By Andy J. Gordon
Dead & Company have officially called their Summer 2023 concert series the finale. The band, with three of the four surviving members of the Grateful Dead (Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart), along with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti, have been performing together since 2015, but collectively decided that 2023 was the end of the line. Their show on Friday night, May 19 at the Forum in Los Angeles kicked off the last hurrah for the group. The sold out show drew multiple generations of deadheads who would not miss the opportunity to give the band the sendoff they deserve.
There have been hiccups along the way, including show cancellations during the pandemic and health issues that prevented Kreutzmann from playing some shows. When Kreutzmann could not perform, Jay Lane, the Ratdog, Wolf Bros. and Further drummer filled his position. Most recently, Kreutzmann announced he would not be playing on the final tour due to a “shift in creative direction.” Once again, Lane got the nod to fill in and he did a fine job at the Forum show.
All of the musicians did excellent work at the Forum. Weir’s voice was particularly strong and his occasional guitar solos were impressive. Mayer played a series of incredible solos and contributed several strong lead vocal performances. Chimenti also played creative and interesting solos in addition to occasional harmonizing. Burbridge, Lane and Hart admirably led the rhythm section. Burbridge also contributed harmonies but did not get a chance to sing lead. The wild Drums/Space sequence during the second set was mesmerizing. Burbridge broke out a banjo bass and joined Lane and Hart for some trippy beats.
Overall, the show included many beloved songs from the Grateful Dead catalog. The first set opened with a lengthy “Shakedown Street” that allowed the musicians room to explore. Other favorites included sweet versions of “Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo” and “They Love Each Other.” The three-part grouping of “St. Stephen,” “William Tell Bridge” and “The Eleven” was a musical adventure that wowed the audience. Weir’s powerful vocals were broken up with trippy interplay between Mayer and Chimenti. “The Eleven” is a deep cut played infrequently. It has an odd, difficult time signature and was handled smoothly by the musicians before an abrupt transition saw Mayer launch into Jerry Garcia’s “Deal.” The guys jammed out before taking a long set break.
The classic tunes continued in the second set as Mayer opened on lead vocals for a leisurely version of Garcia’s “Sugaree.” Weir took over for “New Speedway Boogie” and “Eyes of the World.” Mayer, Weir and Chimenti each took solos before Burbridge got his chance to show off his nimble fingers. The band followed with “Estimated Prophet” which started slowly, but picked up the pace as Mayer went on a psychedelic guitar journey that eventually led into the “Drums/Space” sequence.
As “Space” wrapped up, Hart departed and Mayer, Weir and Chimenti came back out for a little improvisational voyage. The rhythm section eventually returned and the group launched into “The Wheel.” The show was winding down and the meaning of the Robert Hunter lyrics began to sink in (the world keeps spinning and life goes on: “you can’t let go and you can’t hold on, you can’t go back and you can’t stand still…”).
The moment became quite poignant as people realized that this was really the end for the band. Maybe the musicians were feeling it too, because they seemed extra energized as the show wrapped up with Mayer and Weir sharing vocals on “Wharf Rat” and Weir taking over for the set closing “Sugar Magnolia.” They departed briefly but came back for a one song encore performing the melancholy “Black Muddy River.” Mayer sang lead, but Weir, Burbridge and Chimenti all harmonized beautifully and Mayer took one last solo as the show finally wrapped up.
The Dead & Company Summer tour is traveling across the U.S. and will ultimately end where it all began for the Grateful Dead over 50 years ago – in San Francisco with two shows at Oracle Park July 14 and 15. The Grateful Dead’s music will live on as long as musicians play their music. However, it really is the last chance to catch Dead & Company, the closest resemblance to the original band. Check their website for show dates and give them the hearty farewell they have earned.
Shakedown Street (>)
Cold Rain and Snow (Obray Ramsey cover)
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
They Love Each Other
St. Stephen (>) William Tell Bridge
(>) The Eleven
New Speedway Boogie
Eyes of the World (>)
Estimated Prophet (>)
Drums (with Oteil playing banjo bass) (>)
The Wheel (>)
Wharf Rat (>)
Black Muddy River
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2023
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