Dead and Company: Grateful for Mayer?
Dead and Company in Denver, November 2015
Band reunions and reincarnations can get downright weird. We've only got ourselves to blame. Really, this shit is nobody's fault but our own. The most hard-core of the hard-core music fans are like an even more twisted Dr. Frankenstein, because we won't accept death. We're just not having it, and so we demand a resurrection. Then we lap it up. From the Doors of the 21st Century to the "new" New York Dolls, from "not so" Thin Lizzy to DKT/MC5.
IGOR, IT'S ALIVE!
Of course, if we catch the body before it sees the light and resuscitate, there's a chance it can go on to live a normal life (see AC/DC minus Bon, the Stones minus Brian), but all too often, it's too late and we're left with an INXS trying to carry on helmed by the winner of a reality-TV competition, or even the runner-up, as is the case with Queen and Adam Lambert.
We understand. We have to take what we can get. Those of us who weren't there to see Jim Morrison break on through will happily accept a couple of the original Doors paired with the Cult's Ian Astbury doing his best Morrison impersonation. We missed the Dolls playing with trash, so we'll take two of them because David Johansen and Syl Sylvain still look the part and the albums aren't bad, but deep down, we know it isn't the same as when Johnny Thunders ruled the stage. We chow down because we'd rather have a sampler of a once-great and nourishing thing than eat nothing at all.
Right now, that's the state of Dead and Company. Here in Colorado as much as anywhere, demand for a Grateful Dead show is feverish, and nobody is going to let a little thing like death get in the way. And to be fair, why should they? Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann still want to play the music that they have enjoyed playing for decades, and they should be able to do so.
Here's a potentially unpopular thought: There's no reason for the remaining members of the Dead to hang up their coats and stop playing the music that has defined their collective career — and in fact, their fans demand it. But do they really have to pull John Mayer, of all people, along for the ride?
In some ways, he's an obvious choice. Mayer is clearly talented, and, like Dave Matthews, he's also a disciple of the Dead. But also like Matthews, Mayer chooses to use his talent to create banal music devoid of thrills, vision or true personality. Be offensive. Be bad, even. But don't be dull. That is the greatest sin of rock music.
But Mayer is now part of Dead and Company, including three members of the Dead and some other guys to fill in the gaps. And so it was that Mayer joined Bob Weir and a group of journalists from around the country on a conference call to discuss this summer's tour. The writers were allowed to ask a question each, and, coincidentally, the one that we had planned was asked by somebody else though deftly sidestepped by Mayer. More on that later.
Here's Mayer talking about how authentic this incarnation of the band is:
"Certainly, I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received at all, but I knew that in the nucleus of it, that there was really – there was some authenticity. There was a lot of authenticity, but there was some validity, I think, to putting a band together and making music for people to want to listen to live, and hopefully want to record and listen back to for a while. So musically, it’s exactly what I was hoping it would be. I would say musically, it’s exactly what I thought it would be. And in terms of the way it was received, it was absolutely what I was hoping it would be. So it couldn’t have been better for me."
Here's Bob Weir explaining why he wanted Mayer in the band:
"When John plays blues, you can hear what subgenre he’s going for. He’s real well versed in, particularly in that idiom, but what that told me is that he’s basically a student and fan of American musical heritage. You could take that into country. You could take that into various eras or pockets of rock and roll, or wherever you want to go in the American lexicon or legacy, and I could hear his appreciation of the various fields."
The guys talked at length and they said a lot, but it's what we didn't hear that was key. Like Mayer's playing, there was no excitement, no enthusiasm, and no fucking life in the discussion of the state of the Dead. This band will be playing in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring fans, so let's hear some laughter, some joy.
Back to the question that was asked for us. We wanted to know if there was any chance of some original material, a new studio album, by the Dead and Company band. Not because we wanted to catch them out or make them look silly, but because such a recording would surely be received enthusiastically by the band's followers. Mayer sidestepped the question by saying that he'll stay in the band for as long as the fans want him in the band.
So there you have it, Deadheads. John Mayer and three of your heroes playing the old songs indefinitely is what you can expect from here. They're kicking off the tour with two nights at Folsom Field in Boulder on July 2 and 3, the first concerts at the venue in fifteen years. It's there for you if you want it. Take it or leave it.
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