Dead & Company Delivers a Barn Burner in NYC & Honors Chris Charucki
On Friday night, Dead & Company brought their summer tour to Flushing Meadows, Queens to kick off a two-night stand at Citi Field (baseball stadium and home to the NY Mets). After exclusively playing amphitheaters through the first stellar nine dates of their tour, the six-piece ensemble played their first stadium show of the tour, returning to the home of the New York Mets for the third year in a row. The super group continued to carry on the legacy of the Grateful Dead’s music and songbook with six musicians who make up this all-star group: Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti. No doubt, this weekend was a family affair in so many ways. I was lucky to get backstage passes both nights, so I got a bird’s eye view of the fact that every single one of the immediate family of each of the band members were present and provided a support system while the band kicked out two of the best shows they have played back to back in no doubt their largest stadium tour in Dead & Company history. I spoke with some New York Mets staff who said that Friday night had 37,000 paid attendees. Additionally, I saw some moving family moments including Bob Weir walking around backstage holding his younger daughter Chloe’s hand; as well as, Bobby’s 2 daughters and wife happy, dancing and cheering away during the first few songs of the first set. It was plain to see during the entire 2 days at Citi Field that the 6 band members that make up Dead & Company were very happy to be up on stage in front of the almost 40,000 people in attendance both days. We don’t always get to see the smiling faces of all 6 band members every show; however, it was plain to see that everyone on stage was very happy
The sextet took to the stage shortly after 7:40 p.m. opening things up with a version on “Shakedown Street,” a homage to the massive amount of vendors and lot entrepreneurs who follow them show to show and were set up en mass at by far the tours hugest open-air marketplace right outside Citi Field. Lead guitarist, John Mayer, broke out a number of funky and unique guitar tones while keyboardist Jeff Chimenti showcased his prowess on the clavinet as they stretched the song out almost to the 15-minute point. Bob Weir and John Mayer shared vocal leads on the title track of their 10th studio album which was released in the height of disco fever in 1978.
Dead & Company – “Shakedown Street” [Pro-Shot] via Nugs.net
Mayer then led and fronted the band on a sizzling take of the seldom played “Alabama Getaway.” After 2 super high-energy numbers to start to the night, “Loser” a moving Robert Hunter tune formally sung by Jerry Garcia, is now sung by Bob Weir. This meaningful song slowed things down to one of my favorite slow tunes and one of my absolute favorite, classic guitar solos. Unlike the tour’s previous version of “Loser”, last night’s take featured the “Sweet Susie” line. Jeff Chimenti led a stand-out piano and guitar duo with John Mayer, truly pulling at the heartstrings of this sentimental number.
Keeping with the sentimental theme, the band swept into a take of a strong bluesy version of Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too” which featured John Mayer on vocals. Mayer, no doubt, really shines during these bluesy old school covers which primarily were covered by PigPen aka Ron McKernan, the Grateful Dead’s founding member and original keyboardist, who in the mid 60’s led the band in many versions of blues-based tunes before they morphed into a psychedelic outfit of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Bob Weir then strapped on his acoustic guitar and busted out a tour debut of the beloved song “Me and My Uncle.” Weir delivered the vocals to this song using his charisma to embody the sardonic lyrics originally written John Phillips from The Mamas & the Papas during a heavy drinking session with Judy Collins, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young.
The band transitioned into “Sugaree,” with Mayer taking the vocal lead on the perennial favorite Garcia/Hunter tune. Mayer, again, got to show off his endless blues chops which included Mayer ending the tune with a blistering guitar solo that built to a crescendo with him moving up and down the fretboard. Dead &Company then served up an awesomely exploratory take on “The Music Never Stopped” which saw Oteil Burbridge dropping Phil Lesh-esque bass bombs which shook the whole floor of the stadium. Mayer and Oteil’s interplay during “TMNS” was highlighted by Bob Weir‘s stellar, clear and powerful vocals which led the song along with outstanding and in tune 4 part harmony throughout. “The Music Never Stopped” was originally placed in its customary position at the end of the set (as per the original setlist below). Instead, the band tacked on “Easy Answers,” the 80’s influenced, rarely played tune written by the recently deceased Ratdog member Rob Wasserman, Bob Weir and Neil Young, to finish the first set. This version of “Easy Answers” which sounded like it belonged in a 1980’s Miami Vice episode which saw Jeff Chimenti pounding out the 1970’s Rhodes organ which he inherited by the much loved deceased keyboardist Brent Mydland.
Dead & Company got their second set of the night going when the musicians returned to the stage to perform an open-ended jazzy improv that morphed into a jam on John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” as the band began to toy with a segue into the first half of Weir’s infamous original, “The Other One”. Weir led the musicians with his solid vocals while Mayer locked in on a psychedelic guitar solo; while Jeff Chimenti layered his 5 electronic keyboard sounds. The normal booming drop into the song was replaced by a psychadelia-drenched drop with Weir singing the song’s first verse just as they segued into “Estimated Prophet.” This song, which is a beloved ode both to the bands home state of California; as well as, a sardonic ditty in homage to a stalker was written tongue and cheek by Bob Weir and the recently deceased John Perry Barlow. “Estimated Prophet” was delivered by Weir with gusto and a swaggering tenor. Additionally, John Mayer laid down a killer solo which got the biggest applause of the show up until this moment. Through the entirety of “Estimated Prophet,” the band dug in deep into their exploratory side, providing another standout moment of an already amazing show.
Dead & Company – “A Love Supreme” > “The Other One” (verse 1) > “Estimated Prophet” [Pro-Shot] via Nugs.net
The introductory and familiar stanza of “Althea” catapulted through Citi Field next, prompting the fans to cheer and get their groove on. Mayer continued his MVP-worthy evening with what has become his signature song, “Althea.” The song saw Mayer explore the intricate nature of Jerry Garcia’s super adept guitar work which pushed the jam to some thrilling places linking up improvisation with Chimenti and Burbridge, as Weir layered in his slide-guitar showing why Weir is ranked up there as the best rhythm guitarist in the world. “Althea” was the song which Mayer first heard on Pandora’s Grateful Dead station. He first heard the Grateful Dead while driving/commuting in Los Angeles in 2011 while he was on vocal rest after having surgery on his vocal chords and on vocal/speaking rest for an entire year. John heard the Jerry Garcia “Althea” riff and fell down the rabbit hole of Grateful Dead music leading him to a chance meeting with Bob and Mickey via Don Was at The Capitol Records Tower in January 2012.
Dead & Company – “Althea” via @btragal
John Mayer remained at the helm for the beginning of the “Terrapin Station” 7 part opus which started with a sprawling “Lady with a Fan” before Bobby jumped in to deliver the backend of the much-beloved song suite. The stage was then turned over to The Rhythm Devils, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, as the duo showcased a multitude of percussion sounds. The Rhythm Devils got some help last night on “Drums” as bassist Oteil Burbridge, as he has been during the majority of the shows this tour, grabbed a pair of drumsticks and made The Rhythm Devils, a trio. In true Grateful Dead fashion, the percussive jamming went on for more than 10 minutes before Mickey, alone, began to berate the beam moving into the depths of “Space”. As the rest of the band rejoined the percussion ensemble, the band played a bit of the legendary aforementioned Coltrane tune “A Love Supreme” before eventually bringing things back to Earth with the pulsating bass line of “The Other One” completing the last verse of the song which was started earlier in the set. Another tour debut came in the form of the beautifully melancholy “Days Between” with Weir singing lead on a late song in the Hunter/Garcia ballad which was perhaps their last collaboration on a big, significant, intentionally grand song between Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia. This song was debuted by the Grateful Dead in 1993 and was only played 41 times, always in the second set. Each verse in the song contains fourteen lines, and each evokes a different season of the year, although not in sequence. The first verse contains the lines “Summer flies and August dies / the world grows dark and mean.” Weir does a masterful job singing this song since Jerry Garcia passed away. Every time I hear him sing it, I know in my heart that he is singing this directly to Jerry, his lost brother in song. “Days Between” has come to be an anthem that makes us remember Garcia in a particular way, and, in particular, the days between his birth date of August 1 and his death date of August 9. It’s a fitting song for such thoughts, with its big sweeping chords and its lyrics heavy with nostalgia and longing.
The band took a few seconds before bringing the energy back up with a crushing an energetic version of “U.S. Blues,” which saw Weir and Mayer swapping verses on the sardonically patriotic take of their summertime anthem, reflecting on their life as counterculture icons in which Jerry Garcia proclaims himself as Uncle Sam. The frenzied audience became uproarious when the musicians left the stage for the conclusion of the second set. “U.S. Blues” brought the energy back up as Weir and Mayer swapped verses on the summertime anthem to bring the set to an end.
A lone encore ended the night leaving all the fans in Citi Field in attendance clapping and cheering for more. A heartfelt yet celebratory “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” had the whole band, Weir, Mayer, Burbridge, Chimenti, as well as, the 37,000 fans in the audience singing along to the old American traditional song. When Dead & Company returned to the stage for their encore Bob Weir, shocked the audience with what he was wearing. Bob Weir donned a studded collar and was wearing only an open buttoned down shirt that had the logo of New Jersey punk legends Misfits on his back with most of the skin on his upper torso quite visible. The shirt had belonged to the band’s longtime much-loved production/tour manager Chris Charucki who passed away quite unexpectedly earlier this year right before this Summer Tour started. Chris Charucki, who was born in Brooklyn, was a longtime member of the Grateful Dead family who began working with the band in 1993. Chrarucki continued work with the members of the band after Jerry Garcia’s passing in 1995, constantly spending his life on the on the road with all things Bob Weir related including RatDog, Furthur and Dead & Company. During the band’s fiery take on “Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad,” a photo of recently-departed longtime Bob Weir/Grateful Dead roadie, production and tour manager Chris Charucki was displayed on the huge video feed behind the band, prompting cheers from the audience and lending added emotional weight to the evening’s appropriate final number. I saw that Nugs.net also ended their live stream of Dead & Company with a picture of Charucki until the stream faded to black.
Dead & Company – Goin’ Down The Road Feelin Bad[Video: banfibill]
Below, you can view a gallery of photos from night one at Citi Field courtesy of Amy Sheridan for Fangeist.
Setlist: Dead & Company | Citi Field | New York, NY | 6/15/18
Set One: Shakedown Street, Alabama Getaway, Loser, It Hurts Me Too, Me And My Uncle^^, Sugaree, The Music Never Stopped > Easy Answers
Set Two: A Love Supreme > The Other One* > Estimated Prophet > Althea > Terrapin Station > Drums**/Space > The Other One^ > Days Between, U.S. Blues
Encore: Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad
**with Oteil Burbridge
^^Bob Weir on acoustic guitar