HOLLYWOOD BOWL – HOLLYWOOD, CA – JUNE 3, 2019
Having gotten Summer Tour off to a splendid start on their Bay Area home turf, Dead & Company made the short hop down South for a return engagement at one of the world’s great venues, the Hollywood Bowl, where they’d played two summers earlier. This two-night stand would dispel any preconceived notions one might have had about “laid back” Southern California audiences, as the band was greeted by wildly enthusiastic crowds at both shows.
Night one kicks off with a familiar staple of the Grateful Dead songbook, “Cold Rain & Snow” – an appropriate choice to launch an L.A. run, as it had appeared, in a different arrangement, on the Grateful Dead’s very first album, recorded not in San Francisco as might be expected, but at RCA’s world-famous Studio A, located just a few minutes downhill from the Bowl on Sunset Boulevard. This old standby sets the table nicely for a varied first set, moving from a rocker like Bob Weir and John Barlow’s “Hell In A Bucket” to the Pigpen fave “Easy Wind,” delivered with bluesy authority by John Mayer, and then a jaunty “Mississippi Half-Step.” The band delivers a welcome surprise with the Dead & Co. debut of “High Time,” the beautiful Garcia-Hunter ballad from Workingman’s Dead, with Bobby and Oteil Burbridge swapping verses. The ever-reliable “Jack Straw” serves as prelude to a stunning high point of the opening half, “Bird Song” – a lovely song in its own right from its very inception, but one that also grew into one of the most satisfying vehicles in the entire repertoire for extended improvisational exploration – and explore the band does, in a 20-minutes-plus version that a bit more halfway through makes an unexpected shift from its usual lilting tonality and gentle feel to a highly energized up-tempo groove that seems less like a “jam” than an entirely new jazz-infused composition in its own right, driven by some exhilarating interplay between Jeff Chimenti and John Mayer, and with the rest of the ensemble providing stellar support. The band pulls of a flawless transition back into the conclusion of “Bird Song,” then takes a sharp turn into a raucous set-closing “Don’t Ease Me In.”
The Crescent City comes calling on the City of Angels to open Part Two, in the form of the joyous Mardi Gras rave-up “Iko Iko,” then changes tone dramatically with the dark-hued “New Speedway Boogie,” which John steers into a long and deeply soulful “Sugaree.” The “Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower” trilogy builds a head of steam that carries into a very trippy Drums segment, then a gently melodic Space, with some delicate piano from Jeff presaging the unmistakable opening strains of the exquisite “Stella Blue.” The band brings it all back home with the primal Buddy Holly classic “Not Fade Away” to close the set. A nice short lullaby or rocker in the encore slot would have surely satisfied the audience’s appetite for a sweet dessert after such a musical feast, but the band had an extra helping of deliciousness in store: a rapturously received “Terrapin Station.”