Editor’s note: Enjoy this review of the opening show for the current Dead & Company tour by fellow Deadhead and Nevada resident “Renodoc.”
The Renodoc is In!
Dead & Co. May 27, 2017
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV
I wouldn’t have traveled just to see this show. I saw 77 “real” Dead shows and stayed away from all the Other One Family and Friends incarnations until the Dead and I both turned 50 in 2015. I felt blessed to see the “Wake of the Flood” Santa Clara show—if not a touch disappointed that I missed the Live Dead extravaganza they put on the opening night of that tour. To me, the joy that Trey Anastasio displays on center stage is a pure sight to behold. Trey’s obvious pleasure at getting to front some of his formative legends was inspiring from opener to encore.
Gumby and I went to Vegas for the wedding of an old-school Vegas showgirl. I didn’t even know Dead & Company were playing on a night that worked into our schedule. And the fact is, the only reason I even looked twice was the nugs.net show displaying a Help>Slip>Frank and St. Stephen that got my attention. This John Mayer guy had chops!
Comparisons to all the Jerry Dead are easy to make, and since I’ve gravitated towards Phish since ’94, those side by sides seem standard as well. Especially since the venue, the “soon to be displaced by T-mobile” center of the Vegas jam universe has played host to the last two Halloween Phish runs, including the epic, and arguably best Phish show I’ve had the pleasure to experience in 2014.
So, we planned to hit up the made-famous-by Dr. Pauly bloody mary Pub 1842 at the MGM pre-show. There isn’t any “Shakedown” to speak of in Vegas. And where did that terminology come from anyway? Back in the late 80s and early 90s I don’t know ANYONE who referred to the “trade a puppy for a ticket”, “veggie burritos” lot scene by that name. Seems like most of the heads planned the same trip to the Pub 1842, and if it wasn’t for Gumby’s flashy smile I don’t think we would have received drinks or seats.
Two-martinis in, we make the short walk to the venue and are directed to a “short-cut” entrance down the stairs, across the street, and in a back door marked VIP. Cool.
Showtime is 8 PM and lights are around 30 minutes later. I’m psyched, get those old opening jitters and what comes together in my head sure sounds like it’s going to be Shakedown Street for a few elongated seconds until Bobby and John slowly get into “Music Never Stopped.” Good choice! Pretty darn sure I haven’t seen that open before, and, well, it’s about an obvious a message this band could have chosen to deliver to this crowd. Halfway thru I realize that indeed, the music is playing the band, but the hand-clapping children are nowhere to be found. The geriatric crowd (I was a youngster tonight)—many of whom probably traded social security checks for tickets has the energy of a catholic funeral mass—not even one of those funky Luthern services where everyone knows all the lyrics and by god they clap their hands together when they’re supposed to. And where’s the glow? The lights in the crowd? The glow-stick wars? The spinners in the aisles dancing their asses off to the point where security in flashlighting their faces to get them back to their seats?
The first set somewhat meanders through some standards with the basic old Dead formula. Bobby song/Jerry Song/Bobby/Jerry. And if Bobby just sang his songs and he let Trey—I mean John-sing, we’d all be grateful. The “we’re in Vegas theme starts to take shape with Dire Wolf and his card game and Loser later in the set. The side screens show some gambling related themes with slot machines and roulette wheels during much of these numbers. A very nice Jack Straw preceded the Loser and it had a fantastic slightly teasy intro that seemed to fake out most of the crowd, making me wonder if their Dead cred was suspect or their collective brains have just melted over the years. Brown-Eyed Woman and Friend of the Devil were serviceable, but nothing special. Birdsong then had its own trippy intro and the first real jamming of the night. At one point the chord progression broke down but the band quickly recovered and went into a slightly different direction before asking the crowd not to cry anymore. The obvious set closer here would have been Deal, thus the moment of disappointment when the band hung up their instruments and walked off. It turns out that Cassidy was programmed into the set closer spot, but for whatever reason (Bobby’s prostate?) they decided to take a pass on it.
After one set I was thinking “meh.” But then this was a pretty common theme back in the day anyway! I was hoping for a second set Scarlet opener – especially since by now we all knew “we were too pat to open.” Of course, the elusive Help on the Way is always welcome, and even China>Rider would have got my juices flowing.
When they started instead into “Playin in the Band” I figured it was possible something special might happen a la 1973 Pauley Pavilion. You know… the old Playin>Uncle John’s Band>Morning Dew>Uncle Johns>Playin’! Heh. Wake up old man, do you want a nostalgia show or are you getting into the vibe that this half old/half young six-pack is throwing down? After a brief contemplation, I rolled with the latter and was rewarded by a long complex jam out of Playin that had Other One teases and eventually transmogrified into a fast R & B riff that was going to be “Truckin’” 900,000 times out of 900,001. But it wasn’t. This was instead the “New Deal” that had somehow escaped the first set and finally blew the roof off the place.* The geezers woke up, the crowd was dancing, the jamming was flowing—all was right in Deadland in the desert.
Mayer had to switch out guitars after that as he probably shredded that first one into oblivion in that “Deal.” Once situated with a new axe, he promptly initiated the funky China Cat riff. Bobby fiddled and diddled for many many measures before joining in and then the entire band powered thru a joyful rendition. The “>” was going to be a question in my mind- would they pull it off, or would it be more like the ScarletFire from Chicago where the “>” got aborted, ripcorded and skewered beyond recognition? Pleasantly surprised to report that the transition seemed fine- about what could be expected in this time and space. Cartoonish figures of Jerry on the screens seemed to garner almost zero crowd response when hailing a Northbound train. Where’s the love?
Drums came next and since I pretty much knew this part of the show, I went for water. Amazing bush-league stuff here as the entire venue was sold out of H2O. WTF? A $14 Corona would have to do for now. The space that followed was short and indeed, the previously teased Other One trembled and exploded, sort of, onto the stage. Several times in the set the band slowed down songs, adding extra measures and stretching out the lyrics. This was most effective here, as “The Other One” doesn’t really have much in the way of words anyway.
The tempo got even slower as the band slotted to play the “Comes a Time/Stella Blue/Wharf Rat” spot, this time filled by “Black Peter.” Not on the top of my list for penultimate song, but in common with the others is that Bobby isn’t supposed to sing it. Let John Sing More, please. Hoping for a palate-cleansing Sugar Mag to wrap things up, I had forgotten the day of the week and was reminded that it was indeed “One More Saturday Night.” This closer rocked, and showcased Bobby’s famous howl/scream vocals.
The encore, perhaps predictably, was “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” which got a loud reception when Gregg Allman’s image was shown on the main screen. I had expected the band to perhaps play an Allman’s song to honor the brother who died earlier in the day, but this was a nice tribute. “Playin’ reprise” closed the night. Hey, it ain't Tweezer but it let the audience go home upbeat.
If you’re going to see this band, leave your expectations at the door. Its paradoxical somewhat in that if the Grateful Dead had never existed this band would be much better than they are. But then of course, can you see here how everything lead up to this day?
*The roof of the place was actually blown off during “The Birds” on 10/31/14. Its ironic to me that in the early 90s everyone on tour compared Phish to the Dead with Deadheads universally looking down at these upstarts from Vermont. Now, the tables are turned and we have one band that must be near the end of their incredible live touring run and another that has essentially become a tribute band. Trey has more energy in his B-string then what’s left of the Grateful Dead. Yes, be grateful that Bobby and the Rhythm Devils are doing this, but don’t pass on the opportunity to see the true masters of jam a few more times before health, boredom, or other curveballs puts Phish on the shelf.