Dead & Company kicks the week off with a BANG at SPAC on Monday

Pictures via The Daily Gazette

Dead & Company are amidst their third annual Summer Tour, and the band are playing definitely playing the best they’ve played. It’s all gelling together as the band continues to debut songs, supplement each other’s strong suits, and gather thousands of Deadheads each step of the way. On Monday, June 11, the band settled into the storied Performing Arts Center in Saratoga, NY, best known as SPAC.

The original Grateful Dead played SPAC a number of times, including a highly coveted show in 1983. A couple years later, the Dead played SPAC and a recorded 40,231 fans showed up. Since then the venue has limited its capacity to about 25,000. While Monday nights are typically the hardest draw for a touring band, the Dead are a bit of a novelty, so the place was packed and ready when Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti hit the stage at about 7:30pm, opening with “Jack Straw”.

In terms of show-opening tunes, “Jack Straw” is about as strong of a selection as possible. “Sun so hot, clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky”, the crowd chanted on an absolutely beautiful early summer day. As a crisp evening rolled in, the band played “Easy Wind” which segued into “Friend of the Devil”, with Bobby on acoustic guitar, sharing vocal duties with John Mayer.

Mayer’s choice as the “Jerry” of the band has been a topic of excruciating debate since the band formed a few years back, but the guy is settling into the roll so nicely that it’s hard to say anything negative about him anymore. Does he share Jerry’s personality off the stage? Not really, but as a wise man once said, “his job is to shed light and not to master.” As for Mayer himself, on the eve of the Dead & Co summer tour, he said, “I am in that crowd, just represented from the stage. And I think of Jerry Garcia and his intentions with every song we play. I’m only there so that on my best of nights, you might get to him.” That’s beautiful, and you can feel it from the singer-songwriter as he respectfully integrates with this band and feels the honor of playing with them.

“New Minglewood Blues” kept the sing-along vibe going early on in the show before slowing down into “Ship of Fools”, which gave Oteil Burbridge his first stab at vocal duties. Known largely as the secret vocal talent of the band, the crowd always roars when the ex-Allman Brothers bassist sings for the first time. The rarely played “Corrina” followed before ending the first set with a slappin’ “Cassidy”, which took the song into different corners through a 15-minute version.

Second set, as typical, kicked things up a notch and didn’t waste any time in doing so. As we gathered just a short distance from Woodstock, Dead & Co appropriately began things with The Band’s “The Weight”, which had a round robin of singers dazzle the audience. “Truckin'” ramped the pace up even higher, as the nightfall washed over the amphitheater and the buzzes kicked in. Full steam ahead with a beautiful “He’s Gone”, a song that has had its meaning shaped over the years, and now resonates primarily as a “Wish You Were Here” type of number for Jerry.

“New Speedway Boogie” followed that and kicked off a segue that would demonstrate Dead & Company’s highest achievement as a band: their ability to seamlessly transition between tracks in the midst of exploratory improvisation that still rings true to the most treasured versions of the songs. “Uncle John’s Band” was a wild ride, broken up by a “Drums / Space” exploration from the Rhythm Devils in the back. Bill & Mickey’s musical connection is as impressive as it gets, and when these two elderly statesmen of experimental sounds are unhinged, it’s truly a feral vibe.

“Black Peter” and then “Good Lovin'” ended the phenomenal second set, but the band wasn’t done yet! The super-fun “Touch of Grey” was the high-energy encore the crowd was looking for, as they boogied away until the very last moments. At that point, it felt like any day of the week but a Monday, and the vibrancy of the scene was just as fantastic as any other summery, outdoor, rock ‘n’ roll show one could ever enjoy.

As the band rolls into Connecticut tomorrow and prepares for their first two-day run in New York City this weekend, we’re in good hands. See you at Citi!

Setlist (via Ratdog.org)

Set One: Jack Straw (bw, jm), Easy Wind > (jm) Friend Of The Devil* (bw, jm), New Minglewood Blues (bw), Ship Of Fools (jm, ob), Corrina (bw), Cassidy (bw)

Set Two: The Weight (bw, jm, ob, jc) Truckin’ > (bw) He’s Gone > (bw, jm) New Speedway Boogie > (bw) Uncle John’s Band > (all) Drums > Space > Uncle John’s Band (Reprise) > (all) Black Peter > (bw) Good Lovin’ (bw)

Encore: Touch Of Grey (bm, jm)

* – w/ Bob on acoustic guitar