On a short list of influential bands that changed the course of music history, along with The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Hendrix, you’ll find The Grateful Dead. Praised as the founding fathers of the improvisational “jam band” genre, you can’t go to a music festival without spotting their rainbow teddy bear mascots, their lightning bolt skull emblem, or just Jerry Garcia’s face on a hundred t-shirts.
The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 as a blues-rock group originally called The Warlocks. They met many interesting characters such as Timothy Leary, had many interesting experiments, sometimes involving party buses and LSD, and the resulting transformation of their band would pave the way for so many roads. Perhaps it was the acid, but the Dead began to extend their songs during live performances, creating entire new sections for pieces on the spot and playing into one song from the next without stopping the music. This really blew everyone’s minds and defined their style as entrepreneurs of psychedelic rock.
After over 3000 shows, being one of the most actively-touring groups in music, lead guitarist and shared vocalist Jerry Garcia died in 1995, and the remaining members decided to disband. Since then, Bob Weir and the others have continued to perform together under different forms of the Grateful Dead, playing their original songs under monikers such as “The Dead,” “The Other Ones,” and now Dead and Company.
Dead and Company took shape in 2015 after The Dead’s monumental “Fare Thee Well” tour, which also featured Trey Anastasio, Jeff Chimenti, and Bruce Hornsby as part of the band. Rock guitarist, John Mayer, found an interest in the Grateful Dead’s music and joined forces with original dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, along with Jeff Chimenti on Keyboards and Oteil Burbridge on bass. They have now toured multiple times and passed through New Orleans last Saturday. The original show date was in December, but Mayer had an emergency appendectomy, so it was rescheduled for February 24th.
The delay of showtime only seemed to give fans a longer chance to grab tickets, as the event sold out by the time of the new date. The flood of hippies gave the Smoothie King Center a funky smell and a positive atmosphere. Around these loving people, one cannot “Feel Like a Stranger,” which was the first song of Dead and Company’s initial set. After five songs, New Orlean’s own George Porter Jr., a close friend of Bob Weir’s, joined onstage to sing and play bass for Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” and then closed out the first set with a soulful, tear-jerking rendition of Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree.”
The second set started with everyone’s favorite double-song jam, “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain,” which was sung by Oteil Burbridge on bass. Oteil’s voice was hauntingly similar to Jerry’s. Bob Weir took care of most of his and Jerry’s original vocals, while Oteil and John Mayer supported, singing lead on a few select numbers. John Mayer’s guitar playing was magnificently precise and the tones were so smooth and clean that, in the essence of Jerry Garcia, his notes flowed like a warm river into your ears, tickling every inch of your soul.
Of course, they played their New Orleans reference song “Truckin’,” easily the crowd-favorite of the evening, followed by “Ship of Fools” and “Uncle John’s Band,” which led into their well-known “Drums” solo. Burbridge, Hart, and Kreutzmann, joined forces for a percussion affair that would include Mickey Hart’s famous low-frequency instrument, “The Beam.” And as usual, “Drums” went into the dark, bazaar “Space” jam that carried on for almost too long. Eventually, everyone was able to gather their wits again as the band steered “Space” into “Stella Blue.” They fused the end of “Stella Blue” with Bob Weir’s “One More Saturday Night,” a perfectly appropriate way the end the set. It would have been blasphemy to deprive the sold-out Smoothie King Center of at least one more song. So, Dead and Company finished their performance with an encore of “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon. After a dream Weir heeded as a premonition, he insists that Dead and Company have no plans to stop anytime soon, so they’ll undoubtedly be truckin’ back to Bourbon before too long.