Dead & Company brought their brief east coast fall tour to a close on Saturday night with a 20-song performance stretched out over two sets at Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, VA–a venue already rich with musical memories surrounding the magical world of the Grateful Dead.
Following night one at “The Mothership” the evening prior, Dead & Company returned to the smaller Virginia arena to open their Saturday show with a mix of Deadhead favorites from the band’s early-1970s catalog. The show started out with the anthemic “Truckin'”, which charged right into “Big Railroad Blues” with John Mayer leading the way on the energizing blues song. Overall, the first half of the show was a more relaxed, restrained vibe, as if the band was holding back just a little bit. The music continued with “He’s Gone”, “Tennessee Jed”, and “Friend of the Devil”.
“Bird Song” was the highlight, and, while not as epic as it can be at times, Dead & Company’s lighting director gets a gold star for projecting a series of moving images on the arena walls behind the band–a rarity for Dead & Co’s show production. The projections were very effective and continued to expand with spinning patterns flooding their way up to the arena ceiling during the “Bird Song” jam. Jeff Cheminti’s piano work was the highlight of “Bird Song”, and the tones coming out of his keyboards during the instrumental break on the Bob Weir-led “One More Saturday Night” to close the set livened up an otherwise slower version. Great first on paper, very consistent vibe, but not a super-intense 70 minutes by any means.
Watch the band’s set one performance of “Truckin'” below.
Dead & Company – “Truckin'” – 11/9/19
[Video: Dead & Company]
The second set started very promisingly with “Playing in the Band”, which after about 11 or 12 minutes or so, really started to get thicker and gooier, only to take a turn then Weir motioned for everyone to rein in it so Mayer could start right into “Franklin’s Tower”. “Franklin’s” felt out of place having gone from the wonderful improv portion of “Playing in the Band” to three chords just like that felt like a hard 90-degree turn at first. Overall the rendition of the Blues for Allah tune was solid enough, and the fan-favorite “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain” segue was most notable for Mayer singing lead.
As “Fire” petered out, Weir pointed to the drummers and started walking offstage, only to stop between Mayer and Cheminti to play some classic Bobby chords to add to the little jam they had going on, making for a fun little moment coming out of “Scar > Fire”.
Lighting/Visuals Directors Chris Ragan and Jim Rood had 360-degree moving images floating throughout the crowd and up the arena walls during the “Drums” instrumental portion. The music started to get really interesting towards the end of “Space” as the band continued right into a cover of Miles Davis‘ “Milestones”. It was the longest and most involved version they’ve done, and felt like the jazz tune resumed the vibe from the “Playing in the Band” jam as it gathered momentum. Everyone was dialed in and focused, and it was easy to tell from the audience that the band was really enjoying themselves on stage. The song was the highlight of the night, and after Mayer did his usual jazz pyrotechnics, Cheminti actually stole the song with a piano run that got a roar from the crowd.
Once the jazz/improv vibe was reestablished, the rest of the set went back to 1972 with “Uncle John’s Band”–which included a longer, jazzier solo than usual–into the “Playing in the Band” reprise finally a rock-solid “Black Peter”. The latter featured some falsetto screams from Weir at the end before a slightly slower “Sugar Magnolia” closed the set.
The one-song encore saw the band return to where they started their fall run with an acoustic rendition of “Ripple”–another fitting tribute to the late Robert Hunter, who’s poetic genius filled the Dead & Company setlists throughout the tour.
Watch the second set opening performance of “Playing in the Band” below.
Dead & Company – “Playing in the Band” – 11/9/19
[Video: Dead & Company]
The crowd sang very loudly all night, but only when they were supposed to while remaining on-key. Hampton was filled with the old-school faithful. It seemed like there were very few “tourists” or non-initiates, and like Friday night, there was very little talking and a whole lotta listening.
Dead & Company will regroup next month with a four-night, two-city New Years run in Los Angeles and San Francisco leading to the start of 2020 and the next decade to be filled with Dead memories. Head to the band’s website for tickets and tour info.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Hampton Coliseum | Hampton, VA | 11/9/19
Set One: Truckin’ > Big Railroad Blues (Cannon’s Jug Stompers cover), He’s Gone, Tennessee Jed, Friend of the Devil, Bird Song, One More Saturday Night
Set Two: Playing in the Band > Franklin’s Tower > Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain > Drums > Space > Milestones (Miles Davis cover) > Uncle John’s Band > Playing in the Band, Black Peter > Sugar Magnolia