Grateful Dead offshoot illuminate the sky at final San

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While the rest of the country sweltered, San Francisco offered concertgoers perfect weather on Sunday for the last show of Dead & Company’s final tour. The sunny afternoon and cool evening were the kind of fortuitous happenstance that Grateful Dead fans celebrate as omens. And even for those who don’t subscribe to Deadhead augury, Sunday night’s sold-out concert at Oracle Park, the last of a three-night run and a kind of homecoming for the band, did not disappoint. 

The two-set show, capped with a lengthy three-song encore, covered a satisfying range of the Dead’s storied repertoire, including celebrated touchstones along with a few less obvious choices. It was proof that this band remains true to the spirit of idiosyncratic independence that defined the Grateful Dead. The performance offered a soulful, celebratory, and often moving farewell to a band that for many fans has become the prime inheritor of the Dead’s musical mantle. Dead & Company’s eight-year run, which evolved into a full-fledged stadium show, gave a new generation of fans a chance to experience the power of the Dead’s music the way it was meant to be heard: live and in the moment.

The scene outside could have been straight out of the Dead’s heyday. Shakedown Street, the sprawling parking lot Deadhead craft bazaar, was in full sway before the show, with good spirits and low-key security. Vendors said they had had a good tour, though many looked road-worn, but no sign of that appeared in the musicians on stage. Critics anticipating burnout, fatigue or just old age on the part of Bob Weir and Mickey Hart have been flummoxed by the tour, which has consistently offered first-rate performances characterized by innovative set lists.

Dead & Company performs at Oracle Park on July 16, 2023, in San Francisco. 

Dead & Company performs at Oracle Park on July 16, 2023, in San Francisco. 

Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

Equal credit for that goes to the four younger band members. John Mayer, whose passion for the Dead’s music is obvious, surprised insiders when the band formed, but any reservations have long since disappeared. His skillful guitar work on Sunday provided an eloquent counterpoint to Weir’s. Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and Jay Lane are veterans of several post-Dead aggregations, and Oteil Burbridge’s background and versatility made him a natural, letting him join in on drums for the percussion interlude as well. Lane, a new addition to Dead & Company, sitting in for original Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, made a flawless contribution.

The 20-song concert, along with the second-set freeform improvisational segment dubbed “Drums and “Space,” drew from all three decades of the Dead’s career. The band opened with “Bertha,” which was written as a whimsical homage to an unstable office ventilation fan. The song’s refrain — “Bertha, don’t you come around here anymore” — sounded tonight like a repudiation of fate, a defiant refusal to accept the idea of disbanding. It was the first of a 1970s-heavy set list, an era that for many listeners represents the Dead’s peak.

Dead & Company fans Jackson Campbell and Reagan Westfall, of Oregon, pose at Oracle Park before the bands final performance on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.

Dead & Company fans Jackson Campbell and Reagan Westfall, of Oregon, pose at Oracle Park before the bands final performance on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.


Jane Tyska/East Bay Times/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Dead & Company performs their last show together at Oracle Park on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.

Dead & Company performs their last show together at Oracle Park on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.


Jane Tyska/East Bay Times/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Fans enjoy Dead & Company’s final show at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

The first set honored the Dead’s own influences, from a powerful reading of “Samson and Delilah,” a song Weir learned from legendary bluesman Rev. Gary Davis, to more contemporary fare like “Good Lovin’,” made famous by the Rascals and first performed by the Dead in 1966. “Hey Jude” was a song the Dead first played in 1969; on Sunday, the band paired its reprise with Traffic’s 1967 hit “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” a medley the Dead honed in the mid-1980s. Both were especially effective tonight, offering their anthemic qualities without sounding contrived or forced.

This band has its own history, however, and that shone throughout. “Althea,” the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter ballad that first sparked John Mayer’s appreciation for the Dead, was a stand-out of the first set, as was bassist Oteil Burbridge’s impassioned singing of “High Time.” A remarkable rendition of “Bird Song” closed the set, its elegiac tone (originally written to mourn the untimely death of band friend Janis Joplin) was perfectly suited for the evening.

The wide-ranging second set showcased the continuities and evolution of the Dead’s music, as well as the tenure of Dead & Company. A powerhouse opening of “Help on the Way” into “Slipknot!” followed by “Franklin’s Tower” plumbed every nuance of the challenging segues, embracing an almost dissonant deconstruction that showcased the band’s sophistication. The two Weir originals, “Estimated Prophet” and “Sugar Magnolia,” were powerhouses, but so were the Garcia songs, including a searing “Eyes of the World” and a powerful “Days Between,” which Weir has now performed far more times than the Dead. More surprising was “Cumberland Blues,” an unlikely showcase that tonight became something entirely new, perhaps the most telling and subtle statement of what Dead & Company have done with the band’s repertoire. The three-song encore wrapped everything into a satisfying close, opening with “Truckin’,” the Dead’s signature road anthem, into “Brokedown Palace,” one of their most poignant elegies, and concluding with the last part of “Not Fade Away,” which had been the surprise opener on the first night of this run.                  

John Mayer, Jay Lane, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart of Dead & Company perform at Oracle Park on July 16, 2023, in San Francisco.

John Mayer, Jay Lane, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart of Dead & Company perform at Oracle Park on July 16, 2023, in San Francisco.

Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

This tour has earned accolades even from old-timers who long ago hung up their tie-dyes, and tonight was no exception. Weir’s singing and playing were consistently strong and Hart’s drumming never flagged, ranging from muscular and propulsive to strikingly nuanced and lyrical during the percussion interlude in the second set. Dead & Company’s touring dues have paid off handsomely: The band’s range and precision are remarkable, with innovative reinterpretations of old classics and reinvigorated chestnuts impressing even jaded fans. And while Sunday’s set list didn’t plumb the most arcane crannies of the Dead’s remarkably deep songbook, the music was inspiring and inventive in ways that honored the Dead’s storied past and made it clear that their legacy is far from static.

Although this is billed as Dead & Company’s final San Francisco show, no one is talking about retirement. The indefatigable Weir has already announced shows for the fall, and Bill Kreutzmann has dates booked in August. Hart is ever busy, Mayer has his solo career, and Burbridge, Chimenti and Lane are always in demand. Fan rumors of possible reunion gigs are already floating through the scene, but those seem more a testament to how thoroughly this band has managed to harness the Dead’s elusive spirit. And for both old fans and new, Dead & Company proved worthy heirs of the band’s legacy, as tonight’s concert proved.    

A drone show lights up the sky over McCovey Cove at Oracle Park before Dead & Companys final performance on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.

A drone show lights up the sky over McCovey Cove at Oracle Park before Dead & Companys final performance on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.


Jane Tyska/East Bay Times/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

A drone show lights up the sky over McCovey Cove at Oracle Park before Dead & Company's final performance on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.

A drone show lights up the sky over McCovey Cove at Oracle Park before Dead & Company’s final performance on their farewell tour in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, July 16, 2023.


Jane Tyska/East Bay Times/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Drones illuminate the skies over Oracle Park in San Francisco for Dead & Company’s final show.

That makes this farewell bittersweet. From drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s decision to bow out to the announcement that this would be the final tour, which apparently took some band members by surprise, the messaging left fans puzzled. The tour has been its own answer, with the music doing the talking, but in this show, Hart made an exception, directly addressing the crowd at the end. He thanked the crew as well as the crowd, saying “Without you, there is no us.” In a nice touch, the impressive drone display culminated in a quotation referencing Hart’s words at the final Fare Thee Well concert in Chicago, just before Dead & Company formed: “Please be kind.”

It was a fitting final statement, and a nod to the ways that the surviving band members have woven their work together for nearly 6- years, knitting a complex history whose next chapter is now an open question once more.

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