August 3, 2022 | Latest Issue
On July 15 and 16, Dead & Company reinforced their legendary status with phenomenal set lists and stellar performances.
by Eleanor Schifino | 7/22/22 1:00am
The Grateful Dead have been the soundtrack to all my best memories — the ride to and from school every day, my dad singing “Brown-Eyed Women” to me while making pancakes every Sunday morning, driving to Atlanta for my first Dead & Company concert in 2017. I have been a Deadhead since birth; both my parents are avid fans and have been playing their music since before I could walk. Now that I’m grown and my parents’ love for the band has evolved into my own, riding about six hours on the Dartmouth Coach to New York to see Dead & Company — the Grateful Dead legacy band featuring icons Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, along with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti — was an easy sacrifice to make.
On July 15 and 16, Dead & Company performed the final shows of its summer tour at Citi Field in New York, pulling in masses of Deadheads from across the east coast. While I had expected these concerts to be phenomenal — you don’t build up a reputation like the Dead’s with subpar skills — there was something extra special about the environment at Citi Field. The two performances were both incredible yet so different; they delivered such a rare experience that I felt a part of history just by witnessing them. The concerts flawlessly achieved what Dead & Company is meant to do: pay homage to a beloved band while bringing together generations of fans to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s rich history.
The unmatched environment of a Grateful Dead concert begins even before the first note. For example, Shakedown Street is not just a Grateful Dead song, but also a pre-concert tradition — starting in the 80s, vendors have packed into the venue’s parking lot for hours before the concert begins. There, they sell just about anything you can imagine: the expected printed shirts, hats, food and drinks, but also unexpected glasswork, woodcarvings, paintings and more. Regardless of the varying products, everyone was tied together by an intense love for the Grateful Dead. The community built around this band is welcoming and inviting, and no matter your age, background or experience with the band, these hippies are genuinely just happy to have you there.
If the first day of Shakedown Street was busy, the second was packed. Flooding from earlier in the day didn’t faze a soul; people were barefoot in ankle deep water, wholeheartedly selling their products with smiles on their faces. The electric energy and pure joy emanating from the concertgoers was the perfect precursor to the concert, building up excitement and elevating moods before the real treat even began.
The Friday concert began with an enthusiastic introduction from Andy Cohen, leading into an epic start with “Bertha,” one of my favorite songs. The performers then transitioned into “Mississippi Half Step,” setting an upbeat tempo that carried through the whole concert. The first set of the concert featured many other fan favorites:“Sugaree,” “Tennessee Jed” and “Don’t Ease Me In” had me out of my seat and swaying like a professional Deadhead.
Somehow, though, the second set surpassed the first. Returning with “Althea,” the group revived my energy and got me excited for the rest of the concert. From there, the show only got better. With a monumental performance of “Terrapin Station” flowing into “China Cat Sunflower” to “I Know You Rider,” the men on stage felt like gods to me. I have never doubted their icon status, but this particular run of songs proved the group’s prowess. “Drums/Space” provided a much-needed wind-down from the high-energy songs that preceded it. Ending the night with an encore of the upbeat “Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream” was an atypical finish but held a promise of what the next day would bring.
Going into Saturday, I thought that Friday’s concert would be unbeatable. I was wrong. The Dead & Company opened with “Playing in the Band” leading into “Uncle John’s Band,” then finished the introduction with a powerful cover of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” with a “Hey Jude” reprise. Totaling almost 40 minutes of pure jam, this explosive and highly unusual start to Saturday’s concert was an immediate indicator that I was about to witness something special. And the song choices did not go unnoticed;“Playing in the Band” and “Uncle John’s Band” felt like a celebration of what they do, acknowledging their lifetime of achievements as they started the final performance of their tour.
John Mayer’s talent especially shined through with his performance of “Brown-Eyed Women,” in which he delivered a vocal performance that truly validated his place up on that stage. His performance sounded effortless, as the instrumentation and vocals seamlessly blended for a perfect rendition of the iconic song. As a brown-eyed woman myself, I was particularly glad to hear this one live.
Continuing the trend of performing with epic proportions, the run of “Scarlet Begonias” into “Franklin’s Tower” into “St. Stephen” before rounding it out with “William Tell Bridge” and “The Eleven” was powerful. While the entire concert was phenomenal, the way it ended was my favorite. The performance of “Deal” was an unusual encore — the group tends to prefer a more mellow ending — but the reprise of “Playing in the Band” to end the tour felt symbolic. There was an element of storytelling with this song choice, creating a sense of finality as they bookended the concert the same way they started.
The Grateful Dead’s music is ripe with emotion, with each song connected to some memory that always makes me smile. This emotional, joyous feeling is shared by all the group’s fans and explains why the Dead & Company elicit such a rare devotion in their fans — they provide a unique nostalgia that is hard to match. Overall, Dead & Company’s performances at Citi Field were special, perfectly celebrating a beautiful legacy of music whose relevance is untested by the passage of time.
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