Dead and Co.Photo by Danny Clinch

The Living Dead

Original Grateful Dead members return to Eugene fronted by younger-generation pop star

Asking me whether I like The Grateful Dead is a little like asking if I believe in God: It’s not a yes-or-no question, instead landing somewhere closer to yes/no/sometimes. 

Like many, it’s the jammy stuff that loses me — lumpy, misshapen, murky yet somehow squeaky, less a genre of its own and instead a lazy sound stew. I probably just don’t “get it.”

In other words: I’m no Deadhead, but I do have a well-loved copy of Workingman’s Dead, I appreciate assorted songs here and there and I like a lot of Garcia’s stuff with David Grisman. 

Nevertheless, Dead & Co., a current permutation of The Dead featuring Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann with the unlikely addition of John Mayer, is a little hard for me to contextualize. This current incarnation returns to Eugene Saturday, June 30, at Autzen Stadium.

Many bands continue to play the music they’re known for under new names with different front men. So is that what Dead & Co. is about? Is it an extension, a tribute or a cash-grab? 

Truthfully, my dilemma lies mostly with Mayer, who after scoring some saccharine hits early in his career seems to be working to build some legit guitar-slinger credibility.  

I don’t get the pairing at all. Why not somebody like Chris Robinson? How about David Lowery from Camper Van Beethoven? Have some transgressive fun with the whole thing, in the spirit of the Bay Area psych scene the Dead came up in. It all seems so humorless, like an $80 Jerry Garcia tie: a “Club-Level” Grateful Dead show.

While a capable player, Mayer attended Berklee College of Music for a time, and I feel like I can smell the institution on him — playing vaguely blues-scented guitar licks best suited for a classroom while lacking a particularly singular melodic sensibility. 

Why is he up there alongside some of a previous generation’s more-venerated musicians? Could the answer be that this is, at last, the Disneyfication of the Dead experience, or perhaps the closest (hopefully) we’ll come to a Grateful Dead Broadway revue? 

As I mentioned earlier, I’m no Deadhead. I have no 40-year-old reel-to-reels of the Dead at Fenway molding in my basement. So where else would I turn to test my opinion about Mayer against some bona fide Dead fans but social media? 

Living in Eugene, such opinions came easily, ranging from “You’re wrong” to “You’re right.” Someone else simply posted “I fucking hate John Mayer,” while many others defended his skill as a musician. 

“He grew on me,” Eugene-resident Bronwynn Dean writes. “Reluctant at first, as any purist who saw Jerry countless times weave his magic. Now I appreciate him as a fantastic musician.” 

Eugene musician Jivan Valpey speculates the remaining original members of the Dead weren’t really looking for someone to fill Jerry’s shoes. 

“I am personally not a John Mayer fan,” Valpley writes, “but I can see how complicated finding a replacement for Jerry Garcia could be. So why not just get who you really like?”

“No one will ever replace Jerry,” Eugene-resident Doug Fuchs adds. “I am glad they stopped trying. [Mayer] obviously has chemistry with Weir. Everything these days is the Disneyfication and the Foxification of art and social perception. Nothing escapes.”

Dead & Co. play 7 pm Saturday, June 30, at Autzen Stadium; $50-150, all-ages.