The Dead still live.
And the crowd breathed.
Anxiety is a real bastard when it comes to seeing beloved artists on stage for the first time. Worrying about what song they’ll play, if they’ll play that favourite song (they didn’t in my case), if they’ll only complete half-a-set, if they’ll not show up at all.
At least, the last one was the minor concern of my dad. I was more concerned with how he would react to DeadHeads and the constant cloud of weed that was going to form under the Rose Garden canopy.
The fact that nothing bothered him as he listened confirmed only one thing: The Dead and Company may not be the Grateful Dead, but they still kick ass.
Between “Tennesse Jed” and “West L.A. Fadeaway,” I knew I could take a breath and feel the awesome relief, captain Bob Weir knows just what the fuck he’s doing. He’s letting John Mayer carry Dead and Company through these treacherous waters of expectation.
Every DeadHead wants to experience the alive and empowered Grateful Dead.
But not every DeadHead wants to see a half-baked tribute to their favourite band. Bob Weir never lets it come to that: he takes on most of the vocal duties to allow John Mayer to explore on guitar.
I prefer it that way. John Mayer is many things, one of the best guitarists of his age, but a vocal replacement for Jerry Garcia he is not. Nor Phil Lesh for that matter. His is voice is kind of goofy, probably has something to do with throat surgery.
Unfortunately, this means the first casualty of The Dead & Company was the harmony of Garcia-Lesh-Weir. Nonetheless, Weir’s voice totally provided the bedrock for those harmonies, so it’s good to have that continuity.
At the very least, “Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be,” still rang true among the crowd. And the audience was worked that night. I don’t think anybody left that damn hall without feeling that Mayer totally kicked ass and should keep on it.
It definitely makes the next Mayer album an interesting prospect *cough*possibledeadcollabs*cough*.
But it did take a bit to get used to; gone was the harmonics, lessened were the acoustics and stripped was the largely gentle touches of the Garcia and Lesh. The Dead’s new company was eclectic and electric.
But I was content to wait for the right moment. For a moment that may not come until the second set, where I could finally relax and say from experience that the Dead and Company was fantastic.
And there but five minutes in the second set I finally heard the only tab that could make the sun stay the least bit longer in the summer evening sky:
I like watching that main crowd shot, as the song really starts picking up and people celebrate the fact that the next 12-15 minutes of their lives is going to sound like pure musical sunshine.
Trying not watch that big freaking screen that shows Mayer’s hands up close was a bit hard, because I wanted to watch his more general body language. And as I began to rock so did he, revving himself for the first solo and then proceeding to unwind it.
My legs melted like jelly.
Like hot jelly at that.
Mayer did this three times. Then two more times during “I Know You Rider.”
I was melting from what sounded like musical intercourse and that crowd was eating out of Mayer’s hands. And only because they were skilled hands. Not just from Mayer but from Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge as well.
However, it’s a competition of who comps best with John Mayer’s skills. Oteil’s single time to shine was during the space of Mickey Hart, who, bless his heart, seemed to be on another world combining percussion, electronica and bicycle horns into the Company’s fold.
Otherwise, Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti relied on Mayer to be the engine just as much as Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann do.
But it sounded like the band played into that. There was no lackluster, no sense fatigue or egoism still. No pride. That’s what really makes a band work. At the very least, it’s what made the Grateful Dead work.
And more then anything, that’s what is going to take in order to keep any DeadHead content. Once the old men are dead and buried, DeadHeads are still going to need people who know how to play the music.
And in the case of John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti, it’s considered a blessing to learn from the masters.
I left that stadium with two opinions: one from a critic’s perspective and one from a fan’s perspective. Let’s call them Opinion 1 and Opinion A respectively.
Opinion 1: “Damn, they fucking played the shit outta ‘China Cat Sun>Rider’ and ‘West L.A. Fadeaway. I hope that’s going on YouTube.”
Opinion A: “Fuck. They didn’t play my favourite song, now I’ll need to see them play again. Clever bastards.”
Both of these statements confirm one thing: I need to see them play again. Whether by video or live. Actually, I’d prefer live. I know what it sounds like to be in that music hall again when John Mayer performs: it’s addictive.
And frankly it should be why DeadHeads travel across the country to see the remaining Dead play with John Mayer. They go well together and they should remain together.
At least for another couple years, please.