Deadheadland would like to welcome a guest blogger, David Bourne, who is/was Bourne Dead. David is a younger 2nd generation head, sharing his perspective as a 21st Century Deadhead on Blogger, Twitter and Facebook. He agreed to review a recent Dead and Company show for DHL. His mother, Sarah Bourne, took pictures. Thank you David and Sarah!
>^.^<m~ | DHL
Dead & Company
— 06-28-2016 — Hartford, CT —
Review by David Bourne, @21stCenturyDead
Summer’s here, folks, and the time is right for driving around New England to see Dead & Company!
The band stopped in Hartford, CT to finish the first leg of the East Coast Summer Tour on Tuesday, before going on a quick jaunt to Colorado then making their way back East for their two Fenway shows. On Tuesday afternoon my parents and I drove down to Hartford through spotty rain with our friend Jimmy to catch the show–our first of the tour! We made it to Hartford without much incident, but the line to get into the parking area was grueling as the local traffic started to mix with the Heads coming off the highway. We ended up at the end of the parking lot farthest from the Xfinity Theatre by the edge of some trees and train tracks, which ended up being pretty helpful as there were no porta-potties in sight. We hung out for a bit while Jimmy went off to hit Shakedown Street and get a ticket, and then about an hour before the show was scheduled to start we headed into the venue. Our seats were all the way to the right in the 400 HH section, which was not ideal as far as sight-lines go, but we (correctly) figured the sound would still be great. Jimmy ended up getting Pit tickets with a poster!
We had plenty of time and space before the show started so we wandered around and checked out the scene. I’ve only been to one other show at an outdoor amphitheater like this in Bethel Woods for Furthur, where it also rained, but we were on the lawn for that one instead of under the roof. They had some beer stands and porta-potties lined up around the lawn, and an inexplicably fenced-in area. I’m sure if I asked someone could have explained, but I’m just going to assume it’s for sheep dog trials; it was too steep for it to be the ADA section, and why would VIP’s want to post up all the way out there? Anyway, after some various smoke breaks we all made it back to the seats in plenty of time for the first set.
- Jam >
- Hell In a Bucket (BW)
- I was thinking “Feel Like a Stranger” before we even got there, and the tuning made me think I was right for a second or two.
- The opening jam, while clearly different from “Hell in a Bucket” proper, made it clear where the song was going.
- I think the song suffers a bit from being slowed down, and some of the extra measures make it easier to get lost, but the band still delivered!
- Cold Rain & Snow (JM)
- Ever since I saw Dead & Company’s free stream from MSG last year, I’ve wanted to see them do this song live. John clearly just loves playing and singing it.
- John really opens up the solo section in this in a way I haven’t seen other Dead bands do, and instead of letting the song roll on its main riff after the solo section he just dives right back into the vocals.
- I was thinking they’d do “Looks Like Rain” for a weather related song, but no complaints here!
- Queen Jane (BW)
- Whenever they play this one I always think, “Wouldn’t you rather play ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ instead?”
- That being said, I loved this version of the song. They absolutely killed it! Bobby transposed a few lyrics, but he still sang very confidently with a strong voice.
- This was Jeff’s first solo of the night, and it told of greatness to come.
- Big River (BW)
- John started the song off, but he and the drummers had a little disagreement about where the downbeat was, so Bobby came in between them and split the difference and the rest of them followed along.
- We saw them do this one in Worcester, so we weren’t thrilled when it started up, but I think this was ultimately a better version of the song.
- Jeff was a little low in the mix up to this point, but then they either made him louder or I just got better at listening for him. Always make Jeff louder!
- Row Jimmy (JM)
- Got this one in Worcester too, but unlike “Big River,” this one did not seem quite as good as its Worcester counterpart.
- There were a few spots where John came in a little early or seemed to lose the beat, but the band rolled with it without flinching.
- John pulled out some unbelievable solos here, so by no means did he blow it. He just didn’t get it just exactly perfect.
- My mom correctly figured out they must have done this one because we gave Jimmy a ride to the show!
- Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo (BW) >
- The tuning made me think they were doing “Tennessee Jed,” which I was hoping for for the same reason as “Cold Rain & Snow,” but this was an incredibly welcome alternative.
- They gave this one the Furthur treatment where they repeat the “half step” line over and over before going into the final “hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye” verse. Phil still does this with some of his Friends, so they must have agreed it was a good addition to the song.
- Absolutely one of the highlights of the night. The solos in the first section of the song were some of the best of the show, but the big jam after the “on my way” verse just blew everyone away. John had one of those moments where you think the jam is winding down or maybe going to falter, but then he takes a deep breath and breaks through to the next level and takes everyone with him.
- Cumberland Blues (ALL)
- Another welcome surprise, and a great way to close the set!
- Surprisingly a little bit jazzy like when Phil & Friends play it, but maybe that was just Jeff taking charge.
- As I mentioned there were some lyrical flubs in this show, but the singing itself was some of the best I’ve heard from a Dead band. The harmonies on this song especially were phenomenal, almost like they had rehearsed! Jeff and Oteil are really showing that they are multi-talented musicians.
They rocked the set to a close, and Bobby told us to go register at the Participation Row booths outside so we could vote the assholes out of power. We couldn’t hear any of that too well at the time, but we got the basic gist, especially when he said they were taking a short break; they’re always taking breaks! We milled about while some of the crew went to the bathroom or to smoke. By this time the place was completely packed, and what was once an empty field with plenty of room to smoke and walk about had become a dense crowd on a damp slope. Looking at the setlists from the previous nights, my dad and I deduced they were guaranteed to play “Playing in the Band,” “Estimated Prophet,” and “Eyes of the World,” maybe even in that order, and we were pretty psyched! Two out of three ain’t bad as far as predictions go, but I still want that “Playing!” My dad made it back just in time for the second set, and the tuning showed that our estimations (ha) had been at least partially correct.
- Estimated Prophet > (BW)
- Another echo of Worcester, but it felt like a very different “Estimated.” It changed from an undulating song about a raving, senile lunatic to what feels like a more apocalyptic song with a sharper yet spacier feeling.
- John was really shining on this one. While sometimes the odd time signatures of the Dead’s songs seem to trip him up, other times it’s clear that he’s mastered the art. Some of the things he does with his guitar seem more like magic tricks than music, which is very reminiscent of Jerry’s playing.
- John built the closing jam up to a climax that I was sure was about to materialize into a fast-paced “Eyes,” but then he brought the whole band back into the “Estimated” 14/4 lope with a snap of his fingers (or a thwack of a string). They chugged along for a bit and let the jam mellow/melt down, and John started up the familiar, but slower rhythm of…
- Eyes of the World > (BW)
- Dead & Company has famously been killing this song ever since their first tour, and we were so excited to see what it would bring!
- I’d be interested to hear how John would sing this song, but Bobby does a pretty decent job of it.
- This song just didn’t want to end. They ended up playing it for a bit over twenty minutes, and you can tell they could have played it for another half hour! John’s playing sounded so fluid and effortless, and the whole band was totally locked in with one another. Jeff took a bit of a solo after the second verse, but then he, Bobby, John, and Oteil formed a group mind and took the playing even higher together.
- After the final verse Oteil stepped up for a solo that really shows how much of a genius he is. He and the drummers got a little off-kilter at first, but Billy has fifty years of experience following all sorts of bass solos, and got back on track right away. Oteil’s bass playing is a lot jazzier with less bombast than Phil’s used to be, but he can still drop some bombs, and he was flying from the high to the low end of the bass’ range.
- The song used to go through different chord changes or just a jam on one chord after the final verse, but these guys played it straight like the rest of the song, which is interesting. I obviously loved this “Eyes,” but I think the song would be better served if they changed it up a little.
- Deal > (JM)
- A totally unexpected song to come out of “Eyes!” John really just slammed into this as soon as the jam started to lag, and everyone jumped right in with him.
- Probably the best “Deal” I’ve ever seen. They did this in Worcester last year too, but it just didn’t seem as fully formed as this version.
- John and Jeff each played enough solos in this new arrangement for about four or five complete versions of the original arrangement, and that’s a very good thing! In fact it’s awesome!!
- Viola Lee Blues > (ALL)
- They didn’t end “Deal” on a big discordant chord, so this one caught me by surprise, but I was thrilled to see it again just over a year after the Rainbow “Viola Lee” from Fare Thee Well.
- The song felt a lot longer at the time than the ten minutes that the tracklisting would indicate.
- This is another one where John is clearly having the time of his life. From what I know of his previous career he’s a total blues guy with shades of virtuosity, and this is the perfect song to let someone like that loose on. Bobby just has to set him up, point him in the right direction, and say, “Go!”
- They ended this with a big meltdown that almost turned into straight feedback, but Mickey started his rhythm loops going and banging on his boxes, so the rest of the band left the stage…for now.
- Drums >
- A much shorter “Drums” than I expected, but still fun! Billy and Mickey had really been playing fantastically all night, with Billy especially shining. Mickey, I think, can be a little too prone to hanging back in songs and just whacking a cowbell once in a while, but has really been stepping up lately as a key player the whole show. This, of course, is his time to go totally nuts!
- We were dancing along and had moved down in our aisle because everyone had cleared out (wimps), and then we noticed: Jeff is onstage for “Drums!” Oteil started joining them regularly last year so we weren’t surprised to see him up there, but as far as I know this was the first time Jeff had joined in. He wasn’t just playing drums though, instead he was honking at an array of clown horns! I called it right then and there that this band was turning into ‘78 Dead, and soon the whole band would be out on stage for “Drums” again. At the next show, John joined them on the horns too, so I was more right than I thought!
- Space >
- Everyone cleared out and Mickey started bearing down on that Beam of his. It’s too bad it doesn’t come through as clearly on recordings, but the Beam is really one of the highlights of these shows. The different rhythms and sounds Mickey can get out of it are so weird and creative, but it all boils down to those low, Earth-crumbling bass chords that he just lays out on us. The whole structure of the theater and my skeleton were all vibrating at this frequency that I don’t think most people even know exists!
- “Space” has really been turning into a much more interesting part of the show this tour. Last year it always just seemed kind of lazy and noodly, but they seem to have made conscious efforts to turn them into thematic jams, which I bet Phil would approve of.
- At a few points I thought they were going to go into “Spanish Jam,” and all my dreams would come true, but not this time! Instead they drifted into a kind of “Slipknot!,” “Let It Grow” kind of territory, then mellowed out and resurfaced into…
- The Wheel > (ALL)
- This band is just so fucking good, I’m telling ya…
- More perfect vocals all around here, and the playing was just stellar. This arrangement of the song starts out a lot more like the straightforward versions that the Grateful Dead proper played, as opposed to the totally opened-up versions that Phil likes to play, so that was pretty cool.
- Soon, though, the song started going into new territory. They had another little jam between the “robin run around” and “small wheel/big wheel” verses that was filled with ethereal goodness, and then started on the closing jam, but it kept sounding more and more different different…
- I’ve been following pretty much the whole tour on various live streams, which has been great, but it kind of ruined the surprise of what they did next. John has started mixing the lyrics of the old song “Stay” into “The Wheel,” singing the line instead as, “Won’t you tryyyyy, just a little bit harder? Oh won’t you tryyyyyy, just a little bit more?” And as if that wasn’t different enough, the song then transforms into a total reggae jam-fest! Even though I did see it coming, it’s still just such a novel thing to do with such a classic song!
- Black Peter > (BW)
- My dad famously hates Bobby’s singing on this song ever since he saw him do it with Furthur, but has decided to change his mind and enjoy it.
- This song too has a new arrangement where they sing the “see here how everything” line twice, once before and once after the solo section. I’m not sure that’s the best possible version of the song, but these guys totally killed it anyway.
- I had also called this one as a weather song, so was glad to be vindicated!
- US Blues (JM)
- I like this much better as a set closer or opener than as an encore, so a pleasant surprise for me!
- Not the longest version of the song, but they were not holding anything back as they rocked the night to a close.
- Touch of Grey (BW & JM)
- The second song I got to cross off my list this night, and a great encore.
- Like some other songs they do, I think this one’s a little slow, but they still play it so well. John and Bobby trading lyrics sounds so natural, and the solos were really good.
- While it is a great song and I was glad to get it, my dad has correctly pointed out that this song doesn’t have much variation to it. The best versions are almost indistinguishable from the worst versions because the song is so very much the same each time. Still though, a great way to end the night!
We hoped for a second encore, but no such luck. Billy was riling up the crowd and looking like he was having a grand old time, and Jeff escorted him off the stage — save it for the after party, Bill! We made it out of the theater pretty easily and had a straight shot out to the far end of the parking lot where we met with Jimmy again. Even though we were pretty close to the entrance/exit, we could see there was no hope of getting out of the parking lot any time soon; they seemed to be letting the VIP parking lot out first. So we decided to just cool our feet in a bit of drizzle and have a couple beers while we watched the clusterfuck unfold. Eventually it cleared up and we headed for the highway, where it was smooth sailing from there all the way back to Boston.
Well that’s my first Dead & Company show of the tour! I want to thank DeadHeadLand.com for letting me do this guest post, and I hope some of you will follow my regular blog (http://bournedead.blogspot.com/) where I have old reviews and new ones soon to come out and much more!
Photos ©2016 Sarah Bourne
My mom took excellent pictures! The full album is available here, and the blurry cell phone pictures are mine.