In The City — 01 December 2017
John Mayer brings new life to Dead & Company

By Greg Carannante

City & Shore Magazine

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dead & Company’s planned Dec. 8 concert at the BB&T Center has been postponed until Feb. 26 to give John Mayer time to recover from an emergency appendectomy this week. Tickets for the original show will be honored on the new 2018 date.  Should ticket holders choose to seek a refund, they will be available at point of purchase.

OuOn the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

— Don Henley, The Boys of Summer

It hit me like a hallucination.

I remember the moment — the moment I first realized this long, strange communal trip known as the Grateful Dead would never die. It was at the moment in the summer of ’92 that Jerry Garcia — the acerbic freak-flag bearer of the psychedelic ’60s — started selling his own line of … ties.

Garcia, the anti-establishment guitar god whose onstage wardrobe rarely consisted of anything more formal than a T-shirt and jeans and who, as his neckwear company’s president allowed, “probably never wore a tie in his life” — yes, this Jerry Garcia was marketing ties. The bearded papa bear of one of rock’s biggest road shows, whose time-space continuum of touring created a vagabond subculture of twirling devotees and bootlegged itself of its own profits by inviting them to record every concert — yep, this Jerry Garcia was selling the most un-Dead of fashion statements. Not tie-dyes — ties.

Granted, Garcia branded them as vehicles for his abstract artwork — but for Kesey’s sake, they were ties!

And in spite of the counter-cultural sacrilege of Captain Trips turning necktie tycoon, he and his band grew even more popular! If such an absurdity didn’t do in the Dead, what would? The legions of Deadheads mushroomed into a younger audience that would not fade away even after the guitarist’s death at age 53 in 1995. And still they come — even after the band officially hung up its hookahs after five decades with a mammoth Fare Thee Well weekend of Chicago concerts in 2015.

Recently, the fealty of those younger fans has been rewarded by one of their own — guitar whiz John Mayer, who plays Garcia’s part for Dead & Company. This latest of the post-Garcia iterations of the Grateful Dead comes to the BB&T Center, rescheduled from Dec. 8 to Feb. 26, 2018. A nicely timed complement to its tour is this year’s four-hour, Martin Scorsese-produced Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip, streaming on Amazon Video.

A Grammy winning singer-songwriter, Mayer turned 40 in October, but in Dead years he’s still a kid. The young blood has sparked perhaps the liveliest Deadly re-incarnation of all, pumping up a revered, jam-happy repertoire that crisscrosses the sonic cosmos from acoustic Appalachian folk ballads to spaced-out tribal drum trips. Mayer also brings a polished vocal punch to the instrumentally peerless rock band whose singing has not always been as easy on the ears.

That it’s his smooth voice elevating the songs bears a touch of irony. Not long ago, Mayer suffered a vocal illness that stopped him even from speaking and caused him to postpone projects and turn instrumentalist for a time.

Vocal chords healed, Mayer unintentionally hatched Dead & Company in 2015 when he invited original Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir to perform with him while guest-hosting The Late Late Show. Despite the 30 years between them, they bonded and subsequently hit the road with original Dead drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, ex-Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge and Dead-project keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. They capped their biggest tour this summer with two sell-outs at Wrigley Field, drawing more than 80,000 fans and setting a concert-attendance record at the Chicago ballpark.

The still-single Mayer radiates a pop-star aura never seen in the Dead’s Day-Glo firmament, having charted a romantic constellation from Jennifer Aniston to Jessica Simpson, Katy Perry to Taylor Swift. And in a cosmic extension of Garcia’s fashion foray, he boasts a collection of watches he values in the “tens of millions,” including a Patek Philippe with a Sky Moon Tourbillon and an IWC Big Pilot Ref 5002, his signature timepiece.

Though he rebooted his Search for Everything solo tour earlier this year, Mayer told Billboard, “I will never close the door on Dead & Company, ever.”

Which brings us back to my aforementioned epiphany about the neverending Dead trip. Weir had a vision about it too: “We were playing … and suddenly I was viewing this from about 20 feet behind my head, and I looked over at John and it was 20 years later and John was almost fully gray. I looked over at Oteil and his hair was white.”

And when he looked to where he and the others would be: “It was younger guys holding forth … playing with fire and aplomb…. It changed my whole view of what it is that we’re up to. I find myself wondering, ‘Well, what are they gonna be saying about this honoring of this tradition … in 200 or 300 years at the Berklee School of Music?’”λ

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