We got lucky in Texas. Right after our double-date with Dead & Company last weekend, John Mayer needed an emergency appendectomy, forcing postponement of the final 3 dates of the tour.
He is now recovering in good spirits and the shows will be rescheduled.
Meanwhile, a quick look in the rear view…
DALLAS: Friday, December 1
Our Texas Two-Step Trio — me, Albert, & our buddy, Shawn — started the shuffle mid-day Friday to get us up to the Dallas show that night, coordinating several schedules amid shifting plans at the last minute. We decided against riding on the “party bus” chartered by a group of Austin Deadheads, since there was no bathroom aboard and just one planned potty break. That concerned both me and Shawn enough, we decided we’d ride up in our own “potty bus” — which meant selling off our party bus tickets and shuffling folks between Austin & Bastrop before taking off to Dallas. Albert took care of driving, we took a couple of potty breaks, arrived early, parked within walking distance and caught up with a couple of Albert’s acquaintances for a bite of dinner and drinks before heading into the arena.
Albert had traded up on 1 of the 3 tickets he’d bought originally, giving him a better ticket — deservedly so, for making all the arrangements. And a quick hat tip to Albert for once again getting our tickets & driving to the shows both nights — turning him on to the Dead back in 1980 certainly has paid off in the shows we’ve seen together since then!
While he headed down to a seat just off the floor, Shawn & I climbed up & up & up to the top of the place — okay, 4 rows short of the top. A guy sitting just behind us greeted us, “I see you’re close friends of the band, too, to get these great seats.”
Hey — in the house is in the house! We were still “on the axis” — the midline — so the sound would be well-balanced, something I learned from my sound man buddy, Gordon. At the top of the back of the hall there, our sound proved surprisingly strong and clear right from the first chord of the set opener, “Shakedown Street.”
Bobby turned out to be more talkative than usual that first set, adding commentary a few times between songs. As they started into the third song, “Deep Elem Blues” (for the old Deep Ellum district of downtown Dallas nearby), he said, “You knew it was coming…”
Indeed we did — and the band delivered.
After two years of playing together on a few tours, the band has really come together. Bob, now sporting spectacles as befits an old man, sounds stronger and more spirited in his vocals than in some time. On the back line there, Billy and Mickey lay down a percussive bedrock to build on and those 3 original members of the band bring the heart and soul of the old band there. But it’s the new guys — John Mayer out front on lead, Oteil Burbridge dancing on bass, and Jeff Chimenti tearing up the keyboards — that really bring the jams to this band. The first set surprise was Bobby pulling “Easy Answers” out of the middle of “The Music Never Stopped,” bringing that lesser gem up for a shine in the spotlight before easing out of the first set with the close to “Music”.
The 2nd set is always jammier and they did not disappoint in Dallas. John and Jeff especially kept egging each other on, especially in the middle of the long instrumental interlude of “Eyes of the World,” leading into the ever-shifting/always familiar “Drums & Space” segment. Coming back into a song after the ride through time & space from throbbing beats to electrohums is always a fascinating return to tunes, with everyone wondering where this spaceship will land…
Friday, they surprised us by landing in the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” giving us a beautiful version before rolling out “The Wheel” (with its new tease of “Stay” at the end!) and then unleashing “Casey Jones.” On that one, they just kept going faster & faster, revving that engine up with John Mayer, who often stomps his feet & hops as he plays, joined by Bob hopping, too, so they’re both bouncing up and down as they rode that speeding freight train safely into the station. A sweet encore of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” later and we’re headed out the doors, half-delirious with joy.
We hung in the parking lot for a while with friends, still buzzing from the show’s energy before a short drive over to my friends’ Mike & Janie’s house who were “ghost-hosting” us. That is, Mike told me it would be fine to stay, but then he got called out of town, and Janie wasn’t there either, so we three slipped in after midnight and hit the road back by morning’s light…well, okay, not quite that early.We were just a bit lethargic after show #1.
AUSTIN: Saturday, December 2
After our drive back to Bastrop for afternoon naps and relaxing, Albert cooked up some fajita makings, we munched down on those, and headed into Austin for show #2. Along the way, we stopped by Paul’s place to pick up Kate, parking near the venue (a breeze, thanks to Albert’s awareness of near-campus parking) and strolling over a bit early.
Tonight, we had General Admission floor tickets — down in “the pit.” I won’t tell you exactly how we got the four of us down there with just 3 GA tickets, just that is was a good thing, since Kate had bought her ticket late and would have been sitting alone. She’d been on multiple Dead runs with me & Albert, and, still recovering from Harvey flood damage, she needed this show. Besides, we weren’t trying to move up to the front, so we stood in the back part of the pit to stay a little less crowded — but way closer than Friday night.
They kicked off with “Jack Straw,” the first (but not the last) tip of the hat to Texas for a night of songs strictly from the early days, almost all in the Dead repertoire by 1971.
Watching from the pit meant we were close enough not just to see individual band member’s faces, but also the interaction between players. We stood where you could best see both each played and the whole band as well. Watching John walk over to face off with Bobby for a few licks and seeing Jeff and Otiel and John exchanging glances, nods and laughs as they weave their sounds together felt like watching the energy flow through an invisible basketball of goo pulled and stretched between them.
They teased Texas again with the “New Minglewood Blues” lyrics,
“Well, it’s T for Texas —
and it’s T for Timbuktu!”
…and we ate it up. “Ramble on, Rose” took me right back to hearing first in Austin in November 1972. Oteil stepped up to sing the rarity “If I Had the World to Give,” which the Dead only played 5 times, retiring it in 1978. That sweet revival was the most recent of all the songs played Saturday night, and we all reveled in the familiar feel of them all.
The second set kicked off with the “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You, Rider” pairing, followed by a powerful back-to-back “Dark Star” > “The Other One.” With Oteil helping Billy and Mickey, the drums segment had the place throbbing all the way through Mickey’s cerebral beam out into space and back into a sweet semi-sing-along of “Uncle John’s Band” before “St. Stephen” came out and the boys really opened it up full throttle boogey. Then, “Morning Dew” (recorded on their first album in 1967) started slow and low before building in intensity and soaring into a roar before a final climax to close the set.
But of course, then, they encored with “One More Saturday Night”!
That’s right: it’s Saturday night.
And then there were gone — see y’all down the road.