Last Saturday night, my mom saw Bob Weir step out onto the Grateful Dead’s famous rug-lined stage for the 39th time.
The decades between she and I melted away as we stood together in the Frank Erwin Center sharing the same awe for a band, or a newer rendition of an old band, that we both vigorously love.
Although the original Grateful Dead is no more due to the passing of Jerry Garcia and the gradual passing of time, their spirit remains vivaciously alive with the emergence of Dead and Company. Dead & Co. features three of the original band members, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann as well as the welcome additions of John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. The band graced Texas with back to back performances in Dallas and Austin, with many fans following them to both cities over the weekend.
Although I’ve gone to my fair share of Grateful Dead cover band shows, this was my first time seeing Dead & Company, and my expectations were thoroughly obliterated. I was thrilled to share this concert with my mom, who followed the Dead on tour throughout her college days, and gave me anecdotes and insights into the band only a true Deadhead could deliver.
My first observations before their set even began were the character shifts Dead & Co. is ushering in. With John Mayer and Bob Weir positioned front and center, shoulder to shoulder, you can’t help but notice a nostalgic element to their dynamic. John, tall, lean and handsome, strikes a distant resemblance to Bobby when he was a younger band member. Bob, with his bushy beard, full mustache and unkempt hair, could pass as Jerry’s white-haired doppelganger. He even wore the plain black t-shirt that defined Jerry’s aesthetic. Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, with his long straight hair, would be indistinguishable from the Dead’s original keyboardist Brent Mydland (if he took off his glasses).
The setlist echoed this reminiscent imagery by including many “Jerry” songs, some delightfully trippy, others wistful ballads. Within this Jerry-heavy set, the band incorporated many shout-outs to Texas, beginning the show with an energetic “Jack Straw” where they lit up the arena, both figuratively and literally with bright lights, singing the lyrics “Leaving Texas, fourth day of July”. They continued this Texas nod through “All New Minglewood Blues” with the lines “I’m a wanted man in Texas, busted jail and I gone for good” to which Weir added, “Right here in Austin.”
After Burbridge’s beautifully sensitive rendition of “Next Time You See Me”, they continued the travelling theme with “Ramble On Rose”. It was here where you could really see John Mayer shine as he complimented Weir’s voice on the harmonies and carried multiple guitar solos with precise fingerpicking, something he’s clearly excelled at since joining Dead & Company.
During “If I Had the World to Give”, although there are no direct mentions of Texas, the lines “I will give what love I have to give, long as I live” made it seem like the band was singing a love song to Austin and every fan in the audience. Ending the first set with “Sugaree,” carried skillfully by Mayer, served as a funky transition into the second set with the whole band chiming in to “Shake it, shake it, Sugaree,” which got the entire room on their feet.
Then we’re given some magic in the second set.
Dead & Co. stormed into the second act with an energetic rendition of “China Cat Sunflower,” transitioning effortlessly into “I Know You Rider”, and hammered home the Jerry motif that had been building throughout the show. As a tribute, they projected images of Jerry’s face on the three floating screens above the band as to remind everyone that Jerry is still with us. After the upbeat tunes of “Rider” faded, we were graced with a musical gem.
The band played four of their most spacey, trippy songs consecutively to give the audience almost 45 minutes of psychedelic tunes, some of which allowed people to relax in their seats while others moved the crowd to dance the entire time. The combination of “Dark Star” slipping into “The Other One” is one of the rarer choices that harken back to the Grateful Dead’s earlier concerts in the late 60’s through early 70’s. In typical fashion, they had moving and twisting kaleidoscope images presented on all of the screens to enhance the space-like nature of the room.
They hyped up the audience once again with “Uncle John’s Band,” evoking a unanimous “God Damn Do I Declare!” from the crowd. The set rounded off with a continuation of other-worldly feelings by playing “St. Stephen,” paired with lights to mimic the illusion of being in a cathedral. These lyrics that painted images of the sun and sky gave way to the concluding “Morning Dew,” allowing the show to end on a gentle note. Fortunately, the band returned for an encore to play a lively “One More Saturday Night,” giving the audience one last chance to get out of their seats and dance.
All in all Dead & Co. gifted Austin with an incredibly special performance. John Mayer has clearly transitioned into the band as more than a solo artist playing within an experienced group. His presence has allowed Weir to take on the role Jerry once occupied, opening up more creative possibilities for Dead & Co. to pursue, meaning they can go back to their roots and play some of their originally psychedelic songs that defined the meaning of a jam-band.
I’m grateful to this band not only for putting out consistent, unique music that permeates both your ears and soul, but for serving as a gateway between generations. I’m ecstatic I was able to see Dead & Co. in person, but what will never leave me is that I was able to share this night with my mom, who first introduced me to Bobby Weir and Jerry Garcia and this band that symbolizes so much to so many different people. Dead & Co. paid homage to Austin, to the lone star state, to the late Jerry, and the dedicated fans that came out to see them.