After a delay coming on due to getting the equipment just exactly perfect, Grateful Dead spinoff band Dead & Company ended their month-long layoff just before 9:45 pm. Started the first of their final shows of 2018, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Bob Weir guided the band through a short jam that led into his 1980s classic “Hell In A Bucket”. The number, like much of the first set, found the band in warmup mode, where they more or less served as their own opening act.
However, one of the three surprises on the set list followed when the band kicked off “Scarlet Begonias” as the second song of the evening. According to the setlists the band posted after the show, it may have been the plan to open with this one before playing “Hell In A Bucket”, but come showtime, the order was switched. Nonetheless, it was a good version that generated some excitement during the verses and solo. The highlight of the song’s closing outro jam was the delicate musical conversation between lead guitarist and vocalist John Mayer and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, which was made easier given that the two are now situated right next to each other following last month’s swap of stage positions between Jeff and bassist Oteil Burbridge. Once the jam wound down and came to a full stop, “Brown-Eyed Women” was quickly counted in to keep things moving. This Garcia/Robert Hunter gem could have been released as a single by the Grateful Dead in 1972 had they desired to do so, and has become one of John’s signature songs. Last night, the tune’s down-home lyrics and vibe fit the rural Virginia setting perfectly, and as did Jeff’s piano solo.
“Ramble On Rose” followed and eased along gently until John raised the temperature with a forceful solo that prompted the first swell of collective band energy, which was felt as well as heard. “Alabama Getaway” came next, as the band picked up the pace on this upbeat rocker from 1980, but they kept it short and sweet before counting straight into one of the most tried-and-true back-to-back pairings that has closed out many a first set of Grateful Dead music.
“Cassidy” remains one of the best songs borne from the Weir/Barlow songwriting duo, and it remains one of the best songs in the Grateful Dead catalog. The tempo in Saturday night’s version was more relaxed as Bob led the band through the verses. However, its longer jam towards the end found the band remaining in a loose, exploratory mode, finding their collective feet and regaining that onstage familiarity after a month off, with Jeff and John once again conducting a delicate and enjoyable musician combination between themselves. “Deal” closed out the set and was the clear highlight of the set, as the upbeat rocker gathered steam before John brought his solo to a rousing peak with some fanning and serious licks as he began his “Mayercise” movements of playing while jumping in place, alternating in with some jumping-jack-style leg movements. It was a solid 65-minute first set, with a nice surprise in the early-show placement of Scarlet Begonias and not an untypical result for Dead & Company when coming back from a break.
Because of the late hour, the band took a mere 15-minute break before returning for the second set just after 11:00 pm. Rather curiously, they opened with “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot”, a pair of songs that were widely considered to be on the list of songs being “saved” for their second LOCKN’ show tonight, Sunday, August 26th, with announced guest Branford Marsalis. As seems to always be the case with the beautifully complex “Slipknot” these days, John found a new method of guitar pyrotechnics to utilize, opting to slap his strings Les Claypool style along with using a wah pedal. It created a funkier vibe that Jeff complemented nicely, and felt like a nice carry-over from the Foundations Of Funk set earlier in the day, featuring The Meters‘ Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr. plus Cyril Neville, Ivan Neville, Tony Hall, Ian Neville, and others.
Then, the second of the three major setlist surprises came when the band dropped into “Fire On The Mountain” instead of the expected “Franklin’s Tower’. Not only did this immediately recall the lone time that the Grateful Dead did this on the opening night of their legendary six-show run at Boston Garden in the fall of 1991, this version was noticeably faster and funkier, also feeling as if it had been influenced by the earlier Foundations of Funk set. Oteil (who’d just celebrated his birthday the day before) sang his now-customary lead vocals, and he became so engrossed in one jam that he forgot to un-mute his microphone before the final verse, which prompted a cross-stage shout from John and smiles all around as Oteil hit his foot pedal to make himself heard. The song finally wound down with a dramatic musical nod to the “Scarlet Begonias” jam theme.
After a pause of several minutes, John switched to his silver PRS guitar that gives him a fatter tone, and launched into the crowd-pleasing duo of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider”, in which the band concentrated on accuracy. With Bob leading the charge with some smooth execution of his rhythm guitar licks, it was a strong choice for a jam-band festival crowd that was not 100% Dead & Company fans. “I Know You Rider” led to a Drums segment that had a heavy electronic bent at first, while Bill Kreutzmann moved from drum to drum adding the human touches, followed by drummer Mickey Hart coaxing a warm droning monochord from The Beam, which washed over the crowd like waves. The rest of the band then returned for the Space segment, which started with quirks and beeps and found John Mayer sounding positively Garcia-esque at times.
From here on out, everything kicked up a notch. Out of nowhere, a funky jam materialized that once again felt like something straight out of New Orleans, albeit heavily syncopated and accented by Jeff’s funky Fender Rhodes-sounding keyboards while John engaged in some more Mayercise to go along with his riffing. The jam lasted several minutes and contained a clear tease of “New Speedway Boogie”, but after a couple more minutes it began to sound like “The Other One”, and that’s where it went. After Oteil played that famous bass intro and dropped four “bass bombs” on the happy crowd, Bob went straight to the first verse, and the jam that followed hit a strong peak courtesy of a forceful Mayer solo while Oteil was consumed by the music, facing his amps and blissfully rocking back and forth.
As “The Other One” wound down, it transitioned into “Wharf Rat’, which was slower and sparser than usual, making for a more contemplative version that served as a nice counterpoint after the preceding chaos. To close things out, the band fired up the third and final set list surprise: a 13-minute version of “Franklin’s Tower” to close the set. An hour after its expected placement at the conclusion of “Slipknot”, the rendition was superb and found Dead & Company operating at full power. As a bonus, it recalled another classic Grateful Dead show: July 8, 1978 at Red Rocks, when “Wharf Rat” and “Franklin’s Tower” were played in back-to-back sequence late in the second set, making it one of only three times this sequence of songs occurred in 30 years of Grateful Dead shows.
Even though the band had run well past the suggested midnight curfew, the band stuck with their planned two-song encore. “The Weight” fit the location and the vibe well, and its placement as an encore played to its sing-along strengths. Bob’s rocker “One More Saturday Night” was the obvious show closer, and finally, at 12:45 am, Dead & Company was finished, though all that did was free up half the band to go sit in with Lettuce and Eric Krasno’s star-studded celebration of Jerry Garcia Band songs. Overall, the first set served as the warmup and the “pre-drums” second set served up some crowd-pleasing favorites, but from “Drums” onward, the band truly caught fire and left everyone primed for the festival-closing show with Branford Marsalis.
You can watch Dead & Company’s first two sets at LOCKN’ on August 25th, 2018, below, courtesy of Relix in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and Airstream. The first set begins around 11:08:00 and the second set begins around 12:30:00. You can also check out a gallery of photos from yesterday’s festivities below, courtesy of Dave Vann.
Setlist: Dead & Company | LOCKN’ Festival | Infinity Down Farm | Arrington, VA | 8/25/2018
Set One: Hell In A Bucket, Scarlet Begonias, Brown Eyed Women, Ramble On Rose, Alabama Getaway, Cassidy, Deal
Set Two: Help On The Way > Slipknot > Fire On The Mountain, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > Jam > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Franklin’s Tower
Encore: The Weight, One More Saturday Night