The culture and legacy of the Grateful Dead experienced a kind of revival this past summer: the Long Strange Trip documentary was completed and released, the famous Cornell ‘77 recordings were unearthed, and most notably, Dead & Company seemed to come into their own as a band on a run of electric summer shows. Dead & Company – led by John Mayer, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, and former Grateful Dead Members Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart – have turned this momentum into an equally impressive fall tour, and D.C.’s Tuesday night show was no exception.
Dead & Company came on stage promptly at their scheduled 7:15 start time with no opener, as is customary, to begin the first of two full sets. The band opened with “Feel Like A Stranger” led by Weir, whose charisma and musical talent continue to defy his age at 70 years old. The faithful crowd was immediately hooked, and Mayer took the opportunity to ratchet the energy up with a fan-favorite, “Bertha.” By then the arena was filled and every fan, veterans and newcomers alike, were singing along.
The band kept the energy high in Capital One Arena for the entirety of the first set, alternating between emotional renditions of slower songs like “Black-Throated Wind” and “Ship of Fools” to up tempo foot-stompers like “Cassidy” and “Deal.” The band sounded remarkably tight throughout, particularly on a standout version of “Tennessee Jed” that showed off the group’s perfect musical synchronization through improvised jams on stage, eventually bringing it back to a final chorus that would not have felt out of place as a close-down-the-show encore.
From the well crafted, expertly played first set, it was readily apparent that Dead & Company has truly come into their own as a band separate from the Grateful Dead. What many thought would simply become a Grateful Dead cover band, banking on a huge repertoire of musical content and John Mayer’s fame, has become a group that older and younger fans alike can call themselves fans of without even mentioning the Grateful Dead. And with the attention of the audience already a guarantee, Dead & Company returned to the stage after the intermission with a slower exploratory second set.
The opening trio of three less popular songs – “Help On The Way,” “Slipknot!” and “Franklin’s Tower” – showed that the Dead & Company did not need to play hits in order to engage the audience. The band took on the persona of seasoned veterans who can play what they like and still make it sound fantastic, utilizing their musical charisma through exciting jams to keep the momentum of the show going. A fan-favorite “Terrapin Station” dominated the second set, in addition to a Weir-led “Looks Like Rain” that was performed to musical perfection. The band followed with a reverent nod to the Grateful Dead in the final sequence of “Drums/Space,” “Days Between,” and “Throwing Stones.” The show concluded with a rare encore song, “Touch of Grey,” whose upbeat tempo and uplifting chorus left the audience buzzing as they headed to the exits more than three hours after the band first came on stage.
The final result was a captivating, satisfying show and an exposition of Dead & Company’s perfected cohesion as a band. Like many musicians today and in true Grateful Dead fashion, the band couldn’t resist using their platform to comment on the turbulent political climate of today’s America. A stone’s throw from the lawmaking center of the country, Weir ad libbed in “Throwing Stones” that you could “buy a whole damn government today,” a jab that earned rousing cheers from the audience. There was a similar feeling to the “Touch of Grey” encore, whose mantra-esque chorus of “we will get by, we will survive” was sung with a little extra heart as the message hit home for many audience members. As Dead & Company continue to blaze through successful shows that feel familiar and yet completely new at the same time, D.C.’s Tuesday show was something special, and showed fans that even after 50 years the legacy of the Grateful Dead still has some new stories to tell.