On Wednesday night, Dead & Company made the penultimate stop on their 2018 summer tour for a performance at Albuquerque, NM’s Isleta Amphitheatre. The band took the stage in a somewhat unusual formation, with Oteil Burbridge occupying the space to Bob Weir‘s left where Jeff Chimenti‘s keys usually sit and Chimenti set up in Oteil’s normal spot to John Mayer‘s right. The reasons as to why the change was made are anyone’s guess. This writer, for one, thinks the thought process may have something to do with the musical sparks that have been flying between Chimenti and Mayer all summer—put them closer together, and maybe those sparks might glow brighter… Or, you know, it could have been for practical reasons with no deeper meaning whatsoever. But whatever the reason for the stage plot switch-up, those moments of magic between John and Jeff continued in kind in New Mexico.

The show opened strong with a slow but potent “Mississippi Half-Step Toodeloo”, which swiftly led into “Crazy Fingers”, making just its second appearance of the summer following its tour debut at The Gorge. A short, somewhat-sluggish “Dire Wolf” followed, before the band picked up the pace considerably for a tight rendition of Johnny Cash‘s “Big River”, with Bob Weir leading the way on vocals. The tune gradually built to a musical duel between guitarist John Mayer and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, the two trading bars over a bouncing beat anchored by bassist Oteil Burbridge and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann.

Dead & Company – “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” [Pro-Shot]

[Video: Nugs.tv]

“They Love Each Other” followed—Chimenti’s organ and Mayer’s vocals buoying this swaying rendition of the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter favorite. A sparse, slow-burning “West L.A. Fadeaway” came next, making its first appearance since Dead & Co’s 100th show at Blossom Music Center. After a minor blues jam, the band diverted into “The Music Never Stopped” at a slower-than-usual tempo. The jam eventually picked up steam as it headed into the song’s ending coda, but rather than letting the train charge off the rails for some improvisation, the band instead shifted into Rob Wasserman‘s “Easy Answers”, as they have now done following each of the four renditions of “The Music Never Stopped” played this tour. Albuquerque’s “The Music Never Stopped” > “Easy Answers” also marked the third time this tour that the pairing closed the first frame—and the third time that it left fans with something to be desired as the show headed into the break.

Dead & Company – “West L.A. Fadeaway” 

[Video: David Seymour]

Dead & Company returned for set two with “Here Comes Sunshine”, followed by a breezy stroll through “Uncle John’s Band” featuring some of the evening’s most interesting improv. “Looks Like Rain” got the call next, making just its second appearance of the tour following an outstanding rendition in Hartford. The band made ample use of dynamics on this run through the Weir/John Barlow tune, bringing the audience on a journey as they navigated the song’s emotional peaks and valleys. An always-welcome “Help” > “Slip” > “Franklin’s” followed, with “Slipknot, venturing into “Space”-like dissonance and “Franklin’s Tower” capitalizing on the resulting tension with a cathartic release.

Dead & Company – “Here Comes Sunshine” [Pro-Shot]

[Video: Nugs.tv]

Dead & Company – Uncle John’s Band

[Video: David Seymour]

After an extended “Drums” > “Space” voyage, the band rolled into “The Wheel”. From there, they segued into a cover of Bob Dylan‘s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” for the third time this summer. Finally, a sing-along rendition of “Good Lovin'” brought the set to a close, followed by an energetic reading of Chuck Berry‘s “Johnny B. Goode” in the encore slot.

In the end, the show produced a handful of highlights (“Big River” through “West L.A. Fadeaway” was great, as were “Uncle John’s Band”, “Slipknot!”, and a few others), though perhaps not as many as we’ve come to expect from Dead & Co this tour. But that’s okay—their two-night Colorado run that looms this weekend promises to offer a bounty of highlights as the tour comes to a close.

Dead & Company will round out their 2018 summer tour with a pair of performances at Boulder, CO’s Folsom Field on Friday and Saturday, July 13th and 14th. Later this summer, the band will make their final appearances of the year at LOCKN’ on with two scheduled sets on Saturday, August 25th, and two on Sunday, August 26th with help from renowned saxophonist Branford Marsalis. For more information, head to Dead & Company’s website.

You can see a gallery of photos from the show below via photographer Jake Sudek.

Setlist: Dead & Company | Isleta Amphitheatre | Albuquerque, NM | 7/11/18

Set One: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Crazy Fingers, Dire Wolf, Big River, They Love Each Other, West L.A. Fadeaway, The Music Never Stopped, Easy Answers

Set Two: Here Comes Sunshine > Uncle John’s Band, Looks Like Rain, Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower > Drums > Space > The Wheel > A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Good Lovin’

Encore: Johnny B. Goode

A full soundboard recording of the show is available to stream now via Nugs.net.