All Access: Dead & Company 11.24 & 11.25.15
Words & Photos By J. Picard
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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