Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead spinoff band featuring rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, lead guitarist John Mayer, keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Chimenti and bassist/vocalist Oteil Burbridge brought the long-awaited return of Grateful Dead music to Hampton Coliseum on Friday for their first of two nights at the Virginia arena this weekend.
Anticipation and hopes for these shows have remained high since their announcement due to the Grateful Dead’s storied history at the Coliseum, which gained its nickname of “The Mothership” in 1981, and Friday’s show did not disappoint.
Upon entering the Coliseum after a cold, clear day with temperatures in the 40s, any ticketholder who had not been in the Coliseum since the Grateful Dead’s last show there in 1992 time would find that the venue that looked exactly the same as it did 27 years ago, save for the small additions of the venue’s website address on a banner at the rear of the seating bowl and on the scoreboard hanging from the rafters. The time-stands-still aspect of the venue would serve Dead & Company well on this evening, as they crafted and executed a show that managed to pull songs from every major era of the Grateful Dead’s catalog while also delivering a cohesive, flowing performance, especially in the second set.
The show kicked off just after 7:15 pm with a classic pairing from the late ‘70s era, and one that coincidentally appeared in the Grateful Dead’s first show at Hampton in 1979: “Bertha” and “Good Lovin’”. Weir used his vocal rap during the latter to repeatedly ask the crowd, “Who needs it?” to increasingly loud cheers. The late-’70s vibe would continue with “Shakedown Street”, which rectified another odd coincidence: the Grateful Dead never once played this song at Hampton during their 21 shows over 13 years. This version was elastic and groovy, though there was an odd stumble in the extended jam that that was quickly put back on track by some loud drumming from Billy. Once order had been restored, the band sang the vocal coda before Mayer closed the song out with a searing solo on his black Travis Bean guitar, which is quickly becoming his new favorite toy to go along with his Paul Reed Smith axes.
“They Love Each Other” maintained the late ’70s vibe for the first slower song of the night, and wound up serving as the first set’s highlight. Mayer handled the lead vocals on this Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter classic, and along with “Althea” and “Brown Eyed Women”, this is becoming one of Mayer’s signature songs with Dead & Company. Chimenti got his first big cheer of the night from his fiery Hammond B3 solo after the second verse, and Mayer’s guitar solo a couple minutes later featured a huge build of extended fanning that set up huge payoff hit a single, sustained note 8 straight times in a master-class demonstration of how one slow note can be far more powerful than 10 fast ones.
Weir followed by going into 1972 storyteller mode with “Black-Throated Wind”, which was more reflective and contemplative and made for a satisfying contrast. Mayer answered with another 1972 song, “Mr. Charlie”, the time-tested ode to mixing cocaine, alcohol and, firearms that was co-written and performed by the late Ron “Pigpen” McKernan at every show on the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour.
“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo” followed to incorporate the Dead’s post-Warner Bros. era from 1973-76 when they released their own LPs on Grateful Dead Records, and Chimenti’s piano solo before the last verse would steal the song and get him his biggest cheer of the night. The first set concluded with Weir’s “Throwing Stones”, a figurehead song from the Grateful Dead’s ’80s output and one that was played at 6 of the 7 Grateful Dead runs at Hampton during the 1980s after its introduction (it was only skipped in 1985). When the lights came up, a look at the clock revealed that the band’s 8-song set had yielded over 80 minutes of music and contained 3 tour debuts (“Good Lovin”, “Black-Throated Wind” and “Throwing Stones”—a trio of Weir songs).
After an intermission that was slightly shorter than usual at 35 minutes, Dead & Company returned to the stage and did something new by kicking off the second set with “Althea”, which has become Mayer’s signature Dead & Company song but customarily appears in the middle of the pre-“Drums” segment or, more recently, coming out of “Space”.
“Althea” worked beautifully as the set two opener, restoring an early-’80s vibe to the proceedings, and Mayer nailed his solo as usual. The fourth tour debut of the night came next as Weir counted the band into “Estimated Prophet”, the late-’70s era 7/4 epic that has gained an increasingly reggae-type feel in Dead & Company due to Burbridge’s deft manipulation of the song’s bass line. In a recreation of a classic and common late-’70s-onward Dead-era move, the band transitioned from “Estimated” into “Eyes Of The World”, one of the jazziest numbers in the repertoire from the post-Warner era.
The solo after the first verse of “Eyes” lost a bit of momentum, but it was quickly kicked right back into the right gear when Kreutzmann and Hart started pounding insistently to get everyone moving again. The solo after the second verse featured the now-standard and always-welcome Chimenti/Mayer musical conversation consisting of piano and guitar leads. Usually, this takes the form of some call-and-response and back-and-forth lines, but on this evening, the pair changed it up by soloing together in unison, the resulting peak marking a high point of the set. After the final verse, Burbridge got his bass solo slot, and once it started while Mayer stopped playing completely, leaned against on his amplifiers, and just watched intently with a knowing grin on his face.
“Lady With A Fan”/“Terrapin Station” emerged from the end of “Eyes”. This 1977 classic became a song for all eras from the day of its debut. Appropriately, the version of the Garcia/Hunter opus that the Grateful Dead played at Hampton in 1987 in the first run of east coast shows since Jerry Garcia’s brush with death via a diabetic coma in 1986 is widely regarded as one of the definitive versions of the song. While Friday’s version didn’t reach that stratospheric level, it was certainly a strong rendition. Mayer and Chimenti maintained extended eye contact during their solo before the conclusion of the “Lady With A Fan” section, and the crowd loudly sang “Terrapin!” four times along with the band before the climactic closing passage.
The “Drums” segment was highlighted by the visual Hart honking a set of bike horns on a rack, and as the following “Space” progressed, a series of chords started coming from the guitarists that hinted at a possible “Dear Prudence”. Instead, the band reached back even further in time to 1959 and started in on a John Coltrane-style instrumental version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “My Favorite Things” from The Sound Of Music. The crowd cheered in appreciation as the jam moved along for a couple of minutes before slowing down to allow the next song a quiet, graceful entry.
Weir made the most of the opportunity by going with “The Days Between”, the best song from the Grateful Dead’s ’90s era with keyboardists Vince Welnick and (sometimes) Bruce Hornsby. The sparse but lengthy Garcia/Hunter ballad just happens to fits Weir’s styling and phrasing extraordinarily well, and he delivered his best vocal performance of the night while the band slowly built up the song behind him as the verses progressed. The song’s ending snaked into a bluesy jam that lasted for several minutes and sounded like it could be heading into “New Speedway Boogie”, but instead things took a different turn and the band headed to the heart of the Dead’s late-’60s period to end the second set with the classic pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider”. It was a rare and, therefore, effective placement of the songs, which hit their peak when Mayer and Burbridge moved in to flank Weir closely as he led them to the riff-peak of “China Cat” and the transition into “Rider”. As band and crowd sang along together and finished the song, the timer on the set neared the 110-minute mark.
Dead & Company quickly returned and did something that most other rock bands do as a rule: they encored with their biggest “hit”, a loose, fun version of “Touch Of Grey”, which somehow became a Top 10 single in 1987 and, thus, their most well-known song in the outside world. It was also a choice that fit the night well. The setlist incorporated material from every era of the band, but the show in general—and the second set, in particular—was anchored by some of the band’s best songs from the Grateful Dead’s first four Arista Records studio LPs from between 1977 and 1987. By coincidence, that window of time is relatively close to the Grateful Dead’s “Hampton Coliseum” era, which ran for 21 shows between 1979 to 1992. Somewhere, the former Arista label boss Clive Davis might just be smiling his 87-year old smile.
You can stream a full soundboard audio recording of the show here via Nugs.net and watch a selection of videos below:
Dead & Company – “Bertha” [Pro-Shot] – 11/8/19
[Video: Dead & Company]
Dead & Company – “Throwing Stones” – 11/8/19
Dead & Company – “Althea” [Pro-Shot] – 11/8/19
[Video: Dead & Company]
Dead & Company returns to Hampton Coliseum tonight, November 9th, to close out their Fall Fun Run. For more info and a full list of upcoming Dead & Company dates, head here.
While you wait for night two, dive into our new Grateful Dead Retrospective piece detailing the Grateful Dead’s storied history at The Mothership.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Hampton Coliseum | Hampton, VA | 11/8/19
Set One: Bertha > Good Lovin’, Shakedown Street, They Love Each Other, Black-Throated Wind, Mr. Charlie, Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Throwing Stones
Set Two: Althea > Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station > Drums > Space > My Favorite Things > Days Between > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
Encore: Touch of Grey