Perhaps Dead & Company should try playing in bad weather more often. The Grateful Dead spinoff band consisting of 3 alumni (drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir) and 3 younger bucks (guitarist/vocalist John Mayer, keyboardist/vocalist Jeff Chimenti and bassist/vocalist Oteil Burbridge) were forced to make a pre-show announcement that Saturday night’s show at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia would have no intermission due to severe incoming storms and instead consist of one solitary set.
But this Mother Nature-inspired decision just happened to occur in Philly, a city whose Deadheads have a 50-year history of pushing whichever band is in front of them to play harder. The result was a powerful, energetic show that ran 2 hours and 40 minutes and in addition to winding up the strongest show of the tour so far, also featured an all-time Dead & Company highlight.
With a light rain and a temperature of 77 degrees with and 88% humidity, the show kicked off just after 7:15 pm with a relaxed, exploratory version of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” highlighted by Weir’s unusually forceful vocals.
Dead & Company – “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” [Pro-Shot] – 8/21/21
The pace picked up with an upbeat “Alabama Getaway” that featured a nice Hammond B3 organ solo from Chimenti, but the band have continued its curious practice of cutting this song off at around the four-minute mark and not giving Mayer a shot at a closing solo.
After a short pause, the band moved into “Jack Straw”, but its long, slow introduction lagged, as did the first verses and the first instrumental section. But then Mother Nature intervened to deal out a pair of rainbows over the stadium as the crowd went wild, and from there, it was go time. Mayer strummed some percussive chords to rev things up before the final verse, and the extended closing jam found Mayer employing the late Jerry Garcia’s time-honored practice during this song of nimbly jumping back and forth between individual notes and light chords.
Dead & Company – “Jack Straw” (w/ rainbow) – 8/21/21
[Video: Tom F]
A stand-alone “Franklin’s Tower” was a welcome and surprising choice as the fourth song, and it raised the energy level up a couple notches, where it would stay for the rest of the night. This version also contained a nice change-up: after Mayer belted out the “If you get confused, listen to the music play” line, he gave his solo slot over to Chimenti, who responded with a long, powerful B3 solo with an extended section of blasts at the end that were clearly reminiscent of the fiery approach to the B3 taken by late Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland.
Weir now had a tough act to follow, but he did it with ease by deploying a second-set classic, “Estimated Prophet”, as just the fifth song in the show. It confidently skulked along in its groovy, seven-beat meter with the slight alterations of the melody lines that set Dead & Company versions of this song apart. Its outro jam kept a more insistent pace than usual and was followed by a first-time-ever Dead & Company pairing with “Sugaree”, one of Mayer’s showpieces with the band, on which he used the solos to just let ‘er rip as Garcia once did.
“Terrapin Station” followed and cast its otherworldly spell for a full 18 minutes with the help of an extended introduction and a pleasant, mid-song wander. It made three strong, solid passes through its dramatic closing section before spilling into Weir’s signature jamming vehicle, “The Other One”, which ran another 17 minutes on its own. It contained Burbridge’s rumbling bass introduction that may have been felt more than it was heard, and between the verses there was determined interplay between Mayer and Chimenti that was set apart byJeff’s ongoing use of synthesizer effects, which prompted Mayer to start altering his guitar tones as the segment progressed.
Dead & Company – “The Other One” – 8/21/21
[Video: Tom F]
The Drums interlude featured steady work by Hart, Kreutzmann and Burbridge, but Hart (clad in a red Phillies jersey) got a bigger reaction from his extended solo on The Beam, motioning to the crowd with outstretched arms before rattling the stadium with several heavy blows to the instrument’s strings with a metal pipe. The following Space segment quickly morphed into a purposeful jam that hinted strongly at “The Wheel” for several minutes while Mayer peppered the music with guitar noises that recalled Tony Iommi’s work on the “FX” track from Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 LP.
Eventually, “The Wheel” arrived as the rain came down harder, but this this 12-minute version had considerably more punch that the version in Raleigh three shows ago on the tour’s opening night.
By now it was clear that Mayer was having a great night, successfully taking chances and trying out different approaches, but he’d hit a musical jackpot during the the “Morning Dew” that closed the set. Its tempo was faster than usual as Weir delivered the vocals with the same strength that he’d shown during the show-opening “Half Step”, and Mayer nailed the mid-song solo while employing some deft and tasteful tremolo-assisted string-bending.
Dead & Company – “Morning Dew” (partial) – 8/21/21
[Video: Tom F]
After Weir sang the final verse, Mayer brought the house down with his closing solo, starting with some of his trademark finger-picking before heading onwards and upwards while the drummers increased their intensity to stay with him. Burbridge then let loose with a couple of bass bombs as Mayer went to the fanning approach, and just when the music couldn’t soar any higher, Mayer took it to an even higher place that no one knew existed before Weir sang the closing line. Mayer had shot for the moon and hit it, and he knew it right away. This version of “Morning Dew” will remain one of John Mayer’s signature moments with Dead & Company, and it provided a knockout ending to the strongest set of the tour so far.
On paper, the band had planned to close the set with “One More Saturday Night”, but they wisely chose to push it to the encore and not have it try to follow “Morning Dew” directly. From there, the planned encore of “Brokedown Palace” dished out a gentle group hug to the crowd before sending them into the rainy night.
So, was it a show with a four-song first set tacked onto a “normal” second set, or was it a marathon “second” set with an 8-song pre-Drums that would fill a 100-minute XLII-S cassette on its own? Either way, it was a winner—and Dead & Company got it all in before 10:00 pm to get everyone out of the venue safely.
Dead & Company’s tour continues on Monday, August 23rd in Bethel, NY. For a full list of upcoming Dead & Company 2021 tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Citizens Bank Park | Philadelphia, PA | 8/21/21
Set: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Alabama Getaway, Jack Straw, Franklin’s Tower, Estimated Prophet > Sugaree, Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station > The Other One > Drums > Space > The Wheel > Morning Dew
Encore: One More Saturday Night, Brokedown Palace