Dead and Company at Alpine Valley
Seeing Dead and Company at Alpine Valley brought back a lot of memories!
The night we met, Lisa and I talked music. When she named some of the bands she liked, including the Grateful Dead, I knew right away she was not like other girls. Less than a year later we got married, and a few months after that I took her to her first Grateful Dead show. (It was my second.) We saw a few more over the years – each one better than the previous.
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As long-time Deadheads, we were excited when Bobby, Bill, and Mickey formed Dead and Company with some young blood: John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti. (I know, there’s no substitute for Jerry, but the music never stops, right?) We were even happier when the 2016 tour brought them to the Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin – a pretty easy drive for us and a great concert venue that we’ve been to many times before.
Our son decided to join us for the show. We were kinda surprised since he’s never shown much interest in the Dead, but we were happy to introduce him to the scene.
Alpine Valley is an outdoor amphitheater about 30 minutes from Milwaukee and about an hour from Chicago. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but right off of Interstate 43, so it’s easy to get to. We’ve been to many shows there and only experienced one pre-show traffic jam, and even that wasn’t too bad. You can’t camp there, but there are a few public campgrounds nearby.
We arrived early enough to tailgate (that’s part of the experience, right?) and the parking lot scene at Alpine Valley is super cool. After enjoying a few pre-show beers and mingling with the tailgating crowd, we headed for the gates with what we thought was plenty of time to spare. Normally they have several lines to get in, but for some reason they bottlenecked us all into one slow-moving line. No problem, I thought – bands always start late. Not this time – we got in and they were already playing.
We’ve been late for exactly three concerts in our lives and those were the only shows in the entire history of rock and roll, I’m sure, that ever started on time. Never count on the band being fashionably late!
We missed the opening song (Cassidy) and about half of the second (Brown Eyed Women). The first set was good, but it seemed like a warm-up. Still, it was good to hear some old favorites like Dire Wolf, I Need a Miracle, and The Music Never Stopped.
Here’s a clip of I Need a Miracle. Check out Oteil on the far left. He’s a lot of fun to watch – you get the feeling that if he wasn’t in the band, he’d be in the crowd dancing with the rest of us! (Not great sound quality from a phone-camera. Sorry.)
How’s John Mayer as a guitarist? Outstanding! The first set, I felt like he was playing very much in Jerry’s style. Not a cheap imitation or anything, just paying due respect to the original.
The second set really came alive! After opening with a fast-moving Deal, they played one of my favorites, Eyes of the World. Later in the set, I heard the opening chords of Help on the Way, and I was in heaven. (The first Dead album I bought was Blues for Allah, and the Help/Slipknot/Franklin combo blew me away. Live versions are even better!)
Here’s Franklin’s Tower from a different show on that tour:
Where Mayer played “Jerry-style” in the first set, he really cut loose in the second. He made the riffs and licks his own, while still staying true to each song’s original vibe. Check out his leads and solos during Eyes of the World (from a different show):
They finished up with One More Saturday Night and then played Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door as an encore.
Musically, Dead and Company really rocks! Bobby is still a great rhythm guitarist, and Bill & Mickey’s dual percussion keeps everything in motion. John Mayer is an excellent lead guitarist. Oteil Burbridge sets the groove on bass and, as I mentioned before, he’s a blast to watch. Jeff Chimenti rounds out the ensemble with some nice keyboard action. I hope he’s more fortunate than the previous Grateful Dead keyboard players!
I will say that the band’s only weakness is in the vocals. Jerry was a story-teller, and since he’s been gone and I’ve listened to other bands play Dead covers for the past 20+ years, I’ve gained a new appreciation for his singing. Every Deadhead knows Jerry was a phenomenal guitarist, but I don’t think he gets due respect for his voice. Oteil sings a couple of the ballad songs, and in my opinion, he’s got the best voice in the band. Looks like a few other people agree:
If you like the Grateful Dead, then Dead and Company is a must see! And if you live near Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee, Alpine Valley is one of the coolest concert venues in the area!
If you have some time, here’s a full Dead and Company show from Alpine Valley – here’s one from the 2018 tour.
Check out Dead and Company on their website and facebook page. We’ve also seen them at Wrigley Field in Chicago and hope to catch them on tour this year. You can find their tour dates through those links. Who knows, maybe we’ll see you at a show someday!
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