Dead & Company

In Bristow, Dead & Company Skip The Goodbyes

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Dead & Company in Bristow VA

As shows go, Dead & Company’s stop in Bristow was surprisingly low key with few surprises. If this was just another Saturday night (to paraphrase the title of the second-set’s rousing finale), there was some anticipation that this night  might be a little different. After all this iteration of the band announced this would be their final tour and have been billing it as The Final Tour. The only acknowledgment to the moment perhaps was when the band members embraced each other at show’s end and lingered a little longer before they took a bow on the stage they’d played so many times over the years.

For Dead & Company, the announcement almost feels like a post-script. After all, it’s been almost thirty years since guitarist Jerry Garcia passed away. The last and final Grateful Dead shows were with Trey Anastasio at Wrigley Field in 2015. Before they could even sing the last verse of “Attics of My Life,” the rumor mill was in motion that the band was already reforming and would be joined by John Mayer. Fare Thee Well not so quickly and here we are almost a decade later.

Saying goodbye is an uncomfortable proposition. Many would prefer to leave the future open and say  see you down the road. Farewells can also backfire.  Just think about the Who which announced their last tour in 1980.  The Rolling Stones deftly handled questions since 1969 about their “We never said it was the last time.”

But as my astute and wise friend Bill Burke remarked over cocktails in the parking lot of Jiffy Lube Live,  “I mean who cares? It’s not like it’s the Grateful Dead.”

No doubt the announcement fueled higher demand for tickets. Thinking back to when the Dead first began selling cd versions of their live shows, I could hear Bob Weir’s quote in my head: “That’s a lot of coin.”  On a night when the Northern Virginia amphitheater seemed overrun with multiple generations of Deadheads ancient and young, you might not have known that time interrupted the band. In keeping with tradition, hordes of tour followers had their index finger raised high looking for just one ticket to get in. In 2023 miracle seekers will take a ticket or a transfer. 

For all the criticism of this current line-up and those who call it a Grateful Dead cover band, the stakes were surprisingly low. When guitarist Mayer came in he imbued the band with a freshness and youthful enthusiasm that made their burden of legacy feel light. Dead and Company is a good little band and over two sets chugged along 

The opening “Here Comes Sunshine” established Mayer’s weathered, grainy vocal that wraps like a sweater around songs of Dead folklore. On “Mississippi Half Step” Mayer’s bluesy licks punctuated the cool summer air as the season started to unfold. Jeff Chimenti on keys established his role as the band’s defacto point guard, helping the band swing throughout the night and power the band through tempo changes that turned on a dime. The band came charging like a locomotive into “Mr. Charlie” with Chimenti’s organ propelling the charge. By the time they got to ”He’s Gone,” they slowed it up to such a quiet that you could hear Weir pluck the strings of his rhythm guitar . When he led the band through the key line “steal your face right off your head,” the loud roar of the crowd could be heard all the way to Route 66. “Brown-Eyed Women” kept rising in intensity as Chimenti banged out the keys and Mayer’s boyish smiles and riffing carried the night.

The opening chords to the Beatles “Dear Prudence” gradually built with the congruence of Weir and Mayer’s interplay. The song felt like the two were on a rock archaeological expedition dusting off ancient artifacts. By the opening sets closer of Bobby Blue Bland’s  “Turn On Your Lovelight,” Weir was like an old preacher with an admonition turning the amphitheater into a tie-dyed church. 

“We’re going to take a short break and be back in just a few minutes,” he said at the end of the first set in his characteristic soft spoken voice that is a ritual.

As night descended, the band lumbered into the first song as if uncertain for it to be “Big Railroad Blues” or “New Speedway Boogie” before “Deal” revealed itself. Chimenti’s organ swirl pervaded the nighttime cool while Mayer roused the band vocally before bringing it down to a gospel-like hush. Slowed down to the tempo of “Fire On The Mountain,” Weir launched into the opening verse of “Scarlet Begonias” once sung by Jerry Garcia, his brother in arms. The lengthy blues riffing came to a crawl like the band would fold into “Stella Blue” only to segue into “Playing In the Band” whose labored beginning evolved into the best jam of the night. 

At risk of the band plodding through “Cumberland Blues,” Chimenti ignited the tempo with breakneck speed and carried the band’s weight as the song accelerated and charged along. Weir broke in, singing the bridge like an ancient storyteller, while the band sounded like a jazz jump band at times. “Uncle John’s Band” dissolved into “Drums” as the band summoned extraterrestrial spirits and otherwise. Then came “Space” and accents of Miles Davis’ “Milestones” bridged into  “Days Between.” Weir railed against the government during “Throwing Stones” with at  least one government official spotted during the show, Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell. No doubt the data dependent Chair saw inflation abound all around him as reflected in the high ticket prices. 

The set culminated in a swinging version of “One More Saturday Night” apropos that it was the end of the week and if this was the last time it was good to go out on a rousing note. Weir and Mayer came back to play “Ripple” on acoustic guitars that sounded like they could have been around a campfire. And then they bid us goodnight.

It’s likely that this was the largest crowd Jiffy Lube Live had ever experienced. Just as getting in felt like festival traffic, the walk back to a far away parking lot gave time to ponder. If I was a betting man, I’d say the odds are good this wasn’t the last time we’d see these guys. I just hope we’ll get more chances to hear Weir’s familiar voice say that after a short break, they’ll be back in a few minutes.

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Enjoy our previous coverage here: Show Review: Dead and Company, Two in Texas

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