Dead & Company are touring again this year, they're calling it a "summer" tour, though almost all of it is taking place in the Spring. As you might imagine, we've been filled with anticipation, especially since they've adopted an unheard of innovation, offering the first three songs of each night (the whole show in Atlanta) for free, live streaming and of course on YouTube thereafter. This allows those among us who follow their every move to obsess even further, and it seems to have worked to bump up interest generally since last night's Saturday show was sold out and Sunday will probably be almost full.
And how have the shows been you may ask? Well let me give you my Dead-drenched opinion: they've been great, though they could be better. As mentioned earlier, their schedule of touring once a year and the number of side projects they all have makes one think, is Dead & Company really a working band or are they an oldies act that gets together every once in a while with a minimum of practice and entertains stadiums full of people with the old chestnuts? The answer is that they're such high-level musicians, their ensemble performances are tight, innovative, and riveting. They've only added three (well, one and two half) songs to their repertoire with this year's tour, but the ones they do (well over a hundred in fact) are progressing from fantastic into the stratosphere. I wish they'd practice together more and add more new songs, but they follow their own muse and I can't fault musicians for that.
We parked in Sarah's building and walked uptown on an overcast day with the sun threatening to come out and the temperature threatening to approach 70. The Tall Ships were returning to Boston that afternoon and the waterfront must have been a madhouse with the millions(!) of people projected to be there, but it was pretty crowded uptown too. Made a left turn in Kenmore Square and trundled down to Yard House, where Scott and Michelle were waiting, and Dave, Leen, and Andrew showed up soon. We had some great beer and lot of conversation about our house project and of course music. Time rolled by and before we knew it it was time to check out Shakedown Street and then head into the Park!
Went in through the main gate and followed the normally shut-off tunnel around to the left to enter the field by the left field wall. Fenway was as magical as ever and we were on the goddamn field. Stopped by to have a close-up look at the visitors' dugout and the beyond-perfect infield before finding our seats in section C6 ... more center this year than last, but not close. Getting turf tickets for Saturday had been hard and I had to make two purchases as they wouldn't sell me 4 together, so Dave and Leen were over in C2. The rain was definitely going to hold off and the guys came on and lined up soon after 6:30. And then they started into Music and we were right back there. Here's the first set:
The Music Never Stopped
Cold Rain and Snow
Me and My Uncle
Big Boss Man
Ramble On Rose
As mentioned, the band was playing as tightly as could be and the sound in Fenway was excellent. We could hear every note and flourish and every beat of the drums. Mickey's setup is less wild this year and I think it's added even more to their rhythm section to have him playing with Bill instead of around him. Oteil seems so comfortable with this music it's incredible and his funk and nimbleness is amazing.
John continues to ascend in the Dead milieu and some of the leads he's been cracking off this tour are phenomenal. I've gotten beyond being gob-smacked by him, and perhaps am a little less accepting of his small miscues and forgetting exactly when the lead is supposed to come in and end, but when he gets going the world revolves around his guitar and his fingers are a blur on the fretboard. He kills Cold Rain and Snow and though this was a bit of an up-and-down set, it sure had a lot of highlights, such as his leads on Big Boss Man (on the 45th anniversary of Pigpen's last performance) and Sugaree.
Jeff continues to get better also, contributing great organ runs and sparkling piano to songs like Ramble On Rose (we booed the "just like New York City" line, we *were* at Fenway Park during baseball season after all!). And Bobby is as good as ever, he's obviously enjoying the heck out of this band. He closed the set with a powerful Passenger, perhaps to make up for mangling it a bit at Fenway with Donna last summer.
Here's the slightly poofy review from The Globe from the next day. And here's a link to Sarah's pictures. And here's a really nice piece about Mayer appearing at his alma mater, Berklee College Of Music, earlier in the day.
Though it was only 7 songs, that was a long first set, but the bathroom lines were not too crazy and we were soon back out on the field, enjoying beautiful Fenway and gabbing about the first set with neighbors and friends. A bunch of guys in front of us were not the best neighbors; a couple of them were loud and extremely drunk to begin with, before smoking pot throughout the evening. To their credit though, they made it through the whole thing, though a few of them had to sit down for stretches in the second set.
And speaking of the second set, the guys came back out in the gloaming and ripped off one of the best live sets I've ever seen performed. It's not a great setlist, but these songs were played exquisitely:
Dancing In the Street
Help On the Way
Eyes Of the World
Eyes Of the World
I Need a Miracle
Standing On the Moon
Oh my Dog, this band just performed those songs so well! Every one of them showed incredible talent and technique, and as an ensemble they were almost perfect. I should mention, again, John's leads, Oteil's ability to add funk to anything, and Jeff's presence. And as has happened before, Bobby raised his vocal game beyond what you might have expected from the first set. I told Dave later that I couldn't believe I was saying it, but that was the best "I Need a Miracle" I've ever heard (a song I sometimes dismiss as formulaic). And his emoting on Standing On the Moon brought tears to your eyes, perhaps he was again thinking of Pigpen.
And a note about one the best songs ever, Eyes Of the World. Oteil makes this so fresh with his runs throughout, and this featured a great solo section by him after the last verse. They then went into Drums (which Oteil participated in and in which Mickey cranked up The Beam and gleefully shook the bejeezus out of the venerable old ballpark, and then even more gleefully tooted some clown bicycle horns) and a beautiful but short Space and then wham, they were back doing a last chorus of Eyes!!!
And they sandwiched that long, excellent second set with a funky, rocking, rabble-rousing Franklin's that had everyone singing along. They stretched and stretched the "Roll away the dew" coda and then almost wrapped it up, and then burst right back into another vocal coda with all of Fenway rolling back that dew as hard as we could. This was beautiful, well-played, and above all cathartic. Wow!!!
They came back out for an encore pretty quickly and burst right into a small jam which turned into Black Muddy River. I recognized the song but couldn't believe until John started into the words that they were going to repeat what they'd encored with at their first Fenway show last summer. But I guess John was reminiscing about his student days, and perhaps back then he spent some time walking beside the Muddy River in the Fens (not too far from Berklee) and dreaming a dream of his own.
And then another encore repeat, but this was expected: closing Saturday night in Summer (actually Spring) with One More Saturday Night. Short and sweet, and then the guys were gone into the wings. See you tomorrow! In fact, I have to get ready to leave for tonight's show.
Sarah and I had a long walk back to Beacon Hill, but we finally made it and were back home by midnight or so. Will I do this again next year? Well, of course.