Dead & Company made a brief but impression lasting stop in Southern California over the past two days (Tuesday night at Irvine Meadows and Wednesday night in Chula Vista). Wrapping up the bands first Summer tour since it’s inception last Fall, Dead & Co. have put the needle on the record and found the groove that previous incarnations of the Grateful Dead have been chasing since the passing of the bands lead singer/guitarist/resident beloved father figure/all around God like individual, Jerry Garcia, in 1995. While the remaining original band members have tried, in my opinion they’ve never quite been able to fill the shoes of Garcia even closely…until now.
It took more than guitar licks and a sweet voice to fill the vacant spot. It took the likes of John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers) and Jeff Chimenti (Rat-Dog) to round it all out with the OGD’s (original Grateful Dead) Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutmann. This line-up has restored my love in this band.
These two shows couldn’t have been more different. Sure the set lists were both solid and full of great songs everyone wanted to hear. Sure the players were the same. But that’s about where it ends. A contrasting point and counter-point of shows.
Irvine should have been and for all intents and purposes, a “fare thee well” and final adieu to a venue that the Grateful Dead performed many a show at over the years and for So. Cal “Heads” was a much anticipated show year after year. The venue has been sold and is being torn down after this season and thus, this was officially the last show you could see the music of the Grateful Dead performed on that stage. The anticipation of that finality was apparent in the lot and on social media as fans posted their final thoughts on the passing of a musical landmark. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I saw my very first show right here!” that night.
If you’ve never been to Irvine Meadows (aka Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, aka “The Long Walk”) it is nestled in the foothills between Anaheim, CA and the beautiful coastal area of Laguna Beach. It’s a logistical nightmare to get into. Adjacent to what the locals call the “Orange Crush” (where the 5 and 405 freeways converge), the time you need to arrive for a show happens to be right in the middle of the worst, everyday, rush hour traffic jam on the planet. Once you fight your way through the onslaught of non-concert going traffic and finally get into the parking lot you then must find a local Shirpa for the nearly 1/8 of a mile hike back to where the venue is. If you’re unfortunate enough to have lawn tickets be prepared to strap on the climbing gear, this house has a rake/slope that would rival Mt. Everest. If there is any a case for spending the extra bucks for a lower bowl seat, this would be that.
After much ado and delay, I found my seat as they were diving into Cold Rain and Snow opener. Not really expected but considering the thousands still trying to get through traffic and into the show at this point, fitting. Jack Straw, a welcome delight came next. This was the opener at the last show I saw Jerry Garcia perform (7/8/95 Chicaco, IL). That certainly got things moving. The train kept on a rollin’ with Bertha up next leading into a very delightful “Bobby song”, Black Throated Wind. I’ve always liked that song and Bob Weir’s vocals delivered. Bob’s voice hasn’t sounded this good in years. Loose Lucy has never been a favorite of mine but, nun-the-less, fit into this vintage sounding set-list.
The song Big Boss Man takes, how do I put this, giant nuts to pull off correctly. It’s simple blues riffs that without the right vocal delivery is just another run of the mill blues tune. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to make me believe it. John Mayer lived up to the hype on that one. Set 1 wrapped with a most excellent version of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo that ended in a vocal round and one of the most glorious “Across the Rio Grand-ee-oh” endings.
Quality entertainment but legendary status…eh, had it’s moments but certainly not “Top 10” material. We were all hoping for a little something special second set…and we didn’t really get it.
The sublime Stella Blue and a rockin’ U.S. Blues capped it all off for the second set reminding everyone that it’s a presidential election year.
Brokedown Palace, a solemn Garcia standard, opened up the encore and, had they finished with that alone, would certainly have left Irvine Meadows with a sad memory. Thankfully they put the exclamation point on the show closer with a song and a statement all in one…JOHNNY B. GOODE!
I agree. When he plays the guitar, it’s just like ringing a bell.
Dead & Company, Irvine Meadows Amphitheater
Cold Rain and Snow
Big Boss Man
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Fire on the Mountain (with Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident)
Drums- (with Jason Hann, Oteil Burbridge & Steve Parish)>
The Other One
Johnny B. Goode
Fare well, Irvine Meadows. Although I barely knew you, I will miss you nun-the-less.