Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead offshoot 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, started the final night of their signature Mexican vacation festival, Playing In The Sand, in a playful mood on Tuesday evening.
As they stepped out to take the stage in the blazing light of day for show’s 5:00 p.m., the beachside setup seemed somewhat more relaxed and terrestrial than the glowing, otherworldly production fans have enjoyed all week. In moments like these, it comes down to what really matters—strength of material and quality of the players—which, luckily, is something Dead & Company have in spades.
Mayer taunted aunt fans tuning in from chillier climates via nugs.net—or perhaps remind attendees what was waiting for them back home—with a show-opening “Cold Rain and Snow”. Subject matter aside, everyone seemed warmed up, dialed in, and ready to run after a few days in paradise. The guitarist seemed to grow more and more attached to his new “Wolf” clone, stating during the setbreak interview with archivist David Gans, “The frets are so perfectly new. I’m just letting it take me where it wants to go…”
Dead & Company – “Cold Rain and Snow” [Pro-Shot] – 1/18/23
After the opening bit of bad weather—metaphorically speaking, mind you—the sun and endless beach adjoining the stage seemed as inviting as always. It was smooth sailing into “Cassidy”, and the set cruised on from there with similar ease—a bluesy pairing of “High Time” (sung by Burbridge) and “Half-Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo” (sung by Weir) here, a crowd-pleasing, bench-clearing “Sugaree” there. A little more blues followed with “The Wheel and “New Speedway Boogie” before releasing an exhausted crowd to the set break.
Dead & Company launched their second set under the cover of darkness, the aforementioned visual production now on full display. As the lights painted the stage and people with colors, Bob Weir sang of the leaves of all colors and more in set-opening “China Cat Sunflower”. The band obviously wasn’t too keen on leaving anything in Mexico unfinished, so it was delightful to seem them follow with “I Know You Rider” to complete the classic pairing. Of note, the set-opening one-two punch began with frequent tour alternate Jay Lane on drums, but Kreutzmann arrived to retake his seat as the jam moved into “Rider”, Lane planting a loving smooch on his cheek before slipping away.
Dead & Company – John Mayer Interview, “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” [Pro-Shot] – 1/17/23
Clearly not ready to change their train of thought, Dead & Company loaded up their metaphorical bags and watched the caboose leave the station before reminding those of us left that there’s nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile with “He’s Gone”. It’s likely to be the theme of the year.
The albatross hanging over this closing set is the announcement that this year was the The Final Tour for this outfit. While the fanbase, and several of the players involved, have become old hands at “last shows,” there’s no doubt that the end of Dead & Company will mark the close of a fruitful nine-year era for this timeless music.
John Mayer will still be out there, to be certain. There are still likely decades of touring and recording left in his story. Oteil, while no spring chicken, certainly has plenty left in the tank with his various projects. It’s also fairly obvious that Bob Weir will keep playing shows until they have to carry him off the stage, with the Wolf Brothers and whoever else will have him. Judging by his impressive workout regimen, he seems intent on staying young as long as possible.
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But this is the end of the massive sweet spot the band’s members found with this particular mixture: Mayer and Chimenti providing the bluesman energy, Burbridge admirably adding the muscular solidity of sound in the low-end space vacated by Phil Lesh and, of course, Kreutzmann and Hart channeling their famous “two-halves-of-a-whole” rhythmic synergy. Like them or not, Dead & Company have been immensely popular, and have likely had a hand in extending the reach of the Grateful Dead songbook to multiple new generations.
While a long run of shows is planned for this victory/retirement lap, the future is uncertain and for many fans in attendance. This could well be the last time they hear stuff like the choice “Help On The Way > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” around which the second set was built. Even the “Drums/Space” seemed shorter somehow, despite the exciting return of Goose drummer Ben Atkind for another round with the Rhythm Devils.
“Space” deposited the band in a perfect vantage point from which to look over all they have accomplished, “Standing On The Moon”. Dead & Company left the Playing In The Sand stage following “Not Fade Away”, allowing the long-beating heart of the Dead—the fans—to pulse in their absence as they’ve done for decades.
We’re over the moon! ⚡️🐢
Thanks for playing in the sand with us this week. pic.twitter.com/8nnZQmHnoN
— Playing In The Sand (@playthesand) January 18, 2023
Following a bit of basking in this joyous manifestation of Grateful love, the band returned for a three-song encore. A soulful “U.S. Blues” erupted into a high-energy “Sunshine Daydream”, giving one last nod to the glory of the Mexican affair. Finally, a mournful “Brokedown Palace” provided a smooth come-down on warm, scented winds. If this is a preview of what’s in store for fans on Dead & Company’s final tour this year, well… all I can think is that a nation of fans will be left like those at Playing In The Sand: ready for even just one more.
For a complete list of upcoming Dead & Company The Final Tour 2023 dates, head here. Revisit Live For Live Music‘s full coverage of Playing In The Sand 2023: Night 1 | Night 2 (Goose) | Night 3 | Night 4
Setlist: Dead And Company | Playing In The Sand | Quintana Roo, Mexico | 1/17/23
Set One: Cold Rain & Snow, Cassidy, High Time, Mississippi Half-Step, Sugaree, The Wheel > New Speedway Boogie > Bird Song
Set Two: China Cat Sunflower  > I Know You Rider, He’s Gone , Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower > Drums  > Space, The Other One > Standing On The Moon, Not Fade Away
Encore: U.S. Blues, Sunshine Daydream, Brokedown Palace
 with Ben Atkind (Goose)
 with Jay Lane