Dead and Company’s 2019 tour recap
No, this isn’t a spoiler-filled review of the new Star Wars movie. For fans of the Grateful Dead, a revival is underway. Living members of the band are back on tour with some new talent under the name Dead and Company.
Playin’ in the band
Three of the original Grateful Dead, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann are joined by former Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge, who replaces the notably absent (and living) Phil Lesh. Jeff Chimenti rounds out the band on the keyboards.
Dead and Company has an unlikely frontman on lead guitar: John Mayer. Yes, John “Your Body is a Wonderland” Mayer is a blues virtuoso who discovered his love for the Grateful Dead when he heard “Althea” on his Pandora station in the early 2010s. After meeting Weir and jamming, a musical collaboration blossomed and Dead and Company was formed.
If it’s hard to grasp Mayer’s metamorphosis from a 2000s pop star into lead guitarist of the Dead and hippie icon, you are not alone. Many deadheads like to poke fun at Mayer. Their laughter subsides when Mayer picks up his guitar and face-melts crowds like Jerry Garcia once did.
Weir’s guitar skills have seen better days, but he remains the living heart and soul of the Dead. He’s referred to Mayer as “St. John” because where Weir now lacks on guitar, Mayer compensates. There’s a master-apprentice relationship between the two. Mayer can be seen helping keep Weir on tempo while Weir sometimes scolds Mayer, presumably for breaking some unwritten rule of ‘deadiquette.’
Chimenti and Burbridge have emerged as fan favorites for their solos and lead vocals. Cheers erupt when Burbridge sings “China Doll” or “Fire on the Mountain” and when Chimenti lights up the keys with his jaw-dropping piano solos.
It all makes for an entertaining show — watching the next chapter of the Grateful Dead’s weird and storied history unfold.
Truckin’ through 2019
Since 2015, Dead and Company’s tours have outshined the previous, with 2019 burning the brightest yet.
Over this period, Dead and Company has developed its own take on the Grateful Dead’s catalog, leaning towards a slower tempo and often woven with airy jams reminiscent of jazz and chill out.
Summer tour ‘19 had its memorable moments, such as when Mayer wielded Garcia’s guitar “Wolf” at Citi Field in New York and delivered a breathtaking “Althea.” Fans also raved about Mayer’s scorching solo over “Morning Dew” at Shoreline Amphitheater earlier in the tour.
Atlanta’s summer tour stop was a hot one, literally and figuratively. The band meandered in and out of the Janis Joplin tribute “Bird Song” and Weir’s gruff vocals commanded a lurching, powerful rendition of “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Set two in Atlanta mirrored the first, with “The Other One” and a reprise bookending fan favorites such as “Franklin’s Tower,” “Terrapin Station” and “Crazy Fingers.”
The first of a two-night stint at Madison Square Garden on Halloween opened with the acoustic ballad “Ripple,” —usually reserved for an encore. It was in memory of Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead’s beloved songwriter, who died just a month prior.
The second set featured a stunning bass solo during “Eyes of the World” by Burbridge. It was a big night for Burbridge. Hart and Kreutzmann surprised Burbridge by inducting him as an official member of the Rhythm Devils at set break. The Devils are cadre of drummers that break the second set of every dead show up with a deep-diving percussion and synthesizer jam known as “Drums and Space”.
Dead and Company finished 2019 with a bang, playing San Francisco’s Chase Center on New Year’s Eve and performing an unusual three set show.
Dressed as a tie-dyed version of father time, deadhead and NBA hall of famer Bill Walton joined Woodstock peace activist Wavy Gravy counting down the new decade. All the while, a propeller engine plane careened over the crowd, carrying Trixie Garcia and Sunshine Kesey, daughters of Jerry Garcia and Merry Prankster ring leader Ken Kesey. Dancers dressed as flapper girls lined the stage as roaring 20’s themed music played.
Ramble on into 2020
Now that the year is over, let’s take a look at Dead and Company’s top ten songs played on tour in 2019.
10. Standing on the Moon
Weir takes a heartfelt lead on vocals and slide guitar for “Standing on the Moon,” which made an appearance in the second set of several 2019 shows including their summer tour closer in Boulder, Colorado. There’s no doubt it’s being sung to Garcia. Emotions well up in Weir when he sings “but I rather be here with you” and “somewhere in San Francisco.” Photos of Garcia are held up by audience members during the song. It’s a tear-jerker and for that it makes the top ten.
09. Drums and Space
“Drums and Space” is a time to showcase the percussion and rhythm section while the rest of the band takes a break. It’s been a staple of the second set of Grateful Dead shows since 1978. For many it’s peak hour for dancing and getting down to Hart, Kreutzmann and Burbridge. It’s when things really get weird. Hart is known for creating zany sonic experiments. He resembles a cross between Count Chocula and a mad scientist when he plays a giant custom-made string instrument called “the beam,” or when honking bicycle horns of varying sizes. Don’t sleep through “Drums and Space” coming it at number nine.
Times played on 2019 tour: 32
08. West L.A. Fadeaway
There’s no way around it: West L.A. Fadeaway is a sleazy sounding song in the best way possible. For that, it makes number eight on the list. Off of “In the Dark,” “West L.A. Fadeaway” is a funky roadhouse tune that Dead and Company slow down to funeral procession speed. Weir makes it work with his vocal styling, a true badass of the open road. It’s clear he’s lived the song. He makes you feel the light of a washed-out neon vacancy sign of one of the “chateaus” that he doesn’t want to buy, but wants to “rent for an hour or two.”
Times played on 2019 tour: 2
07. Bird Song
Doing a 180 on the countdown, Bird Song is a light and airy number fitting of its name. It rolls in like a whisper, and leaves the audience guessing about what song the band is about to dive into. Once “Bird Song” is in full flight though, it swoops in with the velocity of a peregrine falcon mid-dive. It’s often reprised and teased in other songs, as well. It kind of floats around wherever it wants to, flying freely in the set, until it’s gone — just like the song’s inspiration.
Times played on 2019 tour: 9
06. Shakedown Street
Number six is the upbeat, disco-infused “Shakedown Street,” whose name has been appropriated by the tent city market that forms in the parking lot outside of every dead show. Everything from grilled cheese to t-shirts can be found there, you just have to “poke around.” “Shakedown Street” was controversial when it first came out, for fear that the Dead had gone disco. Nowadays Dead and Company puts their own spin on the song, and has been known to draw out the ending and sprinkle it with jazzy vocal riffs until it fades into silence. “Shakedown Street” is still a fan favorite, long after the death of disco.
Times played on 2019 tour: 9
05. Help on the Way> Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower
There’s nothing more glorious than a second set opener of “Help on the Way,” as it means that “Slipknot” and then “Franklin’s Tower” will surely follow. Certain songs flow into others at dead shows, and “Help>Slip>Franklin” might be the mother of them all. The uptempo “Help” starts off with quick, meandering guitar riffs along with lyrics that impart a general feeling verse for verse, but whose aggregate meaning escapes comprehension. “Slipknot” is an extending twisted bridge from “Help” to “Franklin,” one that has frustrated many aspiring guitarists with its it’s difficulty. It conveys a feeling of confusion and unease. When the opening major chords of “Franklin” finally rain down, it’s a joyous moment and its catchy chorus of “roll away, the dew,” drives the whole suite home. One of the song’s closing lyrics, “If you get confused, listen to the music play” sums up a lot about the song trio, as well as the Dead’s overall style.
Times played on 2019 tour: 6,6,9
04. Eyes of the World
Coming in at number four is the feelgood favorite “Eyes of the World.” Dead and Company plays a blistering version of this song, which usually makes an appearance mid-second set. It has a similar feel to “Franklin’s” due to the major key, which imparts a warm fuzzy feeling to the listener. The song’s chorus “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world” and other lyrical incantations takes “Eyes” to another level; the handiwork of Hunter. Dead and Company go deep on this one, providing Burbridge and Chimenti their time to shine, and shine they do. If you want some feel good music to laze a summer day away to, “Eyes” is the perfect fit.
Times played on 2019 tour: 9
When it comes to “Ripple,” few Grateful Dead songs hold greater significance to fans. Off of the album “American Beauty”, “Ripple” is usually reserved for the encore of shows. It speaks of roads and highways, of goodbyes and well-wishes. It’s summed up nicely by one of the last lyrics in the song: “If I knew the way, I would take you home.” One of the few fully acoustic songs that Dead and Company plays, Mayer and Weir split the verses. After the bridge Mayer puts his own pizzazz on the song with bluesy pull offs and a little touch of his electric guitar background translated to acoustic. Ripple may be number three on this countdown, but in the hearts of many, it is number one forever.
Times played on 2019 tour: 8
02. The Other One
“The Other One” is a tale of how the “long strange trip” began for the Grateful Dead, Weir in particular. Fittingly, it starts as a meandering jam like Bird Song, and gradually gains momentum until reaching a crescendo at “Coming, coming, coming around,” which makes some fans snap out of the trance that the intro has lulled them into. It mentions “Cowboy Neal at the Wheel of the Bus to Never Never Land,” which is an homage to Neal Cassady, one of the major influencers of the early Grateful Dead scene and driver of the infamous Furthur Bus. Pro tip: If you are ever at a Dead show, avoid getting on any real buses as you may end up getting indoctrinated into a cult. Not to be taken literally these days, “Getting on the Bus” is deadhead slang for falling for the music. The Other One is the genesis tale for the Grateful Dead and an extremely catchy tune, and for that it’s number two on our top ten.
Times played on 2019 tour: 12
01. Terrapin Station
“Terrapin Station” holds the number one seat because it is a meandering, powerful story about nothing and everything all at once. Beloved by fans of the music and incorporated into much of the dead’s symbolic artwork, “Terrapin Station” is unmatched in terms of significance in Dead culture. It’s an odd song, and could be likened to an anthem; a Grateful Dead version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The album cover art suggests that it’s about woodland creatures who gather to have a party, arriving by train at Terrapin Station. A turtle holds a tambourine, while another picks at a banjo. The song speaks of the outdoors and the night sky. There’s emphasis on the storyteller and the lyrics flow in a dream-like fashion. The end of the song features round after round of a powerful guitar refrain, with each member of the band adding to the build with their own improvised elements. Meanwhile the crowd, more ramped up with each pass, wonders when the last note will be struck, until finally it ends to a chorus of applause. Here’s to the number one song of 2019 played by Dead and Company. Long live Terrapin.
Times played on 2019 tour: 10
Source for Tour stats: setlist.fm/stats
This isn’t the first Dead iteration since frontman Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, nor will it likely be the last. As long as fans continue to travel great distances to pack amphitheaters and as long as Weir has life left in his road-weathered body, the Dead will live on. With fresh faces like Mayer, Burbridge and Chimenti carving out their own slice of history, the future seems bright for the Dead. As for the fans; new; old and in between — they are enjoying the ride. ⧫