Well, I'll be! We're kicking off the year with some big news in conjunction with our brethren Dead & Company. Over the next two months, we'll be truckin' along with the Dead & Company Digital Concert Series featuring all 19 complete shows from the group’s Fall/Winter 2017-18 tour. The series begins today with the release of all three of the original “Playing In The Sand” shows that were recorded February 15, 17, and 18, 2018, in advance of the second annual “Playing In The Sand” all-inclusive concert vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico next weekend.
Live audio for these recordings was mixed and remastered by Dead & Company’s Front of House Engineer, Derek Featherstone, and the band’s Recording Engineer, Ross Harris. Longtime Grateful Dead family member and Tales From The Golden Road host Gary Lambert will be serving up show notes on this here page.
Listen how and when you want: all shows will be available on all digital download and streaming services.
THIS WEEK'S SHOWS
TD GARDEN – BOSTON, MA – 11/17/17
The city of Boston has been known by various nicknames over time, not all of them related to beans: “the Cradle of Liberty” or “Birthplace of the American Revolution” come to mind. And then there’s “The Hub.” This was a shortened version of “Hub of the Solar System,” a phrase used to characterize Boston’s central position in the early social, cultural and political life of the United States, first applied by the 19th century writer and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. While that role may have diminished as the nation expanded westward, Boston has certainly remained “The Hub” in at least one way: as the epicenter of activity for New England’s large and avid contingent of Dead Heads for more than a half-century, beginning with the Grateful Dead’s first shows in the city, at a short-lived venue known as the Psychedelic Supermarket, in December of 1967. Boston has a singular distinction in Dead history as the only city outside of the San Francisco Bay Area in which the band played a show on New Year’s Eve (12/31/69). As the Dead’s popularity grew dramatically from that point, their most frequent destination in the area, playing host to 24 shows between 1973 and 1994, was Boston Garden, a decaying but magnificent old heap of a sports arena, famous as home to the Celtics and Bruins during their greatest years, as well as some of world’s rowdiest fans, who liked to express their displeasure with opposing teams or questionable referee’s calls by throwing light bulbs on the court or ice. In the rock ‘n’ roll era firecrackers became the more common weapon of choice, and at least one recording of a 70s Grateful Dead show at the Garden features a request from band to audience to kindly refrain from blowing things up.
Fortunately, there were no unauthorized explosive devices evident in the house when Dead & Company returned to Boston in November of 2017 to play the more modern facility that had replaced the original Garden, right next door to where the old place had been, but the two performances featured plenty of fireworks of a purely musical variety. Night one gets off to a fine start with the always-dependable show opener “Jack Straw,” closely followed by “New Speedway Boogie,” the feel of which is right in John Mayer’s blues guitar wheelhouse. John shines on voice as well as strings on “Althea,” after which Bobby takes the lead again on “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” and “Big River.” A characteristically soulful “Sugaree” and a high-spirited “The Music Never Stopped” ring down the curtain on the first set in style. No time is wasted in getting things soaring after intermission, as the crowd’s happy roar at the first chords of “Scarlet Begonias” makes clear. “Scarlet’s” constant companion, “Fire On The Mountain,” an ideal vehicle for Oteil Burbridge on lead vocal, turns things up another notch before the band shifts gears into “He’s Gone,” featuring some playfully jazzy vocal trading on the coda, interrupted by a sharp left turn into the turbo-charged jug-band funk of “Viola Lee Blues.” Out of the ashes of that song’s fiery finish rises a beautifully meditative sequence featuring the Rhythm Devils, then a Space segment that soon morphs into a swinging rendition of the Miles Davis classic “Milestones.” “Wharf Rat,” “The Wheel” and “Sugar Magnolia” combine for a powerful close to the set, with “Ripple” providing a gentle encore.
TD GARDEN – BOSTON, MA – 11/19/17
After a night off that didn’t slow their momentum one little bit, Dead & Company wrapped up their Fall 2017 Boston visit with this jewel of a show, full of unpredictable moments and inventive playing. The Sunday evening gets off to a properly sanctified start with “Samson & Delilah,” then proceeds though a series of shifting styles and moods, reflected in such standbys as “Dire Wolf,” “Cold Rain and Snow,” and “Loser,” and then a relative rarity: Dead & Company’s debut performance (and one of only three to the present date) of “Corrina,” one of those Bob Weir songs that appeared in the Grateful Dead repertoire in the early 90s, but would flourish more fully in the hands of some of the post-GD ensembles. Up next is “Here Comes Sunshine,” a perfect platform for jamming that received one of its peak early performances by the Grateful Dead in its Boston premiere at the old Garden in April of 1973. “Greatest Story Ever Told” is an atypical but excellent choice of first set closer. The “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” duo is a virtual certainty to raise the roof to kick off a second set, as the version delivered here demonstrates. Oteil’s vocal on “Comes A Time” provides a beautiful prelude to an open-ended “Playing In The Band,” that quickly ascends into otherworldly regions of the sonic spectrum – that zone in which the Rhythm Devils, aka Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, are right as home, as you’ll easily discern. The rest of the ensemble puts in its time exploring the cosmos as well, before returning us to earth with the stately chord that signals the opening of “Morning Dew.” The majestic rendition of Bonnie Dobson’s song would have sufficed as a show closer, but it turns Dead & Co. still had some rockin’ in their bones, and they deliver the goods with a one-two punch of “I Need A Miracle” and “Casey Jones” to close out the set. “Brokedown Palace” proves the much-beloved encore it has long been, but the band has one more gift to add: a reprise of that “Playing In The Band” they’d started more than an hour earlier.
PHILIPS ARENA, ATLANTA, GA – 11/29/17
The Grateful Dead’s long and happy relationship with the city of Atlanta began on July 7th, 1969 with a free concert in Piedmont Park – a little gift given to the city by the promoters of an event at which the Dead had not performed: the first Atlanta International Pop Festival, which was up to that point the largest gathering of its kind (it was a short reign, though, as its attendance was dwarfed a bit over a month letter by a certain shindig on a farm in upstate New York). Atlanta went on to become a frequent destination on Dead tours throughout the ensuing quarter century, with 24 of the band’s 36 total performances in the city taking place at the Omni, the dominant sports and entertainment arena in the area from 1972 to 1997. The venue holds an especially notable place in Grateful Dead history for having been the location of the last live “Dark Star” the Dead ever played, on March 30th, 1994.
The GD/ATL love was shown to be fully intact when Dead & Company came to town on November 29, 2017 to play at Philips Arena, a facility that stands just across the street from the site of the long-since-imploded Omni. A couple of stops into the southern and final leg of their Fall ’17 trek, the band had built up a solid head of steam, and the Atlanta show was singled out by many who were there, or who enjoyed it via live video streaming and/or later audio acquisition, as one of the best of the tour. “Truckin’” kicks things off in fine form, and the ensuing jam morphs into some deep blues with Howlin’ Wolf’s immortal “Smokestack Lightning.” Other first-set high points include a beautifully moody “Loser” and exquisitely rendered and improv-rich versions of “Cassidy” and “Bird Song” before a hard-rocking “Deal” signals halftime. Set two achieves liftoff quickly with a more-than-25-minute version of the “Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower” medley, with the latter tune ending not with it’s usual flourish but a delicate fade to near silence, into which steps Oteil Burbridge with a gorgeous vocal on “Comes A Time.” Things ignite again with the venerable electrified jug band classic “Viola Lee Blues,” which gives way to Drums and Space segments that are as adventurous as any on the tour. After a poignant “Wharf Rat,” the set ends on an energetic note with “Throwing Stones” and “U.S. Blues,” followed by a sweet sendoff in the form of a “Brokedown Palace” encore.
SMOOTHIE KING CENTER, NEW ORLEANS, LA – 2/24/18
A funny thing happened on the way to Dead & Company’s last three scheduled tour dates of 2017. Well, not so funny from the standpoint of John Mayer, whose appendicitis attack and subsequent emergency surgery on December 5th necessitated postponement until the following February of the show scheduled for that night in New Orleans and the remaining two dates in Florida. But hey… if you’re gonna strand several thousand music-hungry fans anywhere, you could hardly pick a better place than New Orleans, birthplace of so much of our shared cultural heritage and a town where music and good times (and great food!) are continuously and abundantly available. Needless to say, the Dead Heads found plenty of ways to make their own fun during the unexpected time off from tour. As a longtime friend of the Dead put it, “John Mayer has the best bad timing ever!”
Needless to say, when the rescheduled New Orleans date rolled around a few months later, both band and audience were ready to go. And John Mayer, minus appendix, was fully recovered and then some, as he’d already demonstrated at the Playing In The Sand shows in Mexico earlier in February. The band rewarded the patience of all who’d waited that extra time with a terrific show, enhanced by a visit by local musical royalty. Things start grooving quickly with a pairing of “Feel Like A Stranger” and “The Music Never Stopped” – the latter especially well chosen in the Crescent City, where the truth in that title has held true for centuries. After that fine table-setter, and then visits to folk roots with “Cold Rain And Snow,” “Peggy-O” and “Friend Of The Devil,” the party really heats up when one of the paragons of the city’s musical community joins the band onstage to a richly deserved hero’s welcome: bassist and singer George Porter, Jr., co-founder of one of the greatest bands of all time, the Meters and the foundation of countless iconic recordings produced in the studios of New Orleans over a period of more than five decades. With one of Porter’s most avid fans and disciples, Oteil Burbridge, happily ceding his spot and watching with joy from the side, George shares lead vocals with Bob Weir on “Smokestack Lightning,” provides a funky bottom to “Bertha” and then blows the roof off the place with soulful lead vocal on “Sugaree” to close out the first set. A hard act to follow, but Dead & Co. somehow pull it off in Part 2 with a sizzling “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain” opener to a variety-packed set highlighted by John and Oteil’s shared vocals on “Ship Of Fools,” a deeply emotional “Stella Blues” and a celebratory set-ending “One More Saturday Night,” with just a tinge of New Orleans R&B to it. The encore is a crowd-pleasing and rare – the only one played on this tour – take on Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London.”
BB&T CENTER – SUNRISE, FL – 2/26/18
“One way or another, this darkness got to give…”
The penultimate performance of Dead and Company’s Fall 2018/Winter 2019 tour proved to be an unforgettable experience for band and audience alike, for reasons above and beyond the fine music played that evening. When the last three shows of the tour had to be postponed from December to February, no one could have anticipated that fate would place the band’s visit to Sunrise, Florida in such close proximity to a horrific event that had devastated the area and the nation: the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – located just a few miles from the concert venue – that took the lives of 17 students and faculty members on February 14th, less than two weeks before the rescheduled concert. It was quickly and unanimously decided by Dead & Company and its management that the February 26th appearance at BB&T Center could not be just another tour date, but a gesture of solidarity and healing for all those affected by the shootings. In that spirit, an invitation was issued to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, teachers and families to attend the show as guests of honor, and several dozen — including some who had been directly in the line of fire during the assault — took the band up on the offer. The band members met with members of the school community before the show, and again in a memorable gathering during intermission, at which the students spoke of their resolve to turn tragedy into positive change, by launching a movement to address the American epidemic of gun violence and, in collaboration with the voter registration and voting rights advocacy group HeadCount, to encourage participation in democracy by young people.
The concert itself was a profound reminder of the power of music to console, to inspire, to bring light to dark times. The band members paid visual homage by donning T-Shirts bearing the #MSDStrong hashtag, denoting the strength and resiliency of the students and the community, and the well-chosen setlist contained some songs that could be interpreted as referring directly to the evening’s context, while others were perfectly suited to convey that sense of uplift and joy that has always been at the heart of the music of the Grateful Dead and those who carry it on. The line “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart / When I can hear it beat out loud,” from the show-opening Shakedown Street, seldom rung so true, and Bob Weir brought an especially fierce intensity to his delivery of “Throwing Stones” on this night; songs such as “Bird Song,” “Help On The Way” and “Eyes Of The World” spoke beautifully to the moment in their own way; and the moment during the encore when the band and crowd joined as one voice in declaring “We will get by, we will survive” provided the perfect final statement.
AMWAY CENTER – ORLANDO, FL – 2/27/18
We ask you — what better place to finish off one long thrill ride of a tour than the amusement park capital of the world? Well, that’s where Dead & Company wound things up (albeit a couple of months later than originally planned) when they played Orlando on February 27th, 2018, having cut a mighty swath through various parts of the USA (plus a nice little detour to Mexico).
You could tell this show was going to be a finale to reckon with when the band opened with one of the songs that gets a crowd fired up as well as anything in the Grateful Dead book ever has, “St. Stephen,” then followed it up with a tune about a ride most definitely not to be found at any of the local theme parks — Bob Weir and John Barlow’s “Hell In A Bucket.” From there on out, it was a show full of twists and turns to rival any of those supersized roller coasters that jut into the sky not far from the Amway Center, with a head-spinning mixture of blues, rock, ballads and, as always, plenty of satisfying collective improvisation. Highlights include a version of “The Wheel” that incorporates a bit of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” a particularly fine rendition of “Althea” and a pairing of two of the works that earned 1977 reputation as one of the Grateful Dead’s peak years, “Estimated Prophet” and “Terrapin Station.” Appropriately performances of “Casey Jones” and “U.S. Blues” bring the evening, and the tour, to a fitting close.
FRANK ERWIN CENTER – AUSTIN, TX – 12/2/17
“T for Texas / Yes, and it’s T for Timbuktu” – When Dead & Company took to the stage at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, TX on December 2, 2017, no one thought that the band was about to play its final show of the year. After all, there were three more dates on the tour itinerary, in New Orleans and Florida. It wasn’t until a few days after the Austin show that unforeseen circumstances would force those scheduled gigs to be postponed until the following February. But if the tour finale was an inadvertent one, no one could have asked for or planned a better capstone to a great musical year, as the band delivered a performance that more than a few informed listeners have called the best of the Fall tour, the best of 2017, or perhaps even the single best show Dead & Company had yet played, period. The audio evidence makes a compelling case for any and all of those claims.
Austin is renowned as one of the great live music towns in the world, with a dizzying number of venues, from honky-tonks to concert halls to arenas, that regularly play host to both homegrown talent and visiting musical royalty, with a special emphasis on those specializing in a wide variety of American roots music – country, blues, R&B and much more. In other words, many of the genres that inspired the Grateful Dead in the creation of their own borderless musical universe. Those crucial influences are especially evident in the first set of Dead & Company’s show in the Texas capital, from the opening “Jack Straw” through the magnificent “Sugaree” that closes the first half. In between, some of the highlights include “New Minglewood Blues” (a Noah Lewis tune dating back to the 1920s that was in the repertoire of one of the earliest groupings of future Grateful Dead members, Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions) and a direct nod to Texas tradition with “Next Time You See Me,” a blues classic by the great Junior Parker, recorded in the Houston studios of Duke Records, a label owned by infamous music mogul Don Robey. Returning from the break, the band shifts gears completely, from the deeply rooted to the completely untethered, with a wild ride of a second set that achieves liftoff immediately with the ever-popular “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” coupling, then sets its course to the great unknown with “Dark Star,” “The Other One” and way-out-there Drums and Space segments before gently reentering the Earth’s atmosphere for a set-closing sequence of “Uncle John’s Band,” “St. Stephen” and “Morning Dew.” A full-on encore of “One More Saturday Night” brings it all back home to the rock ‘n’ roll roots.
AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER – DALLAS, TX – 12/1/17
For such a large and populous state, Texas was never one of the more frequent destinations on the Grateful Dead’s tour itinerary. The band only played 28 shows there during its 30 years of touring, with most of those appearances happening in the 1970s and none later than 1988. To compound the deprivation, as of 2017 various bands featuring Dead alumni had only made it to the state a handful of times in the ensuing two-plus decades. So, it’s not surprising that the roar you hear from the crowd as Dead & Company hits the stage for its Texas debut is as unrestrained and loud as it is. It’s the sound of Lone Star Dead Heads who have been waiting for something for a very long time. And the music that follows that rapturous reception is the sound of patience and anticipation richly rewarded. After setting the table with such popular items from the Dead songbook book as “Shakedown Street” and “Brown-Eyed Women,” the band pays homage to their host city with “Deep Elem Blues,” a song dating back to the 1930s about a neighborhood that looms large in the history of Dallas’ African American community, with Bob Weir, John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge taking turns on lead vocal. A couple of songs later there’s a nod to another part of Texas with Marty Robbins’ classic cowboy ballad “El Paso,” followed by a run of Grateful Dead originals to close out the first set: the sweet Garcia-Hunter tune “They Love Each Other,” with spirited ensemble playing appended to the coda, and then a funky mashup of “The Music Never Stopped” and “Easy Answers.” The second set is a feast of Dead favorites, starting with a “Here Comes Sunshine” that opens up to some high-energy jamming, and segues beautifully into “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire On The Mountain,” which in turn seamlessly morphs into a hard-swinging “Eyes Of The World” that features spectacular guitar and keyboard trade-offs by John Mayer and Jeff Chimenti. Ethereal Drums and Space sequences carry us gently into the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” then Garcia and Hunter’s “The Wheel” (with a reggae-flavored tag) and, to close the set, a wild “Casey Jones.” In an appropriate return to the Old West, the band encores with Bob Dylan’s gunfighter’s lament, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN – NEW YORK, NY – 11/12/17
“Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart / When I can hear it beat out loud.” Nowhere on Earth do the hearts of Dead Heads beat louder and stronger than in New York City and its surrounding metropolitan area, which the Grateful Dead came to consider a second home over the course of their three decades of touring. A small but devoted gaggle of fans that greeted the band on its first visit to town in June of 1967 grew into the core of the Dead’s huge East Coast following, taking them from clubs to theaters to arenas and stadiums. And of all the venues the Dead played, none played a more significant role in the band’s career than Madison Square Garden, the internationally famous arena that has been the site of some of the most memorable events in both sports and entertainment history, and at which the Dead performed 52 times between 1979 and 1994. The exchange of energy between that band, that building and that audience was quite literally palpable, thanks in part to the Garden’s unique design – the roof is suspended from cables, and the arena floor, located five stories above street level, rests on giant shock-absorbing springs, so that the room actually moves to the music as the audience does… and you know how this audience moves, even without help from the building!
Happily, more than two decades after the Grateful Dead last played there, the synergy between this music, the venue and the fans remains fully intact, as can be heard in the two shows Dead & Company played at the Garden to launch the Fall tour of 2017. “Shakedown Street,” a song that’s always had special resonance for the New York audience, proved a perfect choice to kick things off on opening night, setting the stage for a first set that also features such standouts as “Bertha,” “Cassidy,” “They Love Each Other” and “Cumberland Blues.” The band immediately ups the intensity after halftime, with the old reliable one-two punch of “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider,” briefly dials it down for a subtle and soulful “Ship Of Fools,” then ascends to the heights with “Terrapin Station” before launching straight into the cosmos for the Drums and Space sequences – which provide a perfect prelude to the astral ruminations of Garcia and Hunter’s poignant “Standing On The Moon.” It’s back to terra firma for “The Other One,” via the fabled bus driven by Cowboy Neal, and then that out-of-control train headed for trouble with “Casey Jones.” The traditional dose of Sunday gospel, “Samson And Delilah” serves as the encore.
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN – NEW YORK, NY – 11/14/17
Let us pause for a moment to praise some of the hardest-working people on the planet – those insanely dedicated individuals who toil on road crews for touring bands, and especially the men and women who have served in those roles for the Grateful Dead and its performing offspring for over five decades. These are the rock ‘n’ roll heroes that most people never see or know by name, but are every bit as essential to making the music happen as the musicians themselves – the people who work the longest hours, do the heaviest lifting and have to attend to the countless logistical and technical details that assure everything will work as seamlessly as possible at show time. We call this to your attention here because, as you might notice, Dead & Company played their two shows at Madison Square Garden on non-consecutive nights. This is because when attempting to book shows into multi-purpose facilities like the Garden, bands and their promoters are at the mercy of the schedules of the professional sports teams that are the building’s principal tenants. And so it was in this case – the New York Knicks had games on tap for November 11th, 13th and 15th. Which meant that the Dead & Company crew had to wait until the first of those games was over and the basketball court and seats removed before they could load in the band’s gear and set up the stage, sound and lights in the wee small hours of the 12th, start breaking everything down and storing it the moment the first show was over, start the whole process over after the game on the middle day, and then clear out for the Knicks yet again immediately after the show on the 14th, loading everything into the trucks headed for the next show in Philly. So, the next time you go to a show… thank the crew!
Of course, all that hard work pays off the moment the house lights go down and you hear that roar of anticipation from the crowd, and Dead & Company’s second night at the Garden was no exception, from the opening jam that built into a rip-roaring “Hell In A Bucket” to the full-out “U.S. Blues” encore – with highlights in between including a rollicking “Tennessee Jed,” a beautiful “Bird Song,” the “Help On The Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower” triptych, a post-drums sequence that includes a visit to the first movement of John Coltrane’s masterpiece “A Love Supreme,” a moving “Stella Blue” and a powerhouse second set-closing coupling of “St. Stephen” and “Not Fade Away.”
CAPITAL ONE ARENA – WASHINGTON, DC – 11/21/17
“You know it’s gonna get stranger…” It’s hard to imagine things getting a whole lot stranger than they are these days in Washington, DC, where we are told (as George Orwell himself might have warned we would be) to accept the existence of such things as “alternative facts.” Clearly, our Nation’s Capital has been in need of a happier sort of alternative reality, and Dead & Company were just the guys for the job for at least this one November night, delivering one of the strongest shows of the 2017 Fall tour.
Bob Weir and John Barlow’s ode to oddness, “Feel Like A Stranger,” made for an apt opener, in both its subject matter and infectious groove, and set the table for an evening that at moments included some oblique and not-so-oblique references to the strange machinations of state just outside the venue’s walls, but also provided a much-needed respite from all that. First-half highlights include a couple of other Weir/Barlow favorites, “Black-Throated Wind” and “Cassidy,” as well as some of the signature works in the Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter songbook, such as “Bertha,” “Ship Of Fools” and a red-hot “Deal” to close out the set. The second set is delivered as a single, seamless statement, one piece flowing uninterrupted into another: the always-welcome “Help On The Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower” medley, the poignant “Looks Like Rain” and the monumental “Terrapin Station” transport us into the otherworldly Drums and Space segments (with the former incorporating a most appropriate sample, courtesy of Mickey Hart, of the great 20th century avant-garde singer Cathy Berberian singing a line from a piece by John Cage: “the best form of government is no government at all”). A beautiful rendition of Garcia and Hunter’s “Days Between” segues into an especially emphatic “Throwing Stones” (with Bobby bringing an added degree of site-specific ferocity to the line “You can buy a WHOLE DAMN GOVERNMENT today!”). The encore of “Touch Of Grey” provides just the right helping of uplift to end the evening.
SPECTRUM CENTER – CHARLOTTE, NC – 11/28/17
After conquering the Midwest, Dead & Company headed below the Mason-Dixon line to begin the final leg of the Fall ’17 tour, the first stop being the lovely and diverse city of Charlotte, NC. Southern Dead Heads have sometimes lamented that their region was not as frequent a touring destination as other parts of the country for the Grateful Dead and its various spinoffs and successors, but Dead and Co. seem to be looking to change that: this was the third visit in their short history to North Carolina, and second to Charlotte, and the fans’ patience and loyalty was richly rewarded with this sweet gem of a show.
The band wastes no time heating things up with Bob Weir and John Barlow’s tongue-in-cheek take on rock ‘n’ roll decadence, “Hell In A Bucket,” and keeping up the fast pace with “Bertha,” before taking a more gentle turn with performances of “Peggy-O” – a song that was in the repertoire of many folkies in the early 60s, including Bob Dylan – followed by Dylan’s own “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Other notable first-set peaks include a particularly high-energy “Greatest Story Ever Told,” the shared lead vocals by John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge on “Ship Of Fools,” and a “Let It Grow” featuring some fine ensemble interplay.
The second half starts gets off to a rootsy start with “The Weight,” Robbie Robertson’s classic from The Band’s “Music From Big Pink.” From there it’s straight into the wild frontier of collective improvisation, with “Playing In The Band,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Terrapin Station” providing plenty of room to stretch out. The post-Drums-and-Space segment is by turns tender (“Standing On The Moon”) and rocking (“I Need A Miracle” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad,” with a lovely encore of “Black Muddy River” (tagged with a brief return to “Playing In The Band”) to bring it all home.
WELLS FARGO CENTER – PHILADELPHIA, PA – 11/16/17
In addition to its exalted position in history as birthplace of our nation and of the cheesesteak sandwich, Philadelphia is famous as home to some of the toughest-to-please audiences in the world. This is, after all, the place where Santa Claus was booed and pelted with snowballs at an Eagles game. But if Philly fans are no pushovers, once you’ve won them over, they’re yours for life. That was certainly the case with the Grateful Dead who felt that brotherly (and sisterly) love in their many visits to the city from the late 60s on, most frequently at The Spectrum, the arena that played host to the Dead some 53 times between 1968 and 1995. Sadly, the Spectrum had long since closed and been reduced to rubble by the time Dead & Company got up and running, replaced just across the Sports Complex parking lot by the larger and more modern Wells Fargo Center, but the enthusiasm of Philly Dead Heads for this music made the transfer from building to building with no trouble at all, as you’ll hear on this recording from the 2017 Fall tour.
A local reference is always a good way to get an audience firmly on your side, and so it is when the band invokes “PHILADELPHIA, PA!” in the show-opening “Dancing In The Street.” The crowd remains right with them through such first-set highlights as “Row Jimmy,” “Friend Of The Devil” and “Let It Grow.” Opening a second set with “Dark Star” is always a sign of wide-open exploration to come, and this time is no exception, as the band goes to some rewarding improvisatory places, shifts gears into “Truckin’” and then swings into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’.” The energy sustains through the rest of the show with fine versions of “Deal,” and “Eyes Of The World,” an always-welcome side trip into Beatlemania with “Dear Prudence” and the set-closing combo of “Uncle John’s Band” and “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad,” followed by an encore of the moving “Black Muddy River.”
XL CENTER – HARTFORD, CT – 11/22/17
The Northeastern United States, and New England in particular, were always very good to the Grateful Dead in terms of fan support, and the Dead rewarded New England in turn with many appearances and memorable shows in the area. Connecticut’s state capital hosted numerous shows by the band, primarily at the Hartford Civic Center, which had been renamed the XL Center by the time Dead & Company arrived there for this excellent performance.
The band kicks things off by bringing a bit of New Orleans to Hartford with a lively “Iko Iko,” and keeps the dancers going with “Shakedown Street,” “They Love Each Other” and “Loose Lucy” before ending the first set with a lovely “Bird Song.” The second set opens things up with “Estimated Prophet” and “Eyes Of The World,” followed by a beautiful rendition of the heartbreaking “China Doll,” featuring Oteil Burbridge on lead vocal. The energy ratchets right back up with “The Other One,” exceptionally abstract Drums and Space segments and a rare revival of what came to be known as the “Spanish Jam,” an instrumental piece in part inspired by the Miles Davis composition “Solea.” A powerful “Black Peter” sets up a finale of “Uncle John’s Band” and “U.S. Blues,” and then Bob Dylan’s mournful “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” as encore.
LITTLE CAESAR’S ARENA – DETROIT, MI – 11/24/17
“Can’t forget the Motor City!” …so Detroit’s own Martha Reeves and the Vandellas advised us in one of the greatest tunes ever committed to vinyl: their 1964 smash “Dancing In The Street” (co-written by another Motown superstar, Marvin Gaye). The Grateful Dead took Martha’s advice to heart, adopting the song as a vehicle for extended jamming (and, of course, dancing) as early as 1966, then reviving it in the late 70s in a revamped arrangement referred to by some as “Disco Dead” (but which also left room for some very un-disco improvisational tangents). Happily, Dead & Company also didn’t forget the aforementioned Motor City when scheduling their 2017 Fall tour, opening their evening there with that timeless native-born hit and going on to deliver a show that did full justice to Detroit’s hallowed place in America’s musical heritage.
In addition to that “Dancing In The Street” opener, first-set highlights include a Dead & Co. debut of the old country-blues standby “Deep Elem Blues” and an exceptionally soulful “Sugaree” (in which you can hear appropriate echoes of one of the works that it inspired it - “Soul Serenade” by the late, great King Curtis, whose saxophone was an integral part of so many records by another Motor City immortal, Aretha Franklin). The second set heads off into the cosmos right from the jump, with “Dark Star” morphing into “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain.” The astral traveling continues unabated through the Drums>Space segment, after which we are emphatically returned to the here and now with a powerful rendition of Bob Dylan’s still-all-too-timely protest anthem “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” That sobering dose of reality in turn gives way to joy with the set-closing “The Wheel>Not Fade Away,” with a giddily off-the-rails “Casey Jones” encore to close things out.
NATIONWIDE ARENA – COLUMBUS, OH – 11/25/17
While they were a California band with a massive contingent of fans on the East Coast, the Grateful Dead always enjoyed a large and loyal following in the Midwest. That relationship has continued with Dead & Company, with the band including the nation’s heartland in its plans numerous times since first convening in 2015. They made a particularly rewarding visit to Columbus in November of 2017, with a show that many listeners, as well as members of the band and its traveling party, have ranked among the very best of that Fall’s tour. The recorded evidence fully supports that assessment.
After setting the table nicely with a first set featuring fine performances of such favorites as “Cold Rain and Snow,” “Row Jimmy,” “Althea” and “One More Saturday Night,” the band returns from intermission ready to raise the roof – which they immediately do (aided and abetted by the audience, as you can hear in the explosion of joy that attends the first notes of the set-opening “St. Stephen”). “He’s Gone” takes a hairpin turn into “China Cat Sunflower,” which in turn brings one of the evening’s great moments: instead of the usual transition from “China Cat” to its traditional companion “I Know You Rider,” the band slows things down and eases into a stunning surprise – Dead & Company’s first performance (with a beautiful lead vocal by Oteil Burbridge) of “If I Had The World To Give” – a Garcia-Hunter song that only appeared three times in the Grateful Dead’s live repertoire, way back in 1978. Having taken the crowd’s breath away, the band then gets the house rocking again with “I Know You Rider,” only to pull us through another portal into the great beyond with one of the most fearlessly out-there Drums>Space sequences any lover of the deeply weird could ask for. “Stella Blue,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Sugar Magnolia” and the “Ripple” encore provide an ideal capper for an evening to remember.
Playing In The Sand – Riviera Maya, Mexico - 2/15/18
“…and we hightailed it down to Mexico…”
There’s nothing to relieve the chill of mid-winter like a little getaway to a tropical paradise. So, when Dead & Company announced a run of shows on the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula scheduled for February of 2018, several thousand happy Dead Heads quickly grabbed up every available ticket and hotel reservation and headed south of the border, to the Barcelo resort at Riviera Maya, Mexico. The excursion, appropriately named “Playing In The Sand” – quite literally, as the stage was set up right on the beach overlooking the Caribbean – provided both a sweet coda to the hugely successful fall tour of 2017 and a harbinger of more great things to come in the new year.
As this recording makes clear, the band wasted no time diving deep into the waters of collective musical adventure, kicking off the event’s opening set with a long and exploratory “Playing In The Band,” which the tone for an jam-intensive evening including such other ideal launching pads for group improvisation as “Cassidy” (one of several homages to Bob Weir’s longtime friend and songwriting partner, John Perry Barlow, who had passed away just days earlier), “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain,” “Estimated Prophet” (with quotes from Bob Marley and John Coltrane thrown in for good measure) and “Eyes Of The World.” Other highlights included fine renditions of Grateful Dead originals like “Brown-Eyed Women” and “Althea” and well-chosen covers including “The Weight” and “Good Lovin’” (with the band infusing the latter with some regional flavor by going into bit of the classic “La Bamba,” the traditional tune that became a giant hit for rock ‘n’ roll’s first Mexican-American superstar, Ritchie Valens).
Playing In The Sand – Riviera Maya, Mexico - 2/17/18
After leaving the stage to guest performers on the Friday of this four-day weekend, Dead & Company returned on Saturday for another muy caliente show. Although there may have been some cognitive dissonance involved in hearing a song about a dark and sketchy urban thoroughfare played on a gorgeous sunny beach, that didn’t stop the show-opening “Shakedown Street” from getting those dancing feet busy kickin’ up some sand, and the infectiously funky groove inspired John Mayer to lead his bandmates on a brief and enjoyable detour into Billy Preston’s 1970s hit “Will It Go Round In Circles.” John also gets time to shine both vocally and on guitar on several other first-set songs, including that long-enduring mainstay of the repertoire, “Cold Rain & Snow,” the old Pigpen feature “Easy Wind” and a soulful take on the Garcia-Hunter standby “Sugaree.”
The second set offers plenty of terrific ensemble playing and singing, kicking things off with “Viola Lee Blues” followed by the venerable “China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider” combo (the latter part featuring a spirited guest appearance by Michael Franti, whose band Spearhead had headlined the Friday night show). One of the real pleasures of Dead & Company’s evolution as a band has been the emergence of Oteil Burbridge as a lead vocalist, and his beautiful interpretation of the ballad “Comes A Time” makes it clear why Oteil’s increasingly frequent appearances in that role have been so popular with audiences. After quintessentially out-there Drums and Space sequences, the always poignant “Standing On The Moon” and an incandescent take on “The Wheel,” the band brings it home in rocking style with “Sugar Magnolia” and a “One More Saturday Night” encore.
Playing In The Sand – Riviera Maya, Mexico - 2/18/18
The end of a brief but blissful escape from the everyday can be bittersweet, but Dead & Company made sure that the emphasis remained on the “sweet” end of the spectrum for the finale of Playing In The Sand. In keeping with the custom of giving the congregation a little of that old-time religion on a Sunday, Bob Weir starts things off with his take on “Samson & Delilah” the gospel chestnut he learned from the guitarist-singer Rev. Gary Davis. From there the band is off and running with a show featuring some of the most-loved tunes in the Grateful Dead songbook. First-set highlights include “They Love Each Other” (which has emerged as an ideal showcase for John Mayer on both vocal and guitar, and in this version also features some great work by Jeff Chimenti on the Hammond B-3), another lovely Oteil Burbridge vocal on a true GD rarity (played live only three times, all in 1978), “If I Had The World To Give” and a particularly gorgeous “Bird Song.”
The band has a surprise up its sleeve right at the top of the second set, with an entirely unexpected segue from the dependably crowd-pleasing “St. Stephen” into “Franklin’s Tower,” plucked from its customary spot following “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot.” “U.S. Blues” also turns up in an unusual mid-set placement, then sets up another hairpin turn into the monumental “Terrapin Station.” Out of the deep unreal of Drums and Space we’re catapulted into Bobby’s timeless psychedelic travelogue “The Other One,” followed by a majestic “Morning Dew” and to close out the set, Buddy Holly’s immortal rock ‘n’ roll anthem “Not Fade Away.” For the encore, the always welcome and deeply moving “Brokedown Palace” seems to provide an idea capper to the weekend, but wait… the band brings things full circle with a callback to where the party started.
After Playing In The Sand ended, John Mayer sent this message to his social-media followers: “If anybody ever asks you if you’d like to play some of the greatest music ever composed with @deadandcompany on a beach in Mexico, with a cool breeze blowing and people dancing in the water, don’t overthink it. Just say ‘yes.’ What a blast that was. A perfectly planned event.” Evidently, everyone else involved felt much the same, because toward the end of the year, Dead & Company announced a return to Riviera Maya for a second go-round in January of 2019 – and it’s unlikely that anyone would complain if this were to become an annual tradition for a good many more years to come.
Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI (11/24/17)
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH (11/25/17)
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA (11/16/17)
XL Center, Hartford, CT (11/22/17)
Capitol One Arena, Washington, DC (11/21/17)
Spectrum Center, Charlottesville, NC (11/28/17)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY (11/12/17)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY (11/14/17)
Frank Erwin Center, Austin, TX (12/02/17)
American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX (12/01/17)
BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL (2/26/18)
Amway Center, Orlando, FL (2/27/18)
Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA (11/29/17)
Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA (2/24/18)
TD Garden, Boston, MA (11/17/17)
TD Garden, Boston, MA (11/19/17)
Over the next two months, we'll be truckin' along with the Dead & Company Digital Concert Series featuring all 19 complete shows from the group’s Fall/Winter 2017-18 tour.
Over the next two months, we'll be truckin' along with the Dead & Company Digital Concert Series featuring all 19 complete shows from the group’s Fall/Winter 2017-18 tour.