It’s been a summer tour of twists and turns for Dead & Company, who wrap it up tonight at Citi Field.
Just 10 days ago, the band cancelled a show when John Mayer’s 94-year-old father had a medical emergency. Richard Mayer is out of the hospital and recovering.
The state of original Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann has been a cause of concern as well. The 76-year-old band co-founder missed six consecutive shows until returning for last night’s Citi Field opener.
“Well, friends, I was hoping to be back in the saddle already, but since I’m not quite there yet, I thought I’d tell you exactly what’s going on,” Kreutzmann commented at Facebook on July 11. “No more speculation or rumors. I’m okay! It’s not my heart. And I’m not retiring! As most of you know, I had a back issue that suddenly appeared in Boulder, but I nipped it in the bud. Just as I was ready to come back full-strength, I pulled a positive on an antigen test. Despite all the tour protocols that I took very seriously, it still got me. Darn it. My case was mild and — thankfully — I’m testing negative again. However my strength isn’t quite back to show level. But it gets closer every day. I miss seeing all of your faces. I haven’t thrown in the towel and I cannot wait for our joyful reunion. I love you all so much.”
After reading the update, fans figured Kreutzmann was done for the tour. It was a classic Merry Prankster dodge. On Tuesday at The Pavilion at Star Lake in Burgettstown, PA, his understudy Jay Lane joined the band in their traditional double-drummer set up. A veteran of RatDog, Dead & Co guitarist Bob Weir’s side group, Lane sat in as he’d done during much of the tour. After the Boulder shows at Folsom Field on June 17-18, Kreutzmann shared the load with Lane, playing some half shows. But by the time the band reached Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the Woodstock site in New York, on July 1, Kreutzmann was on the disabled list.
Two weeks later at Citi Field, the home of the Mets in Queens, NY, he was back behind his trap set alongside longtime bandmate Mickey Hart, Kreutzmann’s red cap facing forward, chopping it up on the opener, “Bertha,” a popular track from the 1971 “Grateful Dead” album.
Several songs later, Kreutzmann flipped the cap backwards as the band steered into their funky ode to Deadhead entrepreneurship, “Shakedown Street.” Whenever the camera zeroed in on the red-faced, white-haired drummer, the crowd cheered enthusiastically. It was a recurring theme of the show.
After an intermission break, Dead & Company came back energized as if they’d drank a few Red Bulls to rev up the old engine. Mayer, who for the most part tackles Jerry Garcia’s guitar parts, and Weir alternated vocals as the songs shifted from “Terrapin Station” (the band’s lengthy suite from the 1977 album of the same name) to ’60s gems like “China Cat Sunflower” and “The Other One.” As the show neared its conclusion, during “Standing on the Moon,” from the Dead’s final studio album, 1989’s “Built to Last,” Kreutuzmann acknowledged the fan support, raising his sticks to the crowd in appreciation and evoking another loud cheer.
The pounding of drums on “Not Fade Away,” Dead & Company’s tribal version of the Buddy Holly classic, signaled that Kreutzmann was indeed back. Fans clapped along in time as the song ended and the band cleared the stage. An upbeat encore of “Sugar Magnolia” sent heads home giddily, but not before Hart, the oldest band member on stage at 78, hugged Kreutzmann in a show of brotherhood.