The spirits of baseball’s past got together with all of the Merry Pranksters who shuffled off this mortal coil and created a rain delay for Dead & Company’s first of two nights at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Like athletes whose play suffer because there’s a change in their daily rituals of doing specific tasks at specific times, the hold up to start the first set and Mother Nature kicking Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti off the stage early may have caused the band members to be a little off their game and not as consistently connected with the songs and each other as I witnessed at previous 2021 shows.
The next evening they were much more engaged from beginning to end, which brought the band’s Summer Tour to a thrilling finish.
Following opener “Let the Good Times Roll,” the sextet rolled out its own version of a “rain set.” Unlike the Grateful Dead’s most famous one at Three Rivers Stadium on June 30, 1995 that opened with a cover of the Beatles’ “Rain” followed by “Box of Rain,” “Samba in the Rain” and “Looks Like Rain,” DeadCo cleverly alluded to the thunderstorms that would bookend the first set through lyrics in “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” and “Bertha” before “Ramble On Rose” completed 40 minutes before the sky opened up again. While thousands headed for cover, a few hundred in the general admission pit who waited hours to enter chose getting soaked rather than losing their spot in front of the stage.
With its measured momentum second set opening number “Dancing in the Streets” sounded less lively than when it was rehearsed a couple days earlier at Ruoff Music Center (aka Deer Creek). Despite “All Along the Watchtower” being prophetic with the line “wind began to howl” arriving right as the Windy City lived up to its nickname, the song never quite equaled the gale force blowing through the upper reaches of the 107-year old ballpark. Still, there was much to enjoy – “Scarlet Begonias”>”Deal”>”Fire on the Mountain,” the explorations during “Playing in the Band” and its reprise as well as the always joyous “Not Fade Away” followed by the encore of “Ripple.”
With a sunny sky and the final date at Wrigley sold out months in advance, Dead & Company seemed focused and determined to finish up the first leg of their 2021 tour on a high note. They were locked in from the opening number, “Althea,” all the way through to a surprise second encore of “Touch of Grey.” “Uncle John’s Band,” “He’s Gone,” “Brown-Eyed Women” and “Jack Straw” gave the first set a boost. As expected there was a nod to Chicago blues. While a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” filled that slot a closer listen found Mayer’s knocking out tasty blues licks throughout the evening. “One More Saturday Night” finished the 65-minute set in fine fashion.
The second set opened and closed with Grateful Dead songs that have been historically linked together – “China Cat Sunflower”>“I Know You Rider” and “Help on the Way”>“Slipknot”>“Franklin’s Tower.” Whereas “Estimated Prophet” can occasionally meander, this night it had a pull no punches approach and faded into 15 minutes of an elegant, swinging solo-filled “Eyes of the World.” Following the customary rhythmic trance generated by Rhythm Devils Kreutzmann, Hart and Burbridge during “Drums” a concise “Space” gave way to Mayer, Chimenti and Burbridge display their jazz interests once again and digging deep on Miles Davis’ “Milestones.” The threesome united once more on the transition to and during “Slipknot” while Chimenti’s organ solo gave “Franklin’s Tower” the extra boost that it deserved. Dead & Company ended their time at Wrigley with a two-song encore that included “Brokedown Palace,” which was played with exquisite grace and featured crisp harmonies.
After hitting this show out of the park and on to Waveland Avenue, the generations of fans now accustomed to the differing takes and rhythms that Dead & Company construct understandably anticipate more dates for next (winter, spring and) summer.