Thousands of Dead Heads young and old arrived at Fenway Park by stroller, by bike, by foot, and by VW van on June 18 to jive to Dead & Company, who are currently on a month-long summer tour. A reincarnation of the Grateful Dead, Dead & Company is composed of Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and John Mayer, with Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge in tow as well.
The band started about 15 minutes after the advertised start time of 6:30 p.m., giving the crowd just enough time to build its already excited energy. The historic park was a sea of dreadlocks, tye-die, and smiles–a pure concentration of genuine happiness that isn’t normally encountered anywhere but at a Dead show. As Dead & Company launched into “Samson and Delilah,” that sea became waves of moving bodies and still, of course, smiles.
Warming up the crowd wasn’t even necessary, since everyone there seemed to have prepared their whole life for that moment (or for any moment involving the Dead, for that matter.) But by the time the inviting intro to “Friend of Mine” greeted the crowd, it was solidified that it was going to be an entrancing night of good vibes and even better music.
A semi-acoustic rendition of “Dark Star” caused an excited stir among the fans packed into Fenway. What perhaps was more noteworthy though was John Mayer filling in for–never replacing–Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals throughout the show.
Understandably, Mayer had some skeptics–how could a modern pop icon ever be able to play, nevermind exist, next to bonafide legends on a stage being watched by devout Garcia disciples? Who does he think he is? But Mayer, as shown by his stage presence and further by his Globe interview, respected the position, and knew his place in the band. At no point did he appear to try to channel Garcia and mimic such a unique spirit. Instead, Mayer humbly gave a musical nod to the lovable legend and just played the music and honestly, played it pretty well. Dead Heads accepted him warmly with a slight nod of approval.
After ending the first set with “Ripple” from the Grateful Dead’s famous American Beauty and a lengthy intermission, Dead & Company returned to the stage and warmed up by exhibiting their talent for effortless, perceptive jamming. The chemistry between the band’s members (and among the crowd) was tangible, and it remained strong as the set continued with “Truckin’” and the ever-so-vibey “Fire on the Mountain.”
Despite the mark of age that time has left on the original Grateful Dead members, they played with a vigor, enthusiasm, and talent that was laden with vitality and youth. Weir was as agile as ever when he soloed, and every time he approached the mic, his subtle yet powerful singing reminded everyone that his voice has remained a beautiful constant in a constantly evolving world.
It wasn’t long before the band left the stage–minus Hart, Kreutzman, and Burbridge who played the drum-centric “Drums” and “Space.” This might have the lowest point of the show, with many people using the opportunity to visit the bathrooms or refill on beer. In this two-song stretch, some of the flaws of the show were brought to the forefront, namely having two drummers. Each is talented in their own right, but together the beat generally seemed just slightly off. It was almost imperceptible during the rest of the set, but during “Drums” and “Space,” it simply couldn’t be ignored. It certainly wasn’t enough for devout Dead Heads to stop dancing too, which helped transition the band back into their full line-up and the last two songs, “Days Between” and “Not Fade Away,” of the second set.
“Not Fade Away,” did not fade away once Dead & Company left the stage. The entirety of Fenway carried on the song with nothing but their voices and some well-timed claps until the Dead reemerged to a wall of cheers.
“Brokedown Palace” acted as the solemn, yet hopeful closer to the show. As Dead Heads overflowed into the streets, echos and claps of “Not Fade Away” reverberated throughout Boston and through the windows of the VW buses truckin’ away to the next Dead show, and the next, and the next…