Last year, when I watched the simulcast of one of the nights of the Fare Thee Well shows (surviving members of The Grateful Dead + select guests sitting in for the empty chairs), THAT was impressive! I wrote how enchanted I was that their stunt guitarist to replace the late Jerry Garcia really captured the essence and nuance of Jerry's skilled, beautiful, fluid, and highly idiosyncratic style of guitar playing. He met and exceeded the standards so well that it was JUST like hearing and seeing the shows I saw and heard, except for not having Jerry's vocals.
Later, when some of that lineup decided to keep going as "Dead And Company", with a young protege' named John Mayer in Jerry's seat, I wasn't as impressed. A big attraction to the Dead for me was Jerry's guitar playing. There really wasn't and isn't anything like it. That's what I missed, and that's what Mayer (at that time) kinda imitated, but it was a bit of lo-res picture of it. I was ready to let Jerry go to Heaven and move on.
But I let Sonya talk me into going to their show last night. I'd known of the Dead, and liked them before I met Sonya, but she got me INTO them. We really bonded going to shows together of not just the Dead, but especially them. So it was one of our "things", and well, you gotta have the things. You gotta do the things.
But man oh man! That young feller Meyer has DONE his homework and now he gets to play with his friends and have the best fucking job in the WORLD!
He has REALLY grown into those huge shoes he was hired to fill.
To be honest, it's not quite the same. Somehow, Jerry's playing, as well as having those idosyncratic hooks was really pretty, and Mayer still has some maturing to do to get there in the pretty department, but technically and stylistically, he's NAILING IT! And he also brings that "not quite fully grown dog who still has his puppy energy" onto the stage and uses it well. Bob Weir, Jerry's guitarish cohort all these years has blossomed into more of the lead guitar world than I remember, especially when Mayer sings, and his singing is a good thing. Mayer's a closer match to Jerry's voice than they've had, so they're not relying as heavily on Weir's part of the vocal repertoire. So the sound has both expanded and evolved a bit over the last reunion. But the Dead have NEVER stood still or pat on their sound or their style. They were always a dynamic venture and still are and that can't be a surprise. With a different bassist in the lineup too, their signature freestyle vamping and warping from one song into another as the mood hits them is not quite as there as it was before. The songs last night had more definite endings and beginnings than the Dead at their peak had. But that's understandable and okay. However- there was some of that creeping back in! Yay! I saw and heard how those blanks were beginning to be filled back in again. Assuming this venture continues, which it looks like it will, that will re-manifest itself in all it's quirky flowy glory. Overall, at this show, at it's best, I could close my eyes and hear the Dead that I got into. At it's worst, I only had to wait a minute max, and it was still damn good. And in those moments when the band got into the groove and painted outside the lines and surfed those big waves of sound- they were magnificent; as magnificent as I remembered.
Oddly enough, my remaining wish as I listened, was to hear more of Jeff Chimenti's keyboard playing. Maybe it was just the night, but he seemed to be a little bit background, and he's good. I wanted more. Maybe next time!
I would see this band again, when the opportunity presents.