Dead & Company at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
Two summers ago Bob Weir spoke in an interview about a vision he had during a Dead & Company show. It involved watching the band 20 years later carrying on without him or the other former members of the Grateful Dead yet sustaining the spirit of that iconic San Francisco band.
As Dead & Company has shown multiple times on its summer 2017 trek and, once again, at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center he didn’t have to wait that long to “see” the changes within the band and hear the young guys carry the torch into the present and future.
The songs were familiar but the musicianship and approach were not. The three-hour concert opened with “Cold Rain & Snow” followed by “Tennessee Jed;” each maintaed a rhythmic swing that was not too fast and not too slow. It was immediately noticeable that the six musicians onstage had found their groove. That continued with “Dire Wolf,” which featured a honky tonk solo by Jeff Chimenti on piano that was matched by John Mayer delivering an economic turn on guitar before he returned to sing the next verse. The two worked off each other throughout the night, enjoying what each musician created and egging each other on to further directions. Chimenti also moved between piano and B3 organ during a solid tour debut of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately.”
Oteil Burbridge offered his sweet, pure, soulful voice on “If I Had the World to Give,” which elicited a massive smile by Mayer for a job well done. “Here Comes Sunshine” featured Mayer lost in an extended solo that transitioned into a jam with hints of “China Cat Sunflower.”
Surprisingly, the Willie Dixon-penned blues classic “Little Red Rooster” led to one of the best examples of the old guard combining with the “new” guys. Mayer had the chance to show off his blues chops, which was followed by Chimenti on organ, Weir on slide and then Mayer returned with another solo.
After not being played for 20 shows, “Let It Grow” returned and closed out the first set. Rehearsed that afternoon, the song had all the rhythmic rush, solos and jams reminiscent of its frequent appearance during Grateful Dead shows in the ‘90s.
The second set opened with the always welcome “Iko Iko,” which faded into a typically exploratory “Dark Star” (1st verse) and Chimenti bringing up subtle chords near the end reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “So What” before it transitioned to “Truckin’” and a the obvious nod to the surroundings with the lyric “Truckin’ up to Buffalo.” Burbridge even provided a few old school bass bombs during the song’s jamming peak. It quickly moved into “Smokestack Lightning” and back again to the second verse of “Dark Star.”
Like the other songs with a faster tempo, “Deal” was particularly helped by the spry groove sustained by Burbridge. Chimenti knocked out an organ solo during that number that had the crowd cheering loud enough it was probably heard in Canada. Mayer continued that with a fierce, abandoned take on guitar. It led into “Drums” which consisted partly of hypnotic rhythmic by Mickey Hart and part organic playing by him and Bill Kreutzmann. The visuals during this segment were especially mind-blowing, as if the vibrating images were drawn by Ken Kesey during his LSD experiments for the Army.
A well-played “Wharf Rat” then came out of “Space.” “Casey Jones” followed with Weir doing more of his unique slide work and Mayer back in the zone as he soloed his way until Weir signaled it was time to stop and end the second set. For such a fun and uplifting concert, it seemed just exactly perfect to encore with “Werewolves of London.”
Unlike other post-Grateful Dead groupings, Weir, Kreutzmann and Hart have finally engaged with three others – Mayer, Burbridge and Chimenti – who aren’t looking to replicate the past but honor it, and with the enthusiasm and, dare I say, love emanating from the band members, the music is performed with a passion, precision and joy.