Photo Credit: Bill Kelly
Over the weekend, Dead & Company brought their final tour to Central Washington for two nights at the Gorge Amphitheatre. The fabled venue location and its specialty emanated throughout the setlist, which jumped between tight and expansive displays of chosen songs, which beckoned to the surroundings: river, wind, and during the first night, mention of the railroads. Temperatures were high, reaching the upper 90°s in the late afternoon. Despite the physical discomfort, concert-goers remained unbothered for the most part, fixed on the music and intoxicating magic of the environment.
With warm yellow sun rays basking over the hillside, the initial chords of “Music Never Stopped” trickled through the sound system, igniting a long-awaited jubilee. Bobby Weir took the vocal lead while his brothers cooed in support of the fabled lines, which emphasized the heat on the day and their head space going into the final lineup of concerts. Spirits were high as the group paused and picked up “Alabama Getaway” to set the weekend into full motion.
Arguably, one of the most emotional moments of the weekend occurred next, as the notes of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” became recognizable. Considering the position of the river, landscape, and light, it felt as though creation had led to this very moment: these notes, this feeling. Weir was in superior form, feeding off the energy of the crowd who received the frequencies emanating through the heart-clinching vibrato. The emotive classic birthed a high-energy, Mayer-led “Mr. Charlie.”
The delighted audience never stopped grooving, especially with the following number: “Tennessee Jed.” Staple tunes continued with “Dire Wolf” as damp bodies, dripping in sweat, bounced up and down the steep slope, crooning the Robert Hunter-written ditty. Dead & Company worked into “Bird Song” next, just as the sun hit the horizon line, causing the last beams of the day to dance across the scabbed landscape. They capped set one and segued into “Big Railroad Blues,” a nod to the rails and Columbia River Gorge’s tracks.
Perhaps it was the blistering temperatures, but “Sugaree” started and remained slow, paced for complexity—allowing Mayer to embody the music. The spirituality of the location was captured on “Estimated Prophet,” illuminated by Weir’s presence at center stage, white hair glistening and picked up by the long-awaited evening breeze. Fans hollowed with the arrival of “Scarlet Begonias,” hands reaching for the cosmos and remaining lifted through “Viola Lee Blues.”
With Venus lingering in the background, it felt fitting to dip into the first part of “Dark Star,” which merged into “Space.” Mickey Hart wasn’t shy, recognizing why we travel for a show in such an obscure location and fueling a collective heartbeat that pulsed through “Drums.” Swift instrumentals welcomed “Cumberland Blues” until feeling beamed on “Black Peter.” “Casey Jones” served as the final song of the second frame. For the last piece of night one, Dead & Company wasted no time, beckoning to the location and mighty current below them with a heartfelt Mayer-sung “Black Muddy River” encore.
Whereas the initial Gorge show felt moody and reflective, night two was a return to the celebratory feel fans have been searching for during the last stint of performances—captured on “Mississippi Half Step,” another nod toward the river. Understanding that so many had baked in the heat and the position of the early evening sun, “Here Comes Sunshine” felt appropriately placed. “Next Time You See Me” brought folks back to earth after the band’s peak start, only to pick back up on a mid-tempo “Loose Lucy,” which brought forth the favored lines: “Thank you, for a real good time.”
“Friend of the Devil” merged into “They Love Each Other.” During the latter, Burbridge supported Mayer’s lead, complimented by Chimenti’s keys. Side glances from Mayer and Chimenti solidified their shared bond on stage, which has been fun to watch since the group’s start. Next, they slid into sister songs: “Lost Sailor” paired with “Saint of Circumstance,” which carried the band into a set break, but not before Weir’s wife Natasha was seen vibing on stage side, at times rising and moving to the rhythm from her blush red chair.
“Playing in the Band” kicked off the final set of Dead & Company’s weekend in the Gorge. The Ace favorite rolled into an imaginative “The Wheel.” While parts felt tight, they also understood the assignment, accentuating the classic with elaborate keys and a Burbridge guided bass solo before a reprise of “Playing” brought them out of well-conceived improvisation.
A peak of the weekend had to be the three-parter, “St. Stephen,” “William Tell Bridge,” and “The Eleven.” At one point, Weir whacked his mic off the stand. Like a seasoned gentleman, Mayer acted quickly, dropping his guitar and fixing the bandleader’s setup. It was a sweet moment and emphasized the nature of brotherhood, respect, and the reciprocal attitude of this group of players. Weir never missed a note and carried the lyrics without worry.
Guitar squiggled, keys clacked, and eventually, “Drums” took over. Before Weir left the stage, Hart rose and blew his brother kisses. The aforementioned backbeat, along with Lane and Burbridge: backs turned toward the audience, were immersed in rhythm and otherworldly beats, which faded into the stroke of the Beam and the arrival of “Space.” A high-energy moment arrived along with the remaining players, who took their spots on stage and crashed into a Latin-infused jam that popped and crackled until it was apparent the remainder of “Dark Star” would trickle out next.
The band took the night’s energy to a new high with “Althea” due to the temperature drops, which no longer constrained dancing. From a soaring favorite came a sweet display of “Stella Blue,” twisted and pulled by each and every player. A tight rendition of “One More Saturday Night” marked the night’s end, made special with a group bow and several mouthed “thank yous.”
Those who have been to the Gorge understand the power and effect of its beauty. For first-timers, their soft and heat-stricken mutters of amazement as they reached the top of the hill reminded even the most-frequent venue visitor to take a moment to reflect on the specialty of this weekend’s shared experience, and final celebration zoned in the Pacific Northwest.
After this weekend, Dead & Company will take a few days off before returning to San Francisco for their final trio of sold-out concerts at Oracle Park. For more information, visit the band’s official website.
For those unable to attend the last shows, livestream options are available for purchase.
Scroll down to view this weekend’s setlist.
Dead & Company
July 7, 2023
Set I: Music Never Stopped, Alabama Getaway, Masterpiece, Mr. Charlie, Tennessee Jed, Dire Wolf, Bird Song > Big Railroad Blues
Set II: Sugaree, Estimated Prophet > Scarlet Begonias > Viola Lee Blues > Dark Star 1 > Drums > Space > Cumberland Blues, Black Peter, Casey Jones
Enc.: Black Muddy River
Last “Masterpiece,” June 14, 2022
Dead & Company
July 8, 2023
Set I: Mississippi Half Step, Here Comes Sunshine, Next Time You See Me, Loose Lucy, Friend of the Devil > They Love Each Other, Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance
Set II: Playing in the Band > The Wheel > Playing in the Back Reprise, St. Stephen > William Tell Bridge > The Eleven > Drums > Space > Dark Star 2 > Althea > Stella Blue > One More Saturday Night