Appointment Viewing: Dead & Company, “Not Fade Away”

We should always be skeptical when a band announces a farewell tour or concert. More often than not, they don’t really mean it. The Who are still touring more than 30 years after their first “farewell concert”. Elton John, Kiss, and Nine Inch Nails all returned after “retiring” from the concert stage. And did anybody seriously believe that the surviving members of the Grateful Dead would never be seen again after last year’s Fare Thee Well concerts?

The Dead, epic road warriors who toured so hard and so long, seemed like one of the least likeliest bands to hang up the gear for good. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann are back in the saddle this summer touring as Dead & Company. Bassist Phil Lesh was apparently the only original who really had the resolve to stay home.

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So they’ve added some new members who fit in perfectly, while at the same time giving the band a much-needed mojo injection. Oteil Burbridge, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band, really kills it on bass, Jeff Chimenti takes over the keys, and none other than John Mayer steps up to the mic on vocals and lead guitar.

For all the shit Mayer takes from Rock snobs, you really have to admire his courage for standing in Jerry Garcia’s old spot beside Bob Weir. The guy placed his solo plans on hold while he learned how to play over 100 Dead songs, putting the lie to accusations of a massive ego. As he showed in his Trio work with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino, Mayer looks like a guy more interested in discovering new musical places than he is in any personal aggrandizement.

Here’s a clip from the Dead & Company performance on Jimmy Kimmel the other night. I thought it was fantastic. Mayer and Weir’s voices work really well together, and Mayer demonstrated again why he’s one of the most underrated lead guitarists around these days. Most importantly, the Dead’s laid-back, jammy vibe seems to be alive and well and still groovy, breathing new life into this almost 60-year-old Buddy Holly song.

What a long, strange trip it continues to be.




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