each sang a verse and both Chimenti and Mayer delivered hot solos before the final choruses brought the set to a close. All things considered, while “Fire On The Mountain” served as a fun opener to the set, it was an outlier as it was a stand-alone version that didn’t feel connected to the at-times slower but certainly cohesive run of music that followed.

Watch the second set-opening performance of “Fire on the Mountain” below.

Dead & Company – “Fire on the Mountain” [Pro-Shot] – 6/12/2019

[Video: Dead & Company]

For the encore, the band made a wise choice with the tour debut of “Black Muddy River”, which fit the overall vibe of the evening perfectly and allowed the crowd to gently drift back to earth. This was Dead & Company’s first performance of the song since last year’s experimental version at Alpine Valley which featured guest artist Justin Vernon’s falsetto vocals, but this time Mayer was on his own. And just like with “Row Jimmy”, Mayer’s rough-but-somehow-polished vocals give this one a different, welcome flavor that the crowd could savor on the walk back to the parking lot after the band took their bows.

Dead and Company’s summer tour continues this weekend with performances scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Setlist: Dead & Company | Ruoff Home Mortgage Center | Noblesville, IN | 6/12/2019

Set 1: Cold Rain & Snow, Iko Iko, Minglewood Blues, Tennessee Jed, Sugaree, Looks Like Rain, Row Jimmy, Let It Grow

Set 2: Fire On The Mountain, Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance, He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Smokestack Lightning > Drums > Space > All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover) > Stella Blue > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad (Woody Guthrie cover)

Encore: Black Muddy River