Citi Field was overrun with tie-dye vibes Saturday as Dead & Company began its two-night stand in Queens. Comprised of founding Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, along with a cadre of hired guns including singer/songwriter John Mayer, the band put on an inspired, vigorous show that gave fans exactly what they wanted: the chance to sing along to tunes they've cherished for decades and get lost in the jams.
When Weir and Mayer announced the formation of their new group last fall, most Deadheads were still riding the bittersweet high of the Grateful Dead's Fare Thee Well shows, concerts organized to both commemorate the band's 50 year anniversary and announce its retirement.
Coming so soon after many had said goodbye to the group, the Mayer-fied Dead sounded like a die-hard's worst nightmare. But over a series of sold out shows and TV appearances, the band's reason for being took shape. The Grateful Dead's catalog is, to a large extent, rocket fuel for guitar pyrotechnics; Mayer's virtuoso skills have re-ignited the flame and fans have seemingly welcomed him as one of their own.
"When you keep the spirit of the Dead alive, and you have somebody who's in tune with their music like John Mayer, the guy's an amazing guitarist and if he fits the mold and it meshes on stage and the crowd digs it, that's music," Arty Juers, 62, said. The Freeport resident boasted that he'd seen over 20 Grateful Dead shows, and was happy to see fans gathered in Citi Field's parking lot before showtime.
"Deadheads have a certain aura about them. They kick back, they enjoy the ride, who's getting high, who's smiling? It's a great crowd, man," Juers said.
"I think John fits better than a lot of people would. He's a big fan and always has been, and that's great," Brooklyn Heights resident Stewart Goodbody said as she waited in line for a fan-made grilled cheese. "There's nothing like a Grateful Dead show. The crowd is awesome, the music is great, it makes you happy."
Thousands of fans milled through the parking lot, also known as "Shakedown Street," where vendors sold clothing, jewelry, food, and keepsakes, as they did while following the Grateful Dead on tour for decades. Vintage tour posters, homemade burritos, stickers, dirt-cheap beer, hacky sacks, crystal geodes, paintings, pipes, and any number of illicit substances were bought and sold Saturday. It's at once a bustling micro-economy and a comforting, fun part of the Deadhead community which, by all accounts Saturday, was happy to hear the band still going strong.
Once the band hit the stage, Dead and Company showed itself to be a faster, hungrier version of the group fans bid farewell to last summer, and Saturday's show was a more enjoyable trek through the Grateful Dead songbook on almost all counts.
Perhaps because Dead and Company are removed from the gravity surrounding the Fare Thee Well shows, which were billed as the last time the four surviving Dead members would play together, everything seemed much looser and more comfortable. Much younger and thinner "Jerry Garcia Mk 3.5" John Mayer joked around with other members on stage, and was at ease handling lead vocals on songs like "Sugaree" and "Althea." Heavy-hitting jam combinations like the second set’s "Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire on the Mountain" didn’t ramble on longer than needed just to see what obscure nooks could be explored—they were done justice and didn’t overstay their welcome. By the surprise acoustic encore of "Ripple," the music seemed like an old friend that had stopped by to catch up on a Saturday night in June, and left right as everyone had spoken their peace.
Additional reporting by Cooper Lund
Shakedown Street >
Ramble On Rose
Dark Star >
Friend Of The Devil >
Scarlet Begonias >
Fire On The Mountain >
The Other One >
Wharf Rat >
One More Saturday Night