Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dead & Company at Worcester Centrum, 11-10-15 Concert Review

"Peggy O"
It was at the Worcester Centrum that I saw my first Grateful Dead concert. April 7th, 1988. I’m not sure what happened during that three-night stand (April 7, 8, 9), but the Dead didn’t play that venue again (though I did see the Jerry Garcia Band there in 1991). Well, last night I returned to that venue to see the latest incarnation of the greatest live band that ever was. This configuration is called Dead & Company, and includes Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, along with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. The Centrum is now called DCU Center, but we’ll just ignore that. It will always be the Centrum as far as I’m concerned.

The band took the stage at 7:23 p.m., and opened with one of my favorites, “Cassidy.” The sound wasn’t loud enough, but we were at the very back of the room (there was only one row behind us), so that might have been a factor in the apparent lack of volume. The band stretched out right from the beginning, giving us a nice, long “Cassidy” jam. They followed that with “Row Jimmy,” with John Mayer on lead vocals. I had never heard him before, and I wasn’t all that impressed by his voice. It lacks that experience and heartache that always made Jerry Garcia’s voice so moving. Sure, Mayer is decades younger than the Grateful Dead members (and even younger than me), but Jerry had that quality even in his twenties. But whatever you say about Mayer's voice, the guy can certainly play guitar, no question.

Bob Weir sang lead on “Ramble On Rose,” which was one of the highlights of the first set, and included some cool stuff by Jeff Chimenti on keys. “Big River” was good, but nothing extraordinary, and my mind wandered a bit during a mellow “Peggy O,” but the “Sugaree” which followed was fantastic, starting off slow and sweet, then building into something powerful. That was the other first set highlight for me. The first set ended with “The Music Never Stopped,” which felt a bit messy at first. There was an added “Never stopped” vocal part near the end, and a really good jam, leaving us happy going into the set break.

The first set ended at 8:38 p.m., and I joined all the other guys in the line for the bathroom. From what I’d been reading, Dead & Company had been doing long set breaks (just as the Grateful Dead had done), so we figured we had at least forty-five minutes, maybe an hour. But my brother thought there might be a curfew at the Centrum, and so he wasn’t surprised when the band returned to the stage at 9:15 p.m., only thirty-seven minutes later – a short break by Dead standards.

The second set, as usual, was where most of the magic was. Interestingly, they opened with “Deal,” a song which usually closed the first set. And this was a lively, energetic version, particularly in the jam. Mayer was on lead vocals. It led right into a really nice “Uncle John’s Band,” with a surprisingly smooth transition. By the way, the sound was a lot better in the second set. During the set break, I’d been talking with the folks in front of me, one of whom really wanted to hear “Estimated Prophet,” one of her favorites. (I told her I wanted to hear “Ripple,” my all-time favorite song, and coincidentally the favorite song of the woman seated next to me on the plane as I write this – but more on “Ripple” later.) So when they started “Estimated,” we got excited. It’s nice to hear it right before flying back to California (“I know where to go”), though this version was a bit messy at times. Everything that followed it was wonderful, beginning with a really good “Terrapin Station.” John Mayer sang lead until “Inspiration,” when Bob Weir took over. By the way, Bob pronounces “cicadas” correctly, something which Jerry never did for some reason. “Terrapin” led into a phenomenal “Drums” segment, which had a Bo Diddley beat at one point that got the crowd clapping. Bassist Oteil Burbridge got behind Bill’s kit for most of “Drums,” keeping a great groove that kept us dancing for quite a while before things drifted into weirder territory.

“Space” was nice, and it led into the biggest surprise of the night, “Dear Prudence,” a song I don’t believe the Grateful Dead ever performed, but one which Jerry Garcia did at Jerry Garcia Band shows fairly often. This was such a treat, and it was one Dead & Company hadn’t played before. They followed that with another surprise, “Get Out Of My Life, Woman,” which is also one the Grateful Dead never did, but which Jerry Garcia Band did. John Mayer sang lead on this one, which was in tribute to its author, Allen Toussaint, who had died earlier in the day. They rounded out the second set with a very fun “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.”

The second set ended at 10:46 p.m. It was an hour and thirty-one minutes, perhaps a bit short, but when the band came back out only like ninety seconds later for the encore, both Bob and John had acoustic guitars, and I got very excited, very hopeful. I know they’d played “Ripple” at one other show on this tour, and so it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. I held my breath until the first notes of my favorite song were played, and then I shouted out and actually jumped. This was one of those magical moments, the reason I love going to see live music. I never got to see the Grateful Dead play this song, but I finally got to see a few members of the band do it, and it was wonderful. A perfect ending to a really good show.

The concert ended at 10:53 p.m., and we headed out into the light rain feeling damn good, and looking forward to the New Year’s Eve show.

Set List

Set I
  1. Cassidy
  2. Row Jimmy
  3. Ramble On Rose
  4. Big River
  5. Peggy O
  6. Sugaree
  7. The Music Never Stopped
Set II
  1. Deal >
  2. Uncle John’s Band
  3. Estimated Prophet >
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Drums >
  6. Space >
  7. Dear Prudence
  8. Get Out Of My Life, Woman >
  9. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad 
  1. Ripple
Here are a two more photos from the night (see how far back we were):

"Row Jimmy"

Just before the encore

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