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Concert Reviews:
Dead & Company keeps the Deadheads truckin' at DTE

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, July 8, 2016

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- The Grateful Dead is...well, dead, as of a year ago.

But its successor, Dead & Company, showed it has plenty of life, and legs, during its first Michigan appearance on Thursday night, July 7, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.

With visibly and audibly fresh energy provided by newcomers John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge, the new model Dead held true to the highly improvised, thrill-ride style Deadheads hold so dear. Over the course of an 18-song show whose three hours of music (plus a 40-minute intermission) ran right up to the venue curfew of 11 p.m., the sextet -- which also features Dead veterans Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and longtime Dead cohort Jeff Chimenti on keyboards -- served up A-list favorites ("Truckin'," "Casey Jones," "Playing In the Band") along with an array of intriguing covers it made its own, everything dosed with epic-length solos that straddled a line between the earthy and the psychedelic.

It wasn't sold out and the usually chaotic parking lot scene was more subdued than in previous Dead appearances, but the spirit was certainly right as the group strolled on stage, tuning up for a few minutes before winding its way into "Jack Straw," one of two songs -- along with "Truckin'" -- that name-checked Detroit. As Mayer, a Grammy Award winner and multi-platinum hitmaker in his own right, broke off into his first solo of the night it established the fact he would be the star of the show, an even more dominant aural presence than even the late Jerry Garcia was in his prime.

The good news is that the rest of Dead & Company as well as the Deadheads have embraced Mayer as a kindred spirit, giving him all the sonic room he needed. And he used it well, recreating just enough of Garcia's familiar, ringing tone to pay homage but without at all compromising his own instrumental voice, which spoke loud on clear on epic solos during blistering renditions of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" and Cannon's Jug Stompers "Minglewood Blues" and especially during the "Playing In The Band" suite that also enveloped hot versions of the reggae-tinged "Estimated Prophet," "Cumberland Blues" and "Truckin'."

Mayer also proved a complementary vocal partner for Weir and Chimenti, while arrangements of "Friend of the Devil" and "Sugaree" took on smoother, poppier directions that placed them somwhere between vintage Dead and Mayer's own material. Mayer even set the tone for the "Drums" showcase by looping a driving, EDM-like groove into the mix, and he spiced "Space" with some textured playing using wah-wah and other effects.

Behind Mayer the rest of Dead & Company played with mostly nimble if loose-limbed precision, the botched end of Henry Thomas' "Don't Easy Me In" the only obvious gaffe. And it handled renditions of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece," Garcia's "The Wheel" and the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" like they were band originals. A closing tandem of "Casey Jones" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" had the Deadheads, especially on the lawn, twirling in ecstatic celebration -- rejoining, perhaps, the arrival of a new entity drawn from the same musical spirit that may just keep them spinning for some time.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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