Preceding their magnificent fall tour opener on Sunday, our favorite merry band of musicians dialed up to steal some faces once again last night at Madison Square Garden. Much to the joy of the ravenous Catherine the Great, Bobby began the night by signaling the band into, “Hell in a Bucket”, where just as Catherine the Great relied on her trusty nobles in the 18th century to run the Russian Empire, Bobby fed off the prowess of his bandmates to deliver a solid opener. For those who appreciate Dead and Company’s take on this Weir/Barlow tune, I recommend to check out the 6/28/2017 “Bucket” from Blossom Music Center. Following this quick detour to Hell, Mayer took it upon himself to convoke a flurry of, “Cold Rain and Snow”. As always, Mayer’s blues chops were ever present in this tune that was first presented by the Dead in a pizza parlor, Magoos, in Menlo Park California, May 5th, 1965. many moons ago. “Me and My Uncle”, would come next, which featured some particularly rough spots for our ringleader, Weir, who stumbled on lyrics but was heroically saved by his partner in crime, Johnny, who saved the day with country licks when Weir drew blanks. I’ve always found it amusing that I have never heard a show where Weir stumbles on the lyrics to the lengthy Dylan tune, “Desolation Row”, which has yet to make its Dead and Company debut but, stumbles on his own tune which ranks in at the #5 most played Dead tune of all time. We love you, Bobby. Afterward, Mayer dusted off the grenadine with a classic “Brown Eyed Women” which then led into one of the highlights of the night, “Tennessee Jed”. As always, the peak of this song lit up the audiences faces’ and left everyone rocking’ and aching for more. Subsequently, the boys decided it was time to simmer down with a spaced out, “Bird Song”, which was penned as a tribute to the late Janis Joplin in 1971. The boys closed out the first set with a mountainous cover of Norman Span’s, “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” which featured powerful organ work by Chimenti. This was the second time this tune has been played by the sextet, the prior time being from their summer stop in Virginia earlier this year.
The band returned to the stage with one of the Mt. Rushmore of segues in the Dead catalog, “Help > Slip > Franklins”. As an entire unit, the whole band plowed through this with incredible virtuosity and dexterity. From this segment, it is apparent Mayer has been experimenting with new sounds and effects since we bid the boys farewell this past summer. A noteworthy moment is found in the moments leading up to the final jam when Mayer sang, “may the four winds blow you home again”, emphatically slowing down the lyrics in a way that can be best described as a fragile bliss. Afterward, Oteil began to pull on everyone’s heartstrings even more with a beautifully executed, “China Doll”, which was debuted by Dead and Company this past summer alongside the San Francisco fog at Shoreline. Before the band melted into Drums > Space, Bobby took it upon himself to take New York City to a quick trip to California with a thunderous, “Estimated Prophet”, which featured strong rhythm and lead interplay between Weir and Mayer. Coming out of Drums > Space, Mickey gave wide eyes at Mayer who took things to an even weirder spot, a majestically weird spot reminiscent of 76’ jazzy Dead that eventually led Chimenti to take the band into John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. Coming straight out of “A Love Supreme” would be the ever classic Jerry ballad, “Stella Blue”, sung by Weir. For younger heads such as myself I can only thank Bobby from the bottom of my heart for transforming moments in my life to the status of being, “Just a dream”. Next came what I believe is the highlight of the night a 13-minute blues-rooted, “St. Stephen”. Mayer was overflowing with energy at this point in the night. Lightning fast blues licks and a short spurt of jumping jacks were presented by Mayer the Slayer, who appeared to be having the time of his life. The jam eventually led to a strong Bo-Diddley beat which, of course, led to a gargantuan “Not Fade Away” to close the second set. The boys returned for a “U.S. Blues” encore to wrap up their run at Madison Square Garden in a red white and blue fashion. Ultimately, I think it is fair to say with the little preparation time our counterculture carriers had to prepare for this tour they are far exceeding everyone’s expectations. The road goes on to Philadelphia Thursday night.