Sigh…… While it was exciting to get the approval to cover this, it was also a little bittersweet as it was the last show of their summer tour. Dead & Company took on the crowd at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View on a warm July evening, and blessed those there with more than just sweet music to rock our souls, they gave us one last taste of that camaraderie that makes it feel like home. There really is nothing like it. Just a bunch of super happy people sharing in grand appreciation for the same music. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but it all just works like nothing else. From outside in the lot to inside in the stands you could feel the energy and anticipation.
The Shoreline Amphitheater is showing its many days of music and dance as the place seems to be reflecting its age somewhat. Kind of perfect their encore that night I suppose. I’ve seen many of shows inside that space; both in the pavilion as well as dancing on the lawn, which in the fall rains can often turn into a spontaneous mud slip-n-slide. When I walk inside, it feels familiar – you enter the space behind the stage and pick a side to walk to – stage left or stage right. Plenty of vendor options of the wearable and consumable kinds. As you walk along the path towards your seat, you pass by framed photos of shows that have happened there over the years – the Grateful Dead, Phish, The Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Santana, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and the Dave Matthews Band to name a few. Being so close to neighborhoods, it does have a “rock-n-roll curfew” of 10:55 pm. The sound is decent, but of course there are spots on the lawn where it fades off or maybe is blown away with the breeze. Still, I’ve always had a great time at that place. And I still park on Garcia Avenue and walk it in.
The band’s new boogie has been energized by the addition of John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge; their approach to the music is fresh. While they build their emotional connection to each song, their sheer understanding of the original musicality of what the Grateful Dead brought to the live music scene was clear – they get it. They get why we get it. It shows. And, with the strong anchor of the original trio – Weir, Kruetzmann and Hart – and the now years experience of Jeff Chimenti on keys, the music was tight, the feel was familiar, the energy was strong and the spirit of it all was in the house.
Starting out with a little paradise, “Help on the Way” into “Slipknot,” John sits in the seat for main vocals to open the show. There’s an authenticity to the way he plays, the chords strong and natural. His interpretation has been pretty decent, not taking each note too literally, you know, not trying to play anything note for note, but knowing the progression of the songs enough to feel where it could go.
After a scorchin “Slipknot” jam, there was the little funky ditty that typically leads us to “Franklin’s Tower,” but instead slammed down into a heavy, “Shakedown Street.” That familiar wah-wah-like underwater-ish sound to the guitar, Mayer was getting all funky and gooey. Bob sings out, “Tell me this town ain’t got no heart!” as he slapps the strings and leads the rhythm a little slower in step, a little funkier and heavier. Oteil responds with some incredible bass lines, swirling up and down the neck as he dances back and forth with a huge grin on his face. Its hard not to smile back at him!
Before I knew it, our 15-minutes were up and we photographers had to skedaddle on outta Row K. I ended up on the lawn for the rest of the first set, making my way all the way to the top at dusk to glimpse a little bit at the beautifully lit sky. I bopped through the crowd to an always fun, “Cassidy,” with that ever so light and enjoyable beat. Definitely a song that’s easy to dance to and the lawn was in full swing.
Now, I loved the way that the Grateful Dead used to do, “Standing on the Moon,” back when it first came out. It was all Jerry. There are lines in that song that should be all Jerry that are all Jerry that always will be Jerry. I have to give respect to John Mayer for taking it on. It was lovely. He provided a beautiful backdrop of notes for the imagery of the song. It’s just hard to hear any other voice but Jerry’s on this one.
Ending the first set was an ever-so happy, funky, danceable, joyful, “Franklin’s Tower” that came out of, “Brown-Eyed Women,” and the lawn was one big swaying and dancing band of happy faces. That’s just one of the things I love about this scene – you can walk in with a frown and soon find it hard to do nothing but smile, smile, smile. It was heartwarming to be back at my favorite scene that always seems to make me happy, listening to music that makes my soul joyful. A one hour first set had just gotten us going, and excited were the kids to see what second set had to offer.
After a familiar meander through the colorful crowd, I found a spot with some friends in the pavilion for second set. Opening up with a very cosmic, “Dark Star,” the music was full and warm as it made its way around the walls and ceiling and out to the lawn. Chimenti on keys, laying down that familiar lick that reminds me of the early days. Mayer soars on the strings taking you on a space ride; Bobby is just stretching the chords out as far as he can around Mayer’s work. You can hear Oteil as he is jazzing up the bass line, sometimes playing softly in between Mayer and Weir, and other times he makes himself known as he finds a line to lay down. Chaos at its best. And it could get really out of hand if it weren’t for Billy and Mickey who drive the line and are just hitting everything around them in rhythmic time. The jam between the first and second verse had some really incredible moments. Mayer’s solo towards the end was intense, loud, and very heavy on the blues as he ran around having fun in the psychedelic playground of what “Dark Star” can be.
Moving pretty directly into, “St. Stephen,” Mayer singing lead on this, although it is heavy on the harmonies and backing vocals. I must say, from the sound of his playing he was having just as much if not more fun than the crowd. His picking was commanding yet light and joyful, just as it should be. Bobby was full of energy as he ripped against his strings, playing against Mayer and encouraging him onward.
Maybe, possibly my favorite of the second set had to be, “Eyes of the World.” Love that song. Every note. This time, with Oteil, it was just so jazzy. He gave a solo that was captivating. The whole place became quiet. You could barely hear the rest of the band playing gently behind. His style and approach to the song were unique, his interpretation spot on, his path all his own. Chimenti was also very strong and present during this space in the song, playing the keys ever so lightly, almost like he was singing something. The rest of the band came back in to bring the song to cresendo, all meeting up at high camp, high skull, high atop that recognizable Shoreline tent. But, really, it was all of them, playing it so connectedly, so smoothly, so easily, so soulfully. The back and forth control Mayer had between rhythm and lead was controlled yet free; Weir’s loose wrist that he has is perfect for the quickness he moves across the set of strings, dragging it ever so lightly to make is ever so smooth and easy; Chimenti’s soft keys filling in, swirling around, coming out just at the right moments was sweetly beautiful; the driving rhythm between Kruetzmann and Hart, they play so differently yet so perfectly together it baffles me sometimes, ya know?
Well, speaking of drums…. Wow. So many sounds, from electronic to tribal, urban to jungle, from earth to space and back again. Mickey was adding voices, both his own and others, speaking words or phrases or sayings from a far off land; I don’t really know but it just added that extra dimension to what they were doing and painted all new pictures in my head. Not only was Mickey adding extra pizzazz, I look at the stage and see none other than Bill Walton banging away at something percussive! Next thing ya know, there’s Oteil joining in on the fun. Seriously incredible. And, then space was just as nuts. I love that moment when all of a sudden you see Bob slowly walk on stage; then here come John as Oteil picks up his bass and Billy and Mickey take a break. Space. Ah, space. This is true musical experimentation for these guys. THIS is true chaos at its best; a space only reached during this time and maybe during some other pretty psychedelic tunes like the “Dark Star” was played this very night.
Slowly, developing gently until it became recognizable, “Days Between,” was heavy and maybe a tad haunting. The lyrics the story of the band played out in seasons of nature and seasons of growing old. Looks glamorous from our viewpoint but it must be a tough life most of the time, on the road, people demanding more of you, playing when you don’t necessarily want to. The lyrics, like most of Robert Hunter’s work, reads like haunting poetry. “There were days, and there were days, and there were days I know. When all we ever wanted was to learn and love and grow. Once we grew into our shoes, we told them where to go. Walked halfway around the world on promise of the glow. Stood upon a mountain top, walked barefoot in the snow. Gave the best we had to give, how much we’ll never know we’ll never know…” That space between the joys of being a part of something so beautiful and the sorrow or pain of the death of that joy when something becomes an obligation.
Closing the set with some high falutin fun, “Not Fade Away,” takes the place back to dancing ground. You know it, the happy sound to the guitars, and the quick funky beat from the bass, and the thump-thump-thump, thump-thump from the rhythm that easily becomes a clap along. Leaving the stage for just a few minutes, they regroup and rejoin us for, “U.S. Blues” followed by, “Brokedown Palace,” that perfect end for a show there at Mountain View’s own brokedown palace. Weir took the first and last verses, Mayer taking all between. It was soulful and sweet, and it warmed my heart and broke it at the same time. “Fare you well, fare you well. I love you more than words can tell. Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul….”
I’ve seen many Grateful Dead shows since my first live experience back in 1986, while on spring tour in Hartford Connecticut. I’ve seen many different iterations of this band as well: The Other One’s (featuring Mark Karan, Steve Kimock or Jimmy Herring on lead guitar at different times; Bruce Hornsby, Jeff Chimenti or Rob Barraco on keys; bassist Alphonso Johnson when Phil took a break, and sometimes vocalist Susan Tedeschi), The Dead (featuring the core four plus Jimmy Herring and Warren Haynes on guitar; Jeff Chimenti or Rob Barraco on keys, and Joan Osborne on vocals), Further (featuring John Kadlecik on guitar, Jeff Chimenti on keys, Joe Russo and Jay Lane on drums, Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on vocals – with Lane and [Zoe]Ellis leaving the band in 2010), and of course the Fare Thee Well shows featuring the core four, Trey Anastasio on lead guitar, Bruce Hornsby on piano, and Jeff Chimenti on keys. Now we have Dead & Company. For how long, who knows. Maybe this was it, maybe not. I thought the music was spot on. I thought the energy was alive and strong. I thought that both John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge honored and respected the music and their styles complemented the whole vibe. I’ve enjoyed each and every moment of each and every show of each and every iteration of this band I was blessed to be at. The empty space of where Garcia stood for so long can never really be filled. Never. It will never be the same. We shouldn’t want it to be. Jerry was a unique gift to the music world; to us all. I am thankful for each note I heard him play. It changed me. We can’t get that same thing back. We may never taste music the same, but we get what we can thanks to the continual energy of Weir, Lesh, Hart and Kruetzmann; through all of their musical endeavors, whether together or apart. We cherish and appreciate it.
Dead & Company
July 30, 2016
Set 1: Help on the Way> Slipknot> Shakedown Street, Cassidy, Standing on the Moon, Me and My Uncle, Brown-Eyed Women, Franklin’s Tower
Set 2: Dark Star> St. Stephen, Eyes of the World> Terrapin Station> Drums*> Space> Days Between, Not Fade Away
Encore: U.S. Blues, Brokedown Palace
*w/Bill Walton and Oteil Burbridge