Photos & review by Kate Haley
Our hometown heroes drew crowds from all over the globe for the final three-night run of Dead and Company’s Final Tour in San Francisco. The excitement was building everywhere, with one pilot on an incoming flight from Denver to SFO reciting poetry when about to land. He summed it up beautifully with “They took us high. They took us low. They took us fast. They took us slow. What a long strange trip it’s been.” Other Deadheads reported that they were treated to clips of songs while on incoming flights and one of those magic carpet rides even had a flight crew member dancing down the aisle with a speaker playing “Friend of the Devil” balanced on his head while the Stealie-clad passengers cheered. The Grateful Dead’s music has always been inextricably linked to the family experience and it was felt once again by the packed stadium and throughout the beautiful city.
John Mayer, a true musicologist, was a jaw-dropper on lead guitar. Excellent out of the gate, he just keeps getting better as the last eight years of Dead and Co have unfolded. Mayer has stated in the past that he felt it was important to rediscover some of the Dead tunes and translate them for the future generations, the success of which was evidenced with three generations sitting side-by-side in attendance at the show. He worked tirelessly to understand Garcia and where he was going with the cannon and Weir has stated that was what hooked him on working with Mayer in Dead and Co, and sealed the deal as coconspirators in this revival. In an interview aired on Nugs before the second set, Mayer made it fairly clear that this is a final goodbye, but hope springs eternal as no one could fill his shoes except for Jerry himself. Bobby Weir, consistently in fine form throughout this run, sang an unforgettable, hauntingly beautiful “Standing on the Moon” with depth and nuance I haven’t heard before. Jeff Chimenti on keyboards has been an utter delight on this tour, with some standout solos in Boulder earlier this month. His ragtime-tinged boogie woogie in frolicking jams really brought up the already high level of energy in the crowd. Mickey Hart was jubilant, waving to the crowd as he took the stage, delivering a very spacey “Drums into Space” tonight, within the circling energy of the Golden Gate bridge imagery on the monitors. Hart-lead “Space” took on a wonderful, fully developed form transitioning fluidly into “Standing on the Moon.” Oteil Burbridge kept the groove in his baselines of incredible funk and harmonic texture, and his performances are always a joy to watch and dance wildly to. Jay Lane on drums was all smiles and exactly what Dead and Co needed in Billy Kreutzmann’s departure. Together they wove an unforgettable piece of functional art that had the crowd of strangers hugging strangers and hooting with delight. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The Grateful Dead’s extensive catalog has been so beautifully fleshed out in recent years by Dead and Co. Of note, all of the songs played tonight were what I’d consider to be “Jerry songs,” whether covers or Grateful Dead originals, in the sense that they historically featured Jerry on lead vocals for all. It set the mood for the most tie-dye-die-hard fans and ushered in a sense of the mounting legacy that we are all experiencing.
Friday’s show, running from 7:19PM-11PM sharp, had a few surprises, the first ones of many I suspect we’ll be seeing this weekend. They opened with half of a “Not Fade Away,” which leaves one wondering if we’ll get the final half as the encore Sunday night. Speculation is running wild on who we might see as a special guest in the final nights, especially after Dave Matthews joined the band on night three of Boulder. Bob Dylan, Billy Krutzemann and Phil Lesh are likely the top contenders and this reviewer suspects it will be Dylan for the win. We also had a tease of Cumberland Blues in the Dark Star to Big River jam so one hopes that will develop in the coming nights.
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” was the encore, played without a break from the second set as there was a hard stop at the venue of 11PM. Stadium-wide eyes welled up with tears as the video screens cycled in memoriam photos of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Brent Mydland, Keith Godchaux, Vince Welnick, John Perry Barlow, Laurence “Ram Rod” Shurtliff, and finally, Jerry Garcia himself.
The Grateful Dead have always pushed musical innovation like no other band in history. Dead and Company continues to celebrate that heritage, deep within their DNA, taking risks and playing transformational segues between songs that are pure magic. The one constant for this band is innovation and I suspect this will usher in a new future for some iteration of this magic, albeit no longer under the “Dead and Co” moniker, and with evolving band members that all serve the sound. May we all be so lucky to share this joy.
See the full setlist at setlist.fm.