Photo by HERB GREEN
Fear not heads and freaks, it’s totally cool to dig John Mayer. Like you, I harbored some harsh vibes about the dude, who admittedly, we knew only for such crimes against rock n roll as “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” and worried aloud whether his mojo would jive right with former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in their latest retread, Dead and Company. Those doubts went up like a puff from a vape pen into the skunky-scented haze that hung heavy over a crowded Wells Fargo Center Thursday as the band unfurled its freak flag. From the opening licks of “Here Comes Sunshine” from 1973’s Wake of the Flood, Mayer proved himself perfectly worthy of filling the shoes of the late great Jerry Garcia, a role last played by Trey Anastasio last July at the band’s Fare Thee Well run in Chicago. Like the Phish frontman before him, Mayer didn’t so much channel Garcia in the way that John Kadlecik did in both the tribute act Dark Star Orchestra and the now defunct post-Dead project, Furthur, but rather tapped into that same cosmic groove to seamlessly meld his own style in with the technicolor tempest these geriatric psychedelic warriors have kept brewing all these years. That’s not saying Mayer didn’t borrow from the fat man’s bag of tricks. On “Candyman,” he laid down a dizzying Leslie effect-soaked guitar, and wailed a chirpy wah-wah on “Bird Song” and “Feel Like a Stranger.”
“John Mayer was fucking awesome,” one fan told me. “Jesus, I hate saying that.” Other fans that I spoke with shared similar sentiments — a weird mix of serendipitous shock and joyous disbelief. In fact, one fan went so far as to say the older original Dead members were holding the young buck back, which might explain the looks Weir shot Mayer for prodding an otherwise pokey jam on “Cumberland Blues” with some hepped-up Chet Atkins riffs.
Weir himself was in fine form, looking like a genetic mutation of Garcia crossed with Sam Shepherd circa The Big Lebowski, while taking the lead on crowd pleasing fist-pumpers like a bluesed-up Loose Lucy and and 12-plus minute take on the classic “Sugar Magnolia.” Missing of course was Phil Lesh’s thundering bass, but former Allman Brother Oteil Burbridge complimented headier jams with his own thumpity-thumping. Though both sets brought a broad range of choice numbers that spanned nearly the entirety of the Dead’s decades-long strange trip — including Weir’s take on “Standing on the Moon,” a late era Garcia number from 1989’s Built to Last — noticeably absent were the acid-tinged brain melters from the band’s Haight-Ashbury heyday. A Pigpen number would’ve been pretty righteous, too. But as with most Dead and Dead-related side project shows go, you took what they were giving and were grateful for it. — PEACE BEAR