Dead and Company returned to California for the first of several shows in the sunshine state on October 27th. The marathon concert took place at the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. The vast outdoor venue is situated in the California desert south and east of San Diego. The location was the perfect backdrop for the multi-million dollar multimedia extravaganza that accompanies a live Dead and Company performance. Situated far away from any city or urban lights, the venue boasts a desert location with crystal clear evening skies that bristle with bright star-filled views.
The first of the band's two sets began about 7:20 PM as twilight began enveloping the fading orange glow of an earlier sunset. Deadheads were delighted to see the original terrific trio back in action with drummer Bill Kreutzmann rejoining the band and performing in prime form throughout both sets. The drummer, who had missed recent shows in Colorado due to an unknown illness, rejoined his original Dead bandmates, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, along with longtime Dead keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, guitarist John Mayer, and bassist Oteil Burbridge. Since the band played their initial one-off concert on Halloween of 2015 at Madison Square Garden, the group has transformed into a full touring powerhouse keeping the magic of Grateful Dead jam music alive for millions of fans young and old.
The group opened their ever-evolving first set with the appropriate “The Music Never Stopped,” with Weir's lead vocals eventually segueing into “Easy Answers.” Mayer played lead guitar on the first tune, eventually relinquishing the duties to Weir. Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti may have been the biggest surprise of the night, playing funky jazz-infused keys throughout the night while displaying an ever- beaming smile. The New Orleans-inspired piano maestro even played the clavinet on a funky jam that saw bassist Oteil Burbridge laying down bass lines also drenched in New Orleans jazz tradition, segueing into “Easy Answers.”
Weir took the lead on the 12-minute jam of the tune before the band segued back into the opening tune, "The Music Never Stopped.” Mayer took over lead guitar on the next song, “Row Jimmy,” as the first stars began to appear in the night sky. Weir and Mayer then took turns on lead vocals for the next tune, “Friend of the Devil.” Chimenti took the spotlight yet again on the following keyboard-drenched version of “Cumberland Blues.” The band then played a version of another Dead classic, “Cassidy.”
Dead and Company always seems to melt a classic cover perfectly into the mix, and the show in Chula Vista followed suit, with a bit of Tears For Fears folded into the “Cassidy” jam. The band closed out the set with “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, which featured more energy-infused honky-tonk piano from Chimenti and some ripping solos from Mayer before the band faded into a Half Step's ending, "Across the Rio Grandeeo, across the lazy river.”
The lights went out for the second set, revealing a dazzling star-filled sky before an explosion of light and sound filled the venue with a brilliant jam-infused version of “St. Stephen.” The 20-minute jam set the pace for the second set. The jams continued with the unconventional coda of “William Tell Bridge” leading into “The Eleven.” The band then returned to a more straightforward musical approach to “He’s Gone,” with Mayer taking over lead vocal duties. The group then segued into another Chimenti keyboard-drenched version of “New Speedway Boogie” sung by Weir. It is well known that no two Dead and Company concerts are alike, with nearly every set utterly different than the last.
The one constant is the second set paring of “Drums” and “Space.” Though no two interactions of the tunes are alike, they follow the same pattern of the Dead's, two original drummers performing a thunderous drum solo. That is followed by an electronic-infused drum circle featuring all the band members laying down a tribal rhythm before segueing one by one into yet another jam. It is the ultimate throwback to the hallucinogenic days of the band's infectious jam-drenched tunes for many Dead fans. The Chula Vista version of the spacey combo was exceptionally brilliant, with a strong showing by the recently sidelined Kreutzmann and the perfect star- covered night sky.
After the literally spacey jam, Weir led the band into a spirited version of “I Need A Miracle,” the first time the tune appeared on the setlist on the fall tour. Next, the band returned to early Grateful Dead roots with a brilliant cover of the Blind Gary Davis‘ tune “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” The 1960 tune first made it into the Grateful Dead repertoire in 1966 and became a staple cover for the band in their early days. Weir and Mayer traded vocals on the bluesy tune. The band then closed out the set with The Rascals’ “Good Lovin.” The Grateful Dead made the song their own back in the '60s as a touring staple song by Pigpen. After raucous ear- piercing applause, the band returned to the stage once more. Mayer took the lead on “Black Muddy River,” one of the great Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter ballad’s, much to the delight of the jubilant crowd.
Check out more photos from the show