On Tuesday, June 13, Dead and Company made their fifth and final stop in Cincinnati for one final night with the Queen City Deadheads. In an effort to leave a memorable impression on the sold-out crowd at Riverbend Music Center, the band delivered an unbelievable performance that is sure to echo in the memories of the audience for years to come.
For many in attendance, this would be the last chance to see this incarnation of musicians together since they are wrapping up their final tour in the coming months before calling it quits. To ease the minds of these fans, the band started the night out with a deliberate selection – “The Music Never Stopped”.
Taking no time at all to warm up the crowd that was still filling the venue, the next song brought everyone back to the early Haight Ashbury days of The Grateful Dead. While not often played by Dead and Company, “The Next Time You See Me”, was a blues-heavy arrangement that gave new life to the 1960s-era tune.
By this time the enormous crowd had mostly settled in as Bob Weir broke out a classic cowboy-country rendition of “Me and My Uncle”. Up next, John Mayer took his turn on vocals for an admirable version of “Row Jimmy”.
Stepping away from the Grateful Dead catalog for a bit, the band started into a version of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, which segued beautifully into their take on The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, which had every member of the band sharing vocals at one point. Before you knew it, without stopping the music, Bob Weir reclaimed the lead vocals as he belted out the lyrics to “Cassidy”, from his first solo album Ace.
The energy was palpable as generations of Deadheads soaked up every note of the performance. Things took an energetic turn upwards as the final song of the first set, “Iko Iko” lead to a massive group singalong before the band left the stage to take a break.
As the night sky grew darker, partially due to the setting sun and partially due to the accumulating storm clouds, the band returned to the stage. John Mayer channeled his inner meteorologist as if trying to manifest better weather with the song choice. While the opening song, “Here Comes Sunshine”, ultimately did not stop the oncoming rain, it was an appreciated attempt that resulted in a phenomenal musical performance.
Digging even deeper into their psychedelic blues roots, “Viola Lee Blues” saw some of the best improvisation and soloing of the night from Oteil Burbidge and Jeff Chimenti. By the end of the lengthy jam, Mother Nature could not hold out any longer. A sea of ponchos began to emerge throughout the lawn as the rain came through the Ohio River valley. As predictable as the next song was, nobody was upset to hear “Looks Like Rain” played for the first time on Dead and Company’s final tour.
As set two continued, “China Cat Sunflower” was as well-received as any song of the night. The classic Dead song had the crowd grooving and dancing as it transitioned into its unofficial partner, “I Know You Rider”, which featured incredible jamming and solos from both Weir and Mayer. If “Iko Iko” was the standout singalong of the first set, “I Know You Rider” held the title for set two.
Things mellowed out long enough for the majority of the band to exit the stage, leaving only Mickey Hart and Jay Lane with their many other percussion instruments. Taking inspiration from “Ice Sounds”, a special theme gave way to the incredible percussive journey of the night. In a social media post before the show, Mickey Hart wrote, “Drums & Space is inspired by the powerful geologic forces that shape our planet and our climate. Ice sounds are created by the movement and melting of ice, as well as by the wind and waves that interact with it. These sounds can range from the gentle creaking of sea ice to the explosive cracking of glaciers.” He and Lane did not disappoint.
While Oteil has been known to join the drummers for the “Drums/Space” portion of the night, he was nowhere to be seen during the Cincinnati show. It wasn’t until the conclusion of “Drums” that the rest of the band returned to the stage, Oteil included, for a trippy “Space” jam that segued back into the traditional catalog of songs with “The Wheel”.
“Wharf Rat” was up next, which started out slow before building up to an intense conclusion that lead into an electrifying “Casey Jones”. As if they were personally making sure every audience member left with a smile on their face, all six members of the band put it all out on stage for this final song. The musicianship was top notch and the energy in the venue was maxed out. There were even security guards caught singing and dancing as the musical magic concluded.
As the crowd began to disperse, they left everyone with a message of resilience and hope with a “Touch of Grey” encore. Nobody is quite sure what is up next for the band members once the final tour is over, but one thing is clear – “We will get by… We will survive”
Set One: The Music Never Stopped, Next Time You See Me Me & My Uncle, Row Jimmy, Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic) > Hey Jude (The Beatles) > Cassidy > Iko Iko
Set Two: Here Comes Sunshine, Viola Lee Blues > Looks Like Rain > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > The Wheel > Wharf Rat > Casey Jones
Encore: Touch of Grey