“Never miss a Sunday show.” Somehow, that’s become a thing over the last couple of years. The logic holds up. You could always count on the Grateful Dead (still the source of the entire “jamband” scene) to play strongest on the “off nights.” Friday and Saturday was usually for the masses, but if you wanted to get the show for the hardcores you had to be prepared to deal with work or school the following day.
But the Sunday November 12th show at Madison Square Garden was the fall tour opener for Dead And Company. Their performance at the “Band Together Bay Area” last week was by all accounts a little uneven at best. At the Garden, they’d need to raise their game a bit. They hit the state about 7:15 with “Shakedown Street,” the consummate New York song. The tune hit a nice groove, albeit at a slower pace than the Dead did. However, there was really no attempt a jam after the verses. This was a little disappointing, as this wasn’t usual practice for this band. That’s what makes ”Shakedown,” SHAKEDOWN after all.
However, they segued into their first ever “Greatest Story Ever Told,” which found Bobby in good form. “Bertha” was next, which allowed John Mayer to stretch out a bit. “Cassidy” followed and got a little deep. This was also slowed down, but it seemed like they wanted to find something down at that tempo. They did and allowed keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who was strong all evening, to join in.
It’s hard to believe that Dead And Company had never played “Beat It On Down The Line” before. It’s one of the oldest tunes in the GD catalog and appears on the first album. But since it doesn’t really have a jam in it, it’s probably not an obvious choice for this band to tackle. It worked well, however, and got the crowd in a cheery mood after the darkness of the previous tune’s jam.
“They Love Each Other” wasn’t the standout it was over the summer and the ensuing “Cumberland Blues” began to look like a disaster. Bobby started his rhythm but everybody else seemed to be disjointed like a football team that didn’t know what play was coming. Fortunately, it got going and the keyboards joined in to create something worthy of a set-closer.
The second set kicked things up a notch, as it should. “China Cat Sunflower” got the crowd going and the jam into “I Know You Rider” caught some fire. “Ship Of Fools” found Oteil Burbridge joining in a few verses and “Terrapin Station” was nicely jammed out.
The “Standing On The Moon” that came out of “Drums/Space” allowed Bobby to croon to the crowd and there was a
feeling in the audience that it might go into a set closer. However, “The Other One” put an end to any such speculation. The printed setlist the band posted on social media after the show had these two songs reversed, interestingly. Mayer’s jam before the first verse was the most reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan he’s been since touring with these guys. This is the sound he carried into this band. On this night, however, it worked and ended up being a highlight. The jam after the first verse moved more towards what you’d expect from one of the Dead’s most exploratory pieces.
“Casey Jones” allowed the crowd to sing along and worked itself into a powerful finish. There was only one place left for Sunday’s expected sermon of “Samson & Delilah” and it came as the encore. However, Bobby stayed on stage as everyone departed after “Samson,” so it was clear they weren’t finished. What followed was a joyous “Werewolves Of London.” Even though the Rock Hall refuses to even nominate Warren Zevon (Jann Wenner must be carrying a grudge, I’ve decided), it was a welcome surprise. Bobby fumbled over the “hair was perfect” verse but he’s excused since he hasn’t sung it very often.
Incidentally, there was no mistaking that this was a New York crowd when overheard after “Drums” was a fan charging to the bathroom screaming “Fuck Space—alright, who’s with me?” Only at The Garden.
Photos by Ross Edmunds