Dead & Company Guitarists Evoke the Grateful Glory Days
By Tyler Blue (@tylerblue)
The best concerts are those that transcend the realm of music. They fill you with emotion. They trigger memories from the past and create new ones to hold onto long into the future. What Dead and Company is doing right now is unprecedented. They are embodying the role of a tribute band, yet anyone familiar with their source material would be remiss to assign them that title. After years of various incarnations since the passing of Jerry Garcia, a lineup has finally emerged to carry the coveted torch. In Wheatland, CA on the second-to-last stop on their summer tour, Dead & Co. revealed itself in a form akin to the Grateful Dead in its prime.
Any comprehensive conversation about Dead & Co. should include the entire band because this is a symbiotic unit which relies on collective contribution rather than one leader. However, we’re focusing on guitars here which whittles us down from six to three. Bob Weir’s complex, jazzy rhythm work has long been the stuff of lore. However, it’s appreciation used to be reserved for hardcore Deadheads straining their ears to hear him in the mix. In this band, Weir is turned up louder than ever before; every nuance of his intricate playing ringing out across the Toyota Amphitheatre. His ebony D’Angelico EX-DC hollow body was the most captivating of the few guitars he played in Wheatland. The warm, metallic twang carved out a cozy niche within the gritty blues of “Easy Wind” and the languid ooze of “Row Jimmy.”
Oteil Burbridge is the new guy who everyone can agree on. He has already taken a quantum leap from his more staid role in The Allman Brothers Band. This is an example of a musician evolving at a breathtaking clip; sculpting his style and stretching boundaries to achieve the full potential at hand. His Fodera Signature Monarch six string bass is the ideal vehicle for such innovation. His nimble runs up the instrument’s massive neck sent the groove simmering over the brim on numerous occasions. Burbridge is always dancing while he plays which comes through in his loose, whimsical sound. He saved his best for last, unleashing a rapid-fire sequence of bombs during the climax of the fan favorite, “Morning Dew.” It was a jaw-dropping bolt of lightning hurled like a mohawked Zeus into the center of a swirling cyclone.
John Mayer is the man filling the biggest shoes and doing so with grace and unassuming confidence. If you want to hit like Teddy Williams in the big leagues, you need a bat of almost mythical construction. Mayer has found it with his Paul Reed Smith Private Stock Super Eagle guitar. It appeared that he played three different versions of this axe in Wheatland, each with a different finish. Two of these were exotic in color, like creatures from “Avatar.” These are instruments of stunning beauty, world-class tonal clarity and limitless versatility. Very few artists are capable of executing the sort of masterful, improvisational performance Mayer authored over the course of three-plus hours. The evening reached its zenith as he blazed a trail through the ultra-classic pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” segued into “I Know You Rider;” Searing leads balanced with jagged rhythms. It’s one thing to be a technician on stage as he is, but far more significant to be a generator of energy transcending the physical plane.