The Dead’s reunion show Friday at the Times Union Center was all about synergy. Playing together after four years of disharmony, they played like a band, and like a really good and happy one.
Song choices delighted the near-capacity crowd: “Casey Jones,” “Cold Rain and Snow,” “New, New Minglewood Blues,” “Into the Mystic,” “West L.A. Fadeaway,” “Brown Eyed Women,” and “Cumberland Mine” in the first set.
Despite the typed-out lyric sheets (guitarist/singer Bob Weir used a Kindle), it all felt organic. Before “Cold Rain and Snow,” for example, band members conferred intently as if unsure what to do, fingering numbers to signify how many times things would happen and finally agreeing and firing it up. They gestured and smiled often, signaling solo hand-offs. “Brown Eyed Women” formed, finally, from a wandering but not unfocused guitar intro, as if they wanted to ride the groove now and start the song later.
Guitarist Warren Haynes never channeled the late Jerry Garcia, but evoked his tone and phrasing at times in the distorted riffs of “West L.A. Fadeaway,” with Weir echoing his tone, and in the country-fried cooking intro to “Cumberland Mine.” Garcia once called Weir “the best rhythm guitarist on wheels,” and Weir was that and more on Friday. He and Haynes spurred and helped each other, sometimes both grabbing slides to weld fluid riffs, sometimes playing in harmony, and Haynes happily playing emphatic chords behind Weir’s solos. His own solo later helped stretch “Cumberland Mine” to 10 soaring minutes.
Earlier, Haynes threw himself into Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” enjoying his star-time, but he seemed completely in the band, grinning as he chopped emphatic fills into Jeff Chimenti’s piano break in “Cumberland Mine.” Bassist Phil Lesh took a surprisingly rearward position beside drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Whenever Kreutzmann kicked his bass drum, it synced with Lesh, and fans cheered whenever Lesh sang. It was grins a’plenty onstage, even for the normally stolid Kreutzmann, who revved by fellow drummer Mickey Hart’s enthusiasm.
The second set flowed in an extended suite built around “That’s It For the Other One.” First, the vintage “Viola Lee Blues” glided on guitar noise until Lesh’s bass took command and steered it into a fugue, sludgy but bright. Haynes formed “Shake It, Sugaree” from its shining shards. His solo had the familiar Garcia tumbling effect, rhythmically inevitable to carry you along but melodically startling, to surprise you at where you wound up.
Winding it down, Haynes stalked toward Weir, playing a riff Weir picked up and turned it into “That’s It For the Other One,” singing between the jams that drew the song out through a tempestuous “Drums/Space” exploration, with fans patiently waiting for the next invention to form.
Their attentive jubilation helped make the song interactive in the best way, energizing the band, which in turn functioned like a big feedback loop, emotion feeding emotion through sound. Decades on, they’re still the Dead, and they and their fans seemed equally grateful on Friday.
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