All Access: Dead & Company 11.24 & 11.25.15

1stBank Center
Broomfield, CO

Words & Photos By J. Picard

The Grateful Dead and their offshoots are the pinnacle of the jamband scene. While many bands have followed in the footsteps of their greatness, there is something about a Dead show that fans and followers can only get from the source. The announcement of Dead & Company sparked mixed emotions on the scene and with the announcement of John Mayer up front, many fans voiced very critical concerns. I had my doubts, however, as the tour unfolded many were forced to eat crow, myself included. Leading up to Dead & Company's two night run at 1stBank Center anticipation grew and the mad scramble to secure tickets unfolded among our friends. With our passes secured I braced myself for yet another ride on the bus and the first for my wife, Carly. I was excited for the personal experience, though even more excited to share in the experience with Carly and many of our great friends!

Sunday came and while we were at breakfast I sent a quick text to Oteil Burbridge inquiring about his whereabouts. He was in Denver and ready to get kick it, so he joined Carly and I for breakfast at Lucille's Creole Cafe. Over breakfast I discussed my recent turn of events regarding the closure of The 1up - Colfax's venue. We discussed options for our upcoming plays in the market before heading back to my place briefly, then on to Macy Studios to drop in on Roosevelt Collier and Andy Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters), who were recording a duo steel album. The tracks sounded fantastic and the guys were excited to have Oteil in house. A short time later we dropped off Oteil among large Prevost buses parked alongside the Four Seasons Hotel in Downtown Denver, before we headed to our friends' mountain retreat with Roosevelt for an evening. We returned to town on Monday and braced for two nights of Dead and Company.

Tuesday November 24, 2015:

Traffic was thick, as it was Tuesday at about 5:00 PM. We cruised along slowly towards 1stBank Center arriving around 6:00 PM and parking in a $10.00 parking garage right next to the venue. The area around 1stBank has grown significantly over the course of the past few years, with a plethora of restaurants popping up near by. We approached the front entrance of the venue where the line to get in was extensive, as the doors had yet to open and the first wave of fans waited patiently to get a prime spot. We acquired our passes from the box office and headed around the back of the building to the East Entrance where we were greeted by a smiling face and no sort of security protocol what so ever. We put our passes on and headed onto the concourse where vendors were getting their stations set up to serve food and beer, as well, the merchandise staff was folding t-shirts and counting their opening till.

In the main room we could hear Dead & Company rehearsing and talking through the material. We headed up a nearby staircase and situated ourselves in view of the action just in time for the band to play "Touch of Grey!" I glanced around the room and it appeared that we were the only ones present outside of security, which made Carly feel as though we were not supposed to be there. Bob Weir and John Mayer discussed audio levels and side fill before Mayer mentioned that he was "feeling the room and the spirits." Doors for the event were supposed to be at 6:30, however, with soundcheck going late, the doors were held creating a massive line out front. We wandered backstage where Bob Weir passed by nodding. We were greeted by Oteil and headed down the long hallway to his dressing room, where we passed John Mayer, who was headed back to the stage to work on some guitar stuff, further delaying the mass entrance of the hippies.

Backstage we popped open a couple of beers and sat with Oteil who was preparing for the evening. I reached down and picked up the evening's setlist, glancing at it with excitement. I am not one to want to know the setlist before the shows, however, in this circumstance, this may have been one of my only opportunities to watch the show unfold with the knowledge of what would come next. Jeff Chimenti came into the dressing room and we introduced ourselves before Oteil excitedly said "I have to show you guys something!" We headed back down the long hallway to the stage and made our way up the stairs. As we stood on the stage looking out at the quickly filling room, it hit me. "How did we get here?" I thought. "Check this out," Oteil said pulling back the curtain on a temporary on-stage dressing room. "Come on!" I yelled, ducking into the room to check it out. Inside the lamp lit room we found a couple of couches and in the corner was a road case with a candle, vase with roses and a Silver Surfer vaporizer with a jar of cannabis. "I can't believe we are here," I said to Carly in disbelief. "I can't believe I am here either!" Oteil said laughing.

The next fifteen minutes were spent pre-gaming, laughing and enjoying the current circumstances, before it was time for Oteil to focus on preparing for the show. We headed out onto the floor and instantly started running into friends as we situated ourselves to the left of the soundboard. Folks came and went like pin-balls leading up to the show until our group filled out and remained as the lights went down. The band hit the stage to a thunderous applause, while folks continued to file in from the cold. The band then began with "Cold Rain and Snow" with Mayer up front on vocals. From the get go the music was sweet, however, the audio engineers still had some dialing in to do. Fingers went up in the air on stage triggering the adjustment of the monitors. The transition into "New Speedway Boogie" came with excitement from the crowd. Bob leaned into the mic with his voice straining as he hit the notes, in the way only Bob could.

"Smokestack Lightning" went back into "New Speedway Boogie" before "Me and My Uncle," with Bob leading the charge. Mayer stepped up and took over for a meandering "Candyman" that picked up and went into "Bertha" with a roar from the crowd! At times, the vocals were barely audible over the crowd singing along. The first set of the run concluded with the Weir led "Lost Sailor" into "Saint of Circumstance." The conclusion of the first set left much to be desired in regards to song selection, which is often the case with the Dead who like to work their way in. Fortunately, I knew what we were in store for in regards to the second set. More friends came and went on their way to and from refilling on drinks and hitting the restrooms. We remained on the floor taking in all of the madness until the lights went down once again.

The second set kicked off with "Help On The Way." With Bob focusing on vocals, Mayer really dug deep into the guitar which sang out with Jerry's tone and touch. It was clear that Mayer did his homework and was taking the role very seriously. Oteil was all over the neck of the bass, subtle at first glance, heavy and hypnotic upon further inspection. The pocket was deep, something many fans aren't used to with Phil Lesh on bass. The band cleanly transitioned into "Slipknot" with yet another roar from the crowd! Chimmenti screamed on the keys while Mayer screamed back with bending notation. I judge many of the Dead material that I listen to by their transitions and exploration and as the band transitioned into "Franklin's Tower," I was a happy camper. Mayer stepped up on vocals for what would be his only time at the mic for the second set and it sounded fantastic.

The band took its only breather of the second set before jumping into "Estimated Prophet" with Bob back on the vocals and a swanky groove that transitioned into "Dark Star!" The band eased its way in through beautiful noodling that built and took shape as "Dark Star." Mayer absolutely shredded before Bob's vocals kicked in. Following the vocals, the song slowly dissolved into "Drums," with Billy and Mickey at the helm. Chatter quickly picked up in the crowd as well as a bunch of movement from folks heading up to the concourse for restrooms and more beer. The energy and tempo slowly built and for the first time that evening, Mickey Hart was audible. The music and concept pretty much went nowhere and a long ten minutes later the music transitioned into "Space," which was even less coherent, obviously. The band returned to the stage for "Black Peter" that slowly drifted along into "Good Lovin'" to close the second set.

1stBank Center erupted and demanded more, which came in the form of "Touch of Grey" and a sing along from the capacity crowd. A short time later the show concluded and the mass exodus ensued. We headed backstage, which was somewhat crowded and happening. We gave Oteil a hug, grabbed our coats and headed out into the cold night. Stragglers remained out front of the venue, selling trinkets, spacing out and looking for a place to go. We pulled out of the parking garage and made our way back to Denver, where we would fall asleep after replaying the night several times over in our heads. We were ready for round two!

Set One: Cold Rain and Snow > New Speedway Boogie, Smokestack Lightning > New Speedway Boogie, Me and My Uncle, Candyman > Bertha, Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance

Set Two: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, Estimated Prophet > Dark Star > Drums > Space > Black Peter > Good Lovin’

Encore: Touch of Grey

Wednesday November 25, 2015:

I awoke to find Dead and Company passes stuck to my pants from the night prior. My mind was still blown when the phone rang and on the screen it read "Oteil Burbridge." We chatted about the previous night before deciding to connect once again, this time to hit a couple of dispensaries in Denver! Our favorite was absolutely GroundSwell Cannabis Boutique where owner, Robert, gave us the full tour! We left with the essential materials to enjoy the next several days! I told Oteil a story about how Murray found the Grateful Dead, via a 1991 show in which he got blindsided with an "Eyes of The World," triggering laughter and celebration from Oteil. I once again returned him to his hotel to prepare for night two. I expressed to him how truly excited I was and it was clear to see he felt the same way.

That evening we headed to 1st Bank Center once more. We arrived to find a similar scene as the night prior, with an extensive line at the main entrance. We acquired our passes and headed around back in time to catch soundcheck for the second night in a row. This time there was a lot more technical stuff discussed, before the band worked through a couple of tunes.

"They say that if a band has a great soundcheck the show will be horrible, so what I recommend we do is end the soundcheck with a minute of terrible playing," Mayer said half-serious.

What followed was either the worst sounds I have ever heard out of The Dead or the band's rehearsal for the evening's "Space." Oteil raised his hand up and slapped his bass, which resonated throughout the arena style venue. With that, soundcheck concluded and we made our way back stage. In the back hallway we were passed by Mickey and Bill, each with their handlers guiding them towards their destination. We caught up with Oteil for a bit before heading out onto the floor to catch up with our friends. The venue filled in quickly and much like the previous evening, the show started a little late.

The band hit the stage to a thunderous applause, adjusted a few levels and began with "Hell in a Bucket." Bob lead the vocal charge while Mayer leaned into the guitar ripping with immaculate tone, while Chimmenti hammered heavy on the keys. "Brown Eyed Woman" followed with Mayer's solid vocals filling 1st Bank and the crowd singing along. It was truly a beautiful version of the song and warmed up the room nicely. "Feel Like a Stranger" got the room moving and the line "it's going to be a long crazy night," pleased the Colorado fans greatly. "Peggy-O" slowed things down quite a bit, but featured some dreamlike notation from Chimmenti. Bob lead the way on the ever so bluesy, "Little Red Rooster" rolling out the carpet for what seemed to be Mayer's wheelhouse. John dug deep running through blues licks with ease and vigor to the conclusion of the song.

The band slowly worked it's way into "Bird Song" with Oteil hitting some really interesting notes to build the composition before Mayer's vocals entered the picture. The song was beautifully executed and soared throughout the duration, with some incredible interplay between Oteil and Mayer, as well as Chimmenti, that elevated the first set on an almost incalculable level. Mayer's directional noodling perfectly captured the Jerry vibe and approach to the music. It felt respectful and well executed. Dead and Company transitioned into "The Music Never Stops" and a dance party ensued. There were dreadlocks swinging through the air, exhales of smoke and beer being spilled left and right. All the while, the smiles were huge. Bob played off of John's lead work, similarly as to how he did with Jerry. I felt the magic that I haven't felt with many of the post-Grateful Dead projects. Unlike the song's title, the music concluded.

"We'll be back in just a minute," Bob said as the band exited the stage.

The madness of set break ensued, creating quite the euphoric vibe with buzzed people passing by with happy faces and empty cups. On a figurative level, their cups were overflowing. We caught up with friends and ran into others, as we stood still and 1st Bank spun around us. After an extended set break, the boys returned to the stage and kicked off the second set with a jam that turned into "Truckin'" to the delight of the room! Bob and John shared vocal duties with with the crowd, who were basically screaming the words, myself included. The peak of the song was soaring before the band dropped into the breaks with perfect precision and notation, before slowly winding down and transitioning into "He's Gone." The crowd cheered, whistled and swayed to a song that many Deadheads hold near and dear. The capacity crowd collectively sang "Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile..." followed by more cheering.

The tempo picked up a touch as the band headed into "Eyes of The World," a song that made me think of Murray, who sat out on the evening's show. I closed my eyes and danced along to the music and Mayer's sweet guitar work. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. The band then went right into "Terrapin Station," which was not noted on the evening's setlist. Mayer took vocal duty as the song built, handing it off to Bob for the song's resolve. Upon the song's close they transitioned into "Drums," which was electronic from the get go. The jam took on a trance vibe with the addition of some occasional hand drum work. The rest of the band returned to the stage and made obscure noises that created tension and discomfort, before going right into "Stella Blue!" It was a beautiful rendition with Bob singing his heart out. Another transition took Dead and Company into "China Cat," which I had been waiting for the entire evening. Mayer sang and soloed with ease and a certain comfort with the material. The mid section of the song contained some fantastic intertwining instrumentation that had the Colorado Deadheads spinning and smiling as they dove into "I Know You Rider," triggering even harder dancing!

Mayer played the vocal lines on his guitar before jumping in with just about everyone present! A clear highlight of the song came when the capacity crowd sang "... I wish I was a headlight, on a northbound train. I'd shine my light through that cool Colorado rain!" The hair on my arms stood straight up, as the music physically effected me and the crowd erupted with pure joy! It was an incredible close to the second night's second set! Those in attendance were elated! A short couple of minutes passed without the cheering letting up and Dead and Company returned to the stage to close the show with "Not Fade Away," which I knew from the get go may surpass the crowd participation in "Rider." Sure enough. It was a beautiful close to an incredible two night run in Colorado. As the band put their instruments down, the crowd chanted "You know our love will not fade away..." over and over before it dissolved into clapping and hugs around.

Ultimately, it was true, through decades, through Jerry's passing, through tough years, through "Fare Thee Well" and the start of Dead and Company with John Mayer as the Jerry, the love has not faded away and is as strong as ever. The addition of John and Oteil lit a spark under the band, energizing music that has gone through a myriad of phases. For this fan, Dead and Company may be my favorite post-Dead project. We returned backstage to grab our coats to find that the band had already been ushered on to the buses. We exited the innards of 1stBank Center to find the crew already had the stage half torn down as we headed to our car. I texted Oteil to tell him how impressed I was and he texted back to thank us for coming out. The pleasure from start to finish was all ours. For Carly, it was a hell of a first experience with a Dead offshoot and she enjoyed it immensely. It clearly meant a lot to her. To both of us. Bill Walton said it best, "We're the luckiest people on earth..."

Set One: Hell in a Bucket, Brown Eyed Women, Feel Like a Stranger, Peggy-O, Little Red Rooster, Bird Song > The Music Never Stopped

Set Two: Jam > Truckin’ > He’s Gone > Eyes of the World > Terrapin Station > Drums/Space > Stella Blue > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider

Encore: Not Fade Away


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