By Mike Marsala
The Dead’s role in American music history must not be understated. Attending the Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago was a once in a lifetime kind of experience for us millennials who never saw the Dead with Jerry. Trey crushed it and it was glorious. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way I’d like to shift our focus to Dead & Company.
Last night is already drawing mixed reviews — Some praising Mayer, others not so much. We should not jump to conclusions about this tour quite yet. If we remember Santa Clara, the first shows were not the most ideal for a variety of reasons.
What I will say, as a guitarist of 12+ years and avid live music fan I think Mayer did a pretty good job on this first night. I agree, it is hard to realize that the guy who wrote “Your Body Is a Wonderland” (insert your Bobby is a Wonderland joke) is on stage with Billy, Mikey, and Bob. But when you step back and look at Mayer just as a guitarist, block all the negative pre connotations out of your head, it is evident that he’s a very talented blues rock guitarist with some tasty techniques. Is he the best fit for the Dead? I’m not sure. But this “Playin’ in the Band” most certainly points towards a tour that will feature some outstanding highlights.
Are there going to be some off nights or off jams? Sure. But there will also be some notable peaks, the ones where the music of the Dead steals your face right off your head.
Phil Lesh, we love you and hope you get better while you kick cancer’s ass. That being said we all knew Phil wasn’t going to be part of Dead & Co. ever since Fare Thee Well. Oteil Burbridge is one of my favorite bassists out there, he’s dynamic, sharp, well calculated, and offers a heavy bottom end paving a road for guitarist to scorch lead licks down the tracks. Last night it was no surprise that he held down a fat bottom end to the sound.
The “Playin’ in the Band” is a good rendition of a staple in the Dead category, but let’s be real here. This was a standard version, it wasn’t like they were going to come out with this opener and make everyone go absolutely ballistic, they didn’t open the tour with Terrapin Station or something. Mayer sounded fine, but nothing too off the beaten path here. This is the first show of the run, we need not get ahead of ourselves. Mayer had some good techniques in his playing and the tone he had blended well as it should into the Dead’s sound mix.
As for “Cold Rain and Snow”, same thing, standard version, nothing too notable, but it flowed well. I’m sure he will nail some vocals this tour, but I’m sure he will get roasted for butchering some stuff here and there. Let’s not forget that generally speaking jambands have poor to mediocre vocals. No matter what you think of Mayer, his voice is pretty damn good, just face it.
Let’s see what the boys have in store for us at MSG for Halloween. Time will tell how this tour is going to play out, but it definitely wasn’t a bad start to what could be a promising string of tour dates.