by Allie McGlone
A combined train station and concert venue was a fitting place for an iconic Grateful Dead tribute band to play. Young and old fans streamed into TD Garden on Friday night, squeezing past people selling T-shirts and posters. They packed onto escalators and filled the wide arena up to the tops of the stands. Despite the enormous crowd, the Garden had a mellow, happy vibe. College students and 70-year-olds alike donned Dead merchandise and cheered for their favorite songs.
Dead & Company took the stage at 7 pm, starting out with “Jack Straw” and playing a long first set including classics such as “Althea” and Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree,” with John Mayer leading. They also played “Big River,” a Johnny Cash song the Grateful Dead were known to cover. The huge venue was filled with long jams and guitar riffs, the cheers of the audience rising and falling with the music. Multicolored lights moved through the arena, swirling and flickering in time with the music. Beams in the shape of flowers and circles spun over the crowd.
Of course John Mayer can never replace the beloved Jerry Garcia, but he did a good job as a stand-in for the Dead’s late singer and guitarist. His own characteristics were not overpowering, nor did he try to emulate the artist in terms of his style or persona. Mayer was simply a talented vessel through which the music flowed.
There was a break before the second set, in which the band left the stage, the lights came up and people got out of their seats to buy beer and T-shirts. The first set had been awesome, and was buzzed about between rows and in the circled halls. Smiles, nods and conversation were exchanged between friendly strangers of all ages.
Dead & Company opened their second set with “Scarlet Begonias,” with original Grateful Dead member Bob Weir on lead vocals, and continued with “Fire on the Mountain,” “He’s Gone,” and “Viola Lee Blues.” Audience members were on their feet and dancing through the second set, never seeming to tire with the sound of the music spurring them on. The band ended their second set with “Sugar Magnolia,” to resounding cheers. The famous love song was accompanied by building instrumental and shared vocals. “Sunshine Daydream” echoed through the arena as green lights flashed during the song’s final lines.
The band’s encore was the song “Ripple,” from the Grateful Dead’s album American Beauty, and was a calm and sweet end to a wild show. The room had a vibe of joy and togetherness as the audience softly sang along, swaying with the tune. As slightly dazed patrons wandered out of the arena to board trains and catch taxis back home, they were filled with the energy of an awesome show and the companionship of strangers.