Dead & Company Prove Their Love Will Not Fade Away


The final Dead & Company farewell show last night at San Francisco’s Oracle Park proved the truth of the adage “Never miss a Sunday show,” especially if the Sunday show is allegedly their last show ever. Playing to a sold-out baseball stadium would be a once-in-a-lifetime event for almost any band’s entire existence but for Dead and Co three night runs at these monstrous venues have become second nature.

Once announced as their final tour, fans snatched up tickets, eyeing this last weekend as the Holy Grail. Sky-high post-market prices tempted those with the means to pay while those with no such option who missed out prayed for a miracle opportunity to be there.

As Dead & Company quickly took the stage and grabbed up their various instruments we got our first look at the final iteration of Oteil Burbridge’s wonderful face painting for the evening: a full Jerry Garcia handprint matching the one the Grateful Dead icon left on the collective soul of humanity. A slight bit of preparatory noodling quickly gelled into coherence and one last “Bertha” opened the set to massive cheers.

Guitarist John Mayer, at one time thought to be a quirky choice for the hardest vacancy to fill, delivered another blues-fueled, pitch-perfect lead guitar take on the track with vocals to match. Mind you, Mayer had a tiny bit of assistance from the entire baseball stadium in the vocals department.

Dead and Co’s other guitarist Bob Weir took over the vocal baton for a rollicking take on The Rascals‘ classic “Good Lovin’” and kept it through a heartfelt “Loser” that featured some delicately beautiful piano work from keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. The relay race continued with former Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge (Let Oteil sing!) taking control for a “High Time” that featured some lovely passionate fretboard work from an on-fire Mayer.

The Sunday tradition of “Samson And Delilah” held true one last time, its lyrics making more sense than ever as Dead & Co threatened to tear the entire ballpark down with this mix of material choices and musical displays of virtuosity. Speaking of amazing displays, of all the tunes in Dead & Company’s usual repertoire John Mayer has truly owned “Althea”. Once again he showed why his mix of skills is a perfect match for the bluesy tone and tenor of the tune. Doubling down, Mayer took to the solo and built each crescendo with an intensity he seemed determined to bring forth from the deepest depths of his heart and soul.

Dead & Company – “Bertha” > “Good Lovin’” (The Rascals) > “Loser”, “High Time”, “Samson And Deliah” (Traditional), “Althea” [Pro-Shot] – 7/16/23

Dead & Co clearly wanted to focus on Dead songs as, obviously, they’re the “reason-for-the-season” so to speak. Luckily that prevailing prejudice didn’t prevent them from drawing and dropping a moving take on Traffic’s beloved “Dear Mr. Fantasy” into the traditional Beatles “Hey Jude” coda. Closing out the set a tad quicker than one might suspect, Weir called his own number for the set closer, a chilling “Bird Song” that echoed the nip in the air.

Starting the second and final set with the perfect trio, “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower”, Dead & Company had the audience in a state of pure bliss. The late “Franklin’s” lyrical truth “If you get confused, listen to the music play” received a noticeable bump in the already deafening roar of crowd appreciation each song was receiving. The energy continued to build as Weir led the next couple tunes, a delightfully twisty “Estimated Prophet” and a sing-along, full-on dance party take on “Eyes Of The World” that shook the City by the Bay itself.

Dead & Company – “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower” [Pro-Shot] – 7/16/23

As “Eyes“ began to fade it was time for the percussive pair of drummers Jay Lane and Rhythm Devil Mickey Hart to take center stage for “Drums”. Assisted by Oteil on the earliest part of this nightly exploration into what was truly humanity’s first musical instrument, Lane and Hart moved well past our primitive beginnings, through our different stages of development, and into the far future of the concept of percussion itself. As usual, it was a jaw-dropping display of vision and exploration that melted more than a few faces.

As “Drums” must always do, it gave way to “Space” which had an unexpected, cityscape-changing addition to its usual cosmic frequency. As the outer region of soaring notes began, a flotilla of flying drones ascended skyward over the packed stadium and San Francisco itself (just as they had in Boulder, CO weeks earlier). The lit drones switched and swerved across the sky, settling into a five-story high skull pattern affectionately known to fans as a “Stealie”. Inside the majestic Stealie’s trademark circle, light patterns swirled along with the music before coalescing into the red/blue hues and lightning bolt that has served as the Dead’s calling card for decades and decades past.

Dead & Company – “Space”, Drone Light Show – 7/16/23

[Video: David Oppenheimer]

“Space” touched back down into a dark, mysterious “Days Between” that gave everyone time to readjust to the concept of gravity. Mind you, that was before a buoyant, amazingly bouncy “Cumberland Blues” once again ignited the crowd into a packed house of dancing fools, led by Oteil as he got down (Let Oteil DANCE!).

Finally, as all sets must, we got to the last song of the main portion of the show: a bench-clearing, all-out love letter to one of the Dead’s most perfect compositions, the always-welcome “Sugar Magnolia”. Enraptured, the crowd seemed to find one last, higher state of joy that infected the band and a true case of synergy from a circle of loving giving and taking that was electrifying. Visibly weary, the band laid down their instruments and took a short, much-needed breather before commencing the final encore of their eight-year existence.

The encore practically wrote itself. “Truckin’”, the first of the three-song jam, got the sky-high energy to somehow stretch a little further with its lyrical mentions of “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” “Just keep truckin’ on,” and “Get back truckin’ home,” making it an obvious choice.

A beautiful, last “Brokedown Palace” fit right in as it had already named another famous set of “goodbye” shows with 2015’s Fare Thee Well. Finally, if there were ever any doubts The Crickets‘ “Not Fade Away” and the nearly sanctified handclapping tradition weren’t going to be the last notes played, they were dispersed when the first beats of that classic rang out.

The sentiments expressed running through the night, particularly lyrically in the encore selections, perfectly sum up the underlying feelings of fans sorry to see this iteration of the band they’ve loved for decades now taking its last bow. Though this Dead & Company era of the living entity created all the way back in 1965 was ending, we will get by. As long as we keep the love and spirit shared like this in our hearts, we will get by. With this love and unity with us, we will survive.

After sharing one final group hug Mickey Hart (Let Mickey talk!) took to the microphone to invite out Dead & Company’s extensive full crew. Joining the band they had toiled so hard to make possible, they lined the stage three deep as Hart extolled the massive efforts of all present to make these last eight years happen. They smiled in unison, a single moment frozen in time. Then, one by one, they dispersed into the night.

The drones returned and became a massive top hat-wearing skeleton made of lights that slowly doffed its cap to the crowd, to the city, and to the world. Rearranging themselves in the sky, a familiar bear went dancing out into the night as it morphed into a rose and, finally, one last twinkling version of the Stealie. Then, like that, it was gone, yet somehow, still there. That’s kinda the point though, isn’t it? It’s gone, but somehow, it remains there shining on us all.

Dead & Company Drone Finale / “Not Fade Away” – 7/16/23

That’s the true gift the Grateful Dead and its successor, Dead & Company, gave the world. A living catalog of music that can be forever nurtured, shining its light on generations to follow as it rings on out into eternity. A love so real and powerful that it not only won’t fade away, it’s a love that simply can not fade away. The night’s last notes might have faded away, the last applause might have faded away, but the love never will.

Revisit Live For Live Music‘s daily coverage of the final Dead & Company run in San Francisco: Friday | Saturday.

Dead & Company – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (Traffic) > “Hey Jude” (The Beatles) – 7/16/23

[Video: nowiknowuryder]

Dead & Company – “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes Of The World” – 7/16/23

[Video: The Zalewski Law Firm]

Dead & Company – “Truckin’” > “Brokedown Palace” > “Not Fade Away” (The Crickets) – 7/16/23

[Video: tony robinson]

Dead & Company – Crowd Chant, Drone Light Show – 7/16/23

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Dead & Company – Oracle Park – San Francisco, CA – 7/16/23 – Full Audio

[Audio: tjj5036]

Setlist: Dead & Company | Oracle Park | San Francisco, CA | 7/16/23

Set One: Bertha > Good Lovin’ (The Rascals) > Loser, High Time, Samson And Deliah, Althea, Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic) > Hey Jude Coda (The Beatles) > Bird Song

Set Two: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Space > Days Between, Cumberland Blues > Sugar Magnolia

Encore: Truckin’ > Brokedown Palace > Not Fade Away (The Crickets)

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