Dead & Company brought their long, winding Final Tour to the Kia Forum last night for an evening of musical poetry of high order. It’s true that parting ways is sweet sorrow, but at least the band is giving its fans plenty of opportunities to come out and say goodbye to this chapter in the glorious history of the music of the Grateful Dead in the most joyous ways possible. There was no pomp or circumstance to this installment of the tour, which was good because, truly, none was or is needed. After a flurry of last-minute adjustments by the crew Dead & Company took the stage and, like the business-esque element of their name states clearly, they came to put in work.
The bedazzled face of bassist Oteil Burbridge said everything it needed with his mile-wide smile. The Allman Brothers Band veteran blissfully launched into the disco-flavored “Shakedown Street” that opened the show, but it didn’t take long for his stalwart companions to join in. Drummers Mickey Hart and Jay Lane gave Oteil’s groove a backbeat and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti gave it a lush sheen. The final piece of the puzzle was added when guitar and vocalists John Mayer and Bob Weir joined in and the song about searching had found everything it needed to get the crowd going, front to back.
Dead & Company – “Shakedown Street” – 5/19/23
When you assemble the level of talent and pedigree on display in Dead & Co, hand it one of rock’s greatest catalogs, then hone it on the road for a few years, it ends up looking effortless. As Mayer stepped up for the “Cold Rain and Snow” that followed, he had Chimenti there providing fills and chords to underpin the janglier aspects of the guitar leads. Weir can inflect a level of introspection and wisdom into anything, including the near-ragtime intro of “Mississippi Half Step Toodeloo” and its miles-high-and-wide, blues-driven outro.
Over every Dead & Co show hangs the shadow of their origin, the ghost in the machine, and the late Jerry Garcia’s spirit was felt throughout the night. From the church-like, reverential nature of the JGB classic “They Love Each Other” to the four-song flourish that finished the second set with another Garcia composition, “Deal”, his presence was imminently felt. While Mayer is far from a Jerry clone, his ability to cleanly fill spaces in with bluesy lick both salty and sweet honors the foundational aspects of every tune Garcia touched. The fact Mayer accomplishes this while maintaining a style all his own makes his work these last few years even more impressive.
Throughout the angelic “St.Stephen”, the militaristic snares of “William Tells Bridge”, and the odd-timed “The Eleven” that followed, it was the blending of those who created the music and those who were accepting the torch in this grand musical relay of a band that showed the timelessness of the material. By the time the aforementioned “Deal” went down, the cheers of the crowd at the crescendo of the song and subsequent set break weren’t just for the performance of the evening—it was a celebration of life itself.
The second set as a nigh-perfect encapsulation of what made so many people into lifelong Deadheads as well as the generational aspect of what following the Dead has become. Tunes like second set openers “Sugaree” and “New Speedway Boogie” are practically in the DNA of fans who have heard them literally since the womb; twisting, turning takes on “Eyes Of The The World” and “Estimated Prophet” have been challenging listeners and opening their minds to variances of rhythms and structure since the ’70s; the exploratory nature of “Drums” > “Space” has sparked philosophical reflections and wired new thinking pathways into the human zeitgeist itself.
Dead & Company – “Sugaree” – 5/19/23
Best of all, celebrations and the joy of songs like the show-closing pairing of “Sugar Magnolia” and “Sunshine Daydream” are hardwired into our culture’s collective hopes for a brighter, happier, healthier world for us all. The music of the Grateful Dead is a literal touchstone of humanity itself, and this last Dead & Company tour is far from the end. It’s the dawn of what can and must be the grand procession of love and evolution with a little inspiration from the artists and poets among us. After the last strains of the “Black Muddy River” have long faded, that promise will still be kept.
After more than six decades of existence, the art and sheer poetry of the evening’s music proved itself worthy of devotion. It’s clear that whatever elemental forces combined and evolved into the musical catalog of the Dead will abide long past the lives of its creators. That said, for the crowd, the players, and the world in general, any chance to see it performed by the lucky few who were a part of making it is a gift.
Dead & Company returns to the Kia Forum for a second show tonight, Saturday, May 20th. Click below to view a collection of fan-shot videos and head to the band’s website for tickets and a full list of upcoming shows.
Dead & Company – “Cold Rain And Snow” – 5/19/23
Setlist: Dead & Company | Kia Forum | Inglewood, CA | 5/19/23
Set 1: Shakedown Street > Cold Rain and Snow (Traditional), Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, They Love Each Other (Jerry Garcia), St. Stephen > William Tell Bridge > The Eleven > Deal (Jerry Garcia)
Set 2: Sugaree (Jerry Garcia), New Speedway Boogie, Eyes of the World > Estimated Prophet > Drums (with Oteil playing banjo bass) > Space > The Wheel > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
Encore: Black Muddy River