Deadheads swarmed The Forum last night for the first show of Dead & Company’s four-date California mini-tour, Fun Run 2019, and the performance was…spacey. Deadheads know that the vibes of various Dead shows vary as greatly as the songs per a given evening’s setlist, and this particular show resonated most strongly with space cadets and blues hounds.
Prior to the show, a mini-parking lot scene thrived in the chilled Southern California winter night. Among the various vendors of t-shirts, pipes, and assorted objet d’art, nitrous balloons appeared to be selling well at the rate of four regular size balloons for $20. In between balloon hits, one colorful old timer, perched upon a canvas chair, announced in an unnaturally low voice to any passersby that happened to hear him that he was going to avoid breathing oxygen until the balloon had been spent. The crowd wished him happy travels.
Once fans had finished with the parking lot scene, they experienced the rude awakening of the entry lines. It seems as though Southern Californian Dead & Company shows experience an unfortunate trend of miserable crowd control. The last couple of times this writer has reviewed them, at Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium, the security lines have been nightmarish — at least for those of us who despise standing in a line for a half hour in anticipation of being checked for weapons or items such as a spare camera battery, which is evidently now classified as a weapon. The restroom lines were miserable as well, but enough grousing, already, I’ll get to the good stuff.
The show began at 7:30 pm with “Truckin’.” However, the first identifiable strains of the song didn’t start until the band had noodled around for about seven minutes. After the opener, they played a decent “Alabama Getaway” and a satisfying “Ramble On Rose” before a very mellow and psychedelic “They Love Each Other,” which was great. Bob Weir’s voice was a bit rough at the beginning and John Mayer’s voice sounded a little subdued in the mix, but their playing was very good throughout. Jeff Chimenti’s keys were great throughout the evening. Next up were a pleasing “Me & My Uncle” and “Cassidy” followed by a great “Brown-Eyed Women,” and a decent, bluesy “Don’t Ease Me In” with bassist Oteil Burbridge helming the vocals on the latter.
After a half hour intermission, the band started up with another spacey, gradual intro that eventually yielded a very mellow and psychedelic “Playing In The Band.” The music drifted into the netherworld for a while before finally returning to the song’s melody, and by the time it was over, the song had lasted nearly 20 minutes before pleasingly segueing into “Terrapin Station.” While it always irks me to hear the epic “Terrapin”’s first movement, “Lady With A Fan,” without the signature lead lick, it was wonderful to hear the band perform nearly the entire cycle. Following this, the band performed “China Doll” and “The Other One” before breaking into “Drums” and “Space.”
When the final spacey noodling session of the evening was over, they returned to “The Other One” before a long, bluesy “Wharf Rat” and “U.S. Blues,” both of which were great. For an encore, they gave us “Ripple.”
The dynamics of the evening’s set were ultimately highly satisfying. While it is always nice to hear a ripping “Deal,” “Bertha,” or “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” — all of which this writer has witnessed Mayer performing with mind-blowing solos — all shows are not the same. This one began by taking the crowd to the outer limits of musical improvisation, bouncing us back into a familiar bluesy territory then back into space, and finally resolving with the comforting, acoustical strains of one of the Grateful Dead’s most beloved ballads.