Written by Jim Bille
OK, I believe I’ve done this before but I’ll do it one more time and date myself. The Grateful Dead have been an American music institution for who knows how many years now so it’s not unconceivable that their fans have seen them for over a few decades. For me the one and only time attending a Dead concert was in 1973. It was at the now demolished RFK stadium in Washington DC. I do remember some of that show but not much. Boones Farm Strawberry Hill, along with too much reefer and orange barrel was mostly my diet during that show. I do remember The Allman Brothers jamming with the Dead and that match up is part of the show that is hard to forget.
Let’s skip ahead about 48 years or so later. Jerry Garcia is no longer with us and Phil Lesh has basically retired. So what do we have left of this American musical phenomenon?The answer to that would be Dead and Company. This incarnation of this great American band consists of original members of the Dead who continue to carry the torch. “The Other One” himself, Bob Weir along with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart represent the original Dead core with John Mayer stepping in for guitar and vocal work along with Oteil Burbridge on bass and Jeff Chimenti on keyboards.
As with any Dead and Company show, the bands stop at The Woodlands was quite the event. The crowd was a mix of all ages, including grandparents with grandkids and middle aged fans along with teenagers, mostly decked out in their best tie died t-shirts; they were all there for the celebration. And of course many of them were dancing throughout the show like nobody was watching.
The performance was at least two hours long with an intermission about half way through. The show featured just about everything Grateful Dead that you could squeeze in during that short time, but no way even came close to covering the band’s extensive catalog. After looking at different set lists from previous show stops of the tour, it was obvious that very few songs would be repeated during the show as all sets appear to be different. The show at the Woodlands was no exception as each number performed was a new surprise for the enthusiastic crowd.
With the addition of Mayer, Burbridge and Chimenti to such a prestigious brand you shouldn’t necessarily expect an exact note for note copy of Grate Dead tunes. Instead, each of these fine musicians added their own touch to the music. It was more like paying tribute than trying to be some kind of hybrid cover band playing copy-cat. Their musical collaboration with the senior members was fluid and refreshing.Mayer especially added more personal touches to his parts with his harmonious playing which augmented Weir’s rhythm guitar and vocals. The extended guitar improvisations between the two throughout the show were dynamic.
Dead and Company opened the show with “The Music Never Stopped” from the Grateful Dead’s 1975 release, Blues for Allah. This number was always a staple of the Dead’s repertoire so why not continue with that tradition. Still based on a funky type groove this one set the band and the crowd up for the night.
“Dire Wolf” is about as classic as you can get when it comes to a Grateful Dead tune. Originally released in 1970 on the bands fourth album, Working Mans Dead, the band performed this one pretty faithful to the original with its twisted alt-country sound.
Who can perform in Texas without playing a Texas song? Certainly not D&C especially when they pulled the Marty Robbins hit “El Paso” out of nowhere. Can’t say much about it other than I think it was more of a novelty song to thrill a Texas crowd but it was at least interesting.
The band finished up the first set with “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” from the 1973 release Wake of the Flood with Mayer and Weir swapping vocal duties. Mayer’s guitar work was tasteful and precise as the group finished up the set with yet another vintage Dead number.
After about a half hour or so D&C returned to the stage reinvigorated as they immediately revived another song from Wake of the Flood called “Here Comes Sunshine”. But the next number really got things moving as they performed “Truckin” , one of the Grateful Dead’s most recognizable signature songs.
Dead and Company featured a rarity when they performed “St. Stephen”, from the 1969 release Aoxomoxoa. This was the time that fans and critics alike consider to be the band’s experimental apex. As a side note, this was one of my personal favorites from the show.
Another song from that era on the menu this night was “The Eleven” which featured much of the extended jam-based structure that was a hallmark of the original band.
Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart took over the show with their techno infused song “Drums”. This one has been performed by the duo for a number of years but they now incorporate all sorts of percussion and electronic effects that really enhanced the traditional drum solo.
Without covering each song performed tonight I will close by saying that if you haven’t been to a Dead and Company show yet you need to go. Dead fan or not you need to at least experience the movement that has never faltered or waned over the years. It’s not just a concert – it’s an experience not soon forgotten. Plus, the fans are a lot of fun to watch!