|John Mayer, left, and Bob Weir, performing at The Forum on |
Wednesday night, Dec. 30, 2015.
Here were founding members Bob Weir (guitar, vocals), Mickey Hart (drums) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums) joined by singer-guitarist John Mayer, bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti performing a concert stretching for more than 3-1/2 hours (including a 35-minute intermission) and seemingly thrilling every fan in the house (including basketball legend Bill Walton, moving and cheering on the band where he stood amidst the faithful in front of the stage).
Opening with "Minglewood Blues," a bluesy song showcasing Weir's raspy vocals, Mayer was featured on an early guitar solo with Weir performing an impressive one of his own later. That song, which checked in at eight minutes, likely proved to be an average length on a night where jam-centered sorties often extended beyond the 10-minute mark. Indeed, an 11-minute celebration of the Grateful Dead's "Here Comes Sunshine" featured Mayer's sterling lead vocals while the song featured segments where the dynamics would build and fall, with textured exchanges among the players – particularly when Mayer and Chimenti locked into a lovely passage toward the song's finale blending guitar and piano play.
The entire night seemed to encapsulate the spirit of the original Dead, with blues and bluegrass, country and reggae, funk, jazz and rock all playing a seminal part.
Among the key highlights of the first set was a cover of the Dead classic "West L.A. Fadeaway" featuring Mayer on lead vocals (with Chimenti adding some rousing work on the organ), and the beautiful "Althea" with Mayer's fretwork particularly expressive. A version of Garcia's "Loser" found Weir and Mayer singing artfully together; the song's wide-ranging journey included an especially strong final chorus and a nuanced finale.
The even more expansive second set found the six musicians stretching on more lengthy jams, including a segment featuring drums and percussion. The highlight for this listener was the Chicago blues-styled "Viola Lee Blues," with Mayer's fiery guitar playing positioned around shining vocal harmonies he delivered with Weir and Chimenti.
Obvious crowd favorites included "Shakedown Street" (with the Allman Brothers-styled dual guitar lead section), the piano-anchored blues ballad "Wharf Rat," buoyant cover of Bobby "Blue" Bland's early '60s nugget "Turn on Your Love Light" and the night-ending acoustic take on the Dead's "Friend of the Devil."
EDITORIAL NOTE: This review and the accompanying photo were originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.