In 2015, ¾’s of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead – rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart – formed Dead & Company, the latest in a line of outfits formed in the aftermath of Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 mean to carry on the spirit and legacy of the band. The band was met with trepidation and derision when it was announced that John Mayer, a top 40 pop star with a history of controversy that overshadowed his considerable talents, would be taking the lead guitar role. Even with jam band veterans Oteil Burbridge on bass and Jeff Chiamenti on keyboards, there was much concern about this lineup’s abilities and appeal.
Seven years later, Dead & Company has been the most successful post-Jerry incarnation of the band, both musically and financially. Mayer’s broad appeal has won them over a whole new generation of fans, and older fans have accepted this lineup into the ever growing Dead family. As a celebration leading up to the outfit’s final tour next summer, I’ve compiled what I consider to be the 10 definitive shows of the band’s career thus far. I based this all on the quality of the playing, historical significance, set list, and the level of exploration present in the band’s jamming.
10. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO. 10/19/21
This was a significant show, as it was Dead & Company’s first full show without original drummer Billy Kreutzman, who wound up missing a significant chunk of shows for the remainder of the year and much of the 2022 leg. Filling in for Billy was Jay Lane, drummer for Weir’s Dead adjacent projects such as Ratdog, Wolf Bros, and Furthur. The show opens with “Not Fade Away,” the Buddy Holly classic that the Dead turned into one of their most beloved jam vehicles throughout their career. In the context of Kreutzman’s absence, it’s a stunning statement to the band’s endurance and legacy, and its chorus – “You know our love will not fade away” – sounds like the world’s most badass ‘Get Well Soon’ card.
The entire performance is top shelf Dead & Company, with Lane’s relative youthfulness adding some pep and punch to a band often derided as ‘Dead & Slow.” But it’s John Mayer and keyboardist Jeff Chiamenti’s ever blossoming musical bromance that takes center stage on the evening’s most sublime moments, particularly a splendiforous “Eyes of the World” that moves like a magic carpet to the stars.
9. Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL. 6/24/22
The original Grateful Dead rarely took political stances as explicitly as Bob Weir has in recent years. While the drug-fueled, ‘free love’ attitude more than hinted at a liberal philosophy, many conservatives and libertarians latched onto the ‘personal freedom’ motifs present in some of their work. Weir no longer embraces this neutrality, making his views on various ‘culture war’ issues such as LGTBQ rights and gun control loudly known at Dead shows, often in the wake of a specific incident or tragedy associated with these topics.
The band’s first of two nights at the legendary Wrigley Field came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s unprecedented decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to choose for over 50 years. The band constructed a set list that was thematic in nature, opening with “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” into “Eyes of the World.” A song celebrating the intelligence and authority of women into a song that champions self-actualization and personal freedom? That should be more than enough of a statement. The band doesn’t stop there, beginning the second set with “Throwing Stones,” their most politically explicit political song that condemns poverty, corporate greed, and the exploitation of the most powerless among us. Weir even changes the words to condemn the Supreme Court explicitly.
8. The Gorge Amphitheatre, George, WA. 6/23/2016
2016 was the year Dead & Company fully blossomed into a tight, cohesive unit. The shows on the summer tour showed a band playing with confidence, precision and a real sense of adventure. While the pairing of “Touch of Grey” and “Hell in a Bucket” looks standard on paper, these still rate as the band’s best takes on these respective songs. “Hell” is even performed at the original fast tempo instead of the slower, bluesier arrangement they had previously adapted. Mayer showcases his blues chops on a searing take on “Next Time You See Me,” and in general has fully adapted his playing to the Dead’s often challenging improvisational style. The second set features thoroughly jammed out versions of “Eyes of the World,” “Shakedown Street,” and “Uncle John’s Band,” three of their ‘big ticket’ exploratory vehicles that rarely if ever all appeared in the same set. Weir also uses his shredded rasp to great emotional effect on a powerful “Wharf Rat,” the band’s tale of a man down on his luck looking for one last shot but can’t escape the rut he’s gotten himself in.
7. Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL. 7/1/2017
The 2017 summer tour ended on a high note with the two shows at Wrigley Field, which is a venue where the band reliably plays spectacular shows. They mix things up in the first set with an acoustic take on “Dark Star,” but it’s the second set where this band truly shines; in particular this is their finest pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain.” This version rivals many of the original Jerry led outfits best versions, with a questing transitional jam that hits a number of great peaks and a “Fire” for the ages with John using his guitar as a flamethrower as he ascends to what is still the most intense peak of any Dead & Company song ever performed.
6. TD Garden, Boston, MA. 11/17/17
A watershed show during the excellent Fall 2017 tour, the Dead built on the newfound momentum they gained on their summer tour and delivered outstanding shows night after night. Boston witnessed one of the absolute best of the run; from the top they blast off with their best “Jack Straw” to date, as well as a blazing hot “Scarlet -> Fire” and a haunting, extended “He’s Gone” that delivers goosebumps once John and bassist Oteil Burbridge take over the vocals. It’s all punctuated by a gorgeous encore of “Ripple,” the band’s most touching benediction of all.
5. Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia, PA. 11/16/17
Another heater from Fall 2017, this show is wall to wall highlights and slightly outclasses the stellar Boston show with a quirkier song selections that include the band’s disco-fried take on “Dancing in the Street” and Weir’s environmental odyssey “Let it Grow.” The second set is where this show really shines, beginning with a kaleidoscopic “Dark Star” and soaring renditions of Dead bellwethers such as “Deal,” “Eyes of the World,” “Uncle John’s Band,” and rollicking “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.”
4. Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, CA. 10/31/21
All incarnations of the Dead have played inspired Halloween shows where they tap into the energy of the season. These shows are often spooky, with jams that go to dark places and song selections that compliment them. The third and best show of their Hollywood Bowl run from last year contains such thematically appropriate picks as “Dire Wolf,” “Hell in a Bucket,” “Dark Star,” and the classic country murder ballad “El Paso.” Also significant is the first ever post-“Space” “Scarlet -> Fire,” which has a very different, edgier energy coming this late in the set and segues into the apocalyptic odyssey “Morning Dew,” where Mayer puts on a clinic in how to properly shred in a way that is emotive and complementary rather than masturbatory.
3. The Gorge, George, WA. 6/29/18
You could throw a dart any of the stellar 2018 summer tour and land on a terrific show, but ultimately I went with the Gorge show because of the stellar set list and the wonderful song selection, which includes the debut of “Mr. Charlie,” the ethereal and mysterious “Crazy Fingers,” and Garcia’s tearjerking anthem “Comes a Time” among the highlights. Playing-wise, the band is a tight groove throughout, with Burbridge having dosed for the first time prior to going onstage. It’s also not often that I praise a “Black Peter,” but this version is absolute gold and goes the distance as it reaches a fantastic, Mayer-tastic finale.
2. BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL., 2/26/18
In the wake of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting, this show was a healing ceremony of sorts; it’s also the angriest show they’ve ever played. The song selection was deliberately designed to send a message. There are obvious choices: “New Speedway Boogie,” “Eyes of the World,” and “Throwing Stones” all have very obvious connotations in the context of the show. But then there’s the opening “Shakedown Street,” with special emphasis placed on the refrain “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart…” “They Love Each Other” feels like it’s being sung directly to the surviving students who banded together and supported each other in the aftermath. The closing “Touch of Grey,” with its classic “we will survive” chorus, is as hopeful a message that they could possibly end with. An all around magnificent show, one played with a clear purpose and motivation.
1. Citi Field, Flushing, NY. 6/23/2019
I admit that I have attendance bias, as I was at this magnificent show on a beautiful summer night. And no doubt this night’s legacy gets slightly inflated by the fact that John Mayer played the Wolf, one of Jerry Garcia’s signature guitar rigs. I can also be objective: this show is as air tight and inspired as this band gets, and the set list really helps take it over the top. Giving Mayer one of Garcia’s guitars seemed like the ultimate confirmation that he was now part of the band’s ongoing legacy, and it pushed him to do justice to the many signature Jerry tunes that graced the set list: “St. Stephen,” “High Time,” “Sugaree,” “Terrapin Station,” “Scarlet -> Fire,” and “Morning Dew” all found their way to Citi Field that night and were played with precision and the utmost respect by Mayer. There’s also a magnificently punchy “The Other One” with Burbridge imitating Phil Lesh’s signature rolling bass bombs, and a touching “Brokedown Palace” encore.