The alchemists of Dead & Company on Tuesday connected with the Soul of the World to deliver a set harnessing the elements of nature in Charlotte, NC. The first show of the band’s two-night swing through the Tar Heel State drew inspiration from environmental forces, cultivating a setlist theme that ran throughout the evening.

A light mist flirted with audiences upon arrival to the PNC Music Pavilion outdoor amphitheater, where Bob Weir, John MayerMickey HartJeff ChimentiOteil Burbridge, and Jay Lane promptly took the stage at 7:13 p.m. For the second time in the eight shows of the band’s Final Tour, “Shakedown Street” opened the concert and dropped fans into disco Grateful Dead decadence.

While the intermittent spritz had largely dissipated by showtime, that didn’t stop Dead & Company from dishing out numerous allusions to the weather, first with the traditional “Cold Rain & Snow”. Perhaps fitting of the dreary skies overhead, the first set took on a predominantly bluesy tone, one of many areas of expertise for Jerry Garcia stand-in John Mayer.

While tempo is the primary grievance for Dead & Co detractors, one thing that Weir’s relaxed vocal delivery allows for is a deeper contemplation of lyrics we’ve listened to for decades. That effect was evident in Garcia and Robert Hunter‘s “Loser”, with the down-on-his-luck cardshark taking on a deeper neo-noire aura with the elongated telling.

Dead & Company – “Cold Rain & Snow” (Traditional), “Loser” [Pro-Shot] – 5/30/23

During the proceeding “Dire Wolf”, it became clear that—when Dead & Company hangs it up in August—one thing audiences will surely miss is the dynamic interplay between Mayer and Chimenti. In fact, though it is surely the platinum-selling blues guitar-playing pop star that has helped the surviving Grateful Dead members ascend to this level of relevancy, Bobby’s post-Jerry career has been solidly buttressed by that of his silver-haired companion Jeff Chimenti. Throughout Tuesday’s show—in particular “Loose Lucy” in the first set—Chimenti’s unrelenting assault on his dominion of keyboards showed that he is as much an equal member of the living Dead & Company organism as any of his more famous bandmates.

Stepping out from the predominantly blues-focused mood of the first set thus far, Dead & Company dipped their toes into the waters of improvisation for a communal, free-flowing jam that ultimately revealed itself as “The Wheel”. More meteorological allusions followed (“If the thunder don’t get ya then the lightning will.”) as the band journeyed out of the bluesy swamp for a taste of what was to come.

Transitioning into the uptempo “Bertha”, the straight-ahead rocker seemed destined to close the first set, so it was much to everyone’s surprise and delight when Bobby quickly signaled the start of the ornate “Let It Grow”—taken from the “Weather Report Suite” (we get it)—for one last allusion to the weather. The triumphant jam scared away any lingering clouds that dared hang around as the band extended their “The Wheel” toe dip into a full-on improvisational immersion, giving a glimpse of the band’s full capabilities before breaking for intermission.

Setlist statisticians and fanatics fretting over the wealth of improvisational heavy-hitters dished out at the previous show in Atlanta felt their worries wash away as Dead & Company retook the stage and lit off the iconic opening of “Help On The Way”. We were in good hands.

Transitioning into the instrumental “Slipknot!”, Mayer fired off slinky leads as Chimenti ominously strutted his Rhodes in the background. Mayer seemed content to mill around this “Slipknot!” middle ground for as long as possible, hanging on every note and savoring each beat before the rollercoaster dopamine drop into the jubilant “Franklin’s Tower”.

Dead & Company – “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklin’s Tower” [Pro-Shot] – 5/30/23

It was in the completion of the Help > Slip > Frank movement that Jeff Chimenti once again asserted himself as the (temporary) leader of the pack, delivering a roaring B3 organ solo that elicited thunderous cheers from the audience.

On the tail-end of the three-song movement, Dead & Company found themselves at a crossroads and decided to turn the ship over to bassist Oteil Burbridge for a standalone “Fire On The Mountain”. Though the sun had gone down long ago and the cool, if somewhat humid, late spring air made for a pleasant May evening, the heat was palpably dialed up for the reggae bob. Connecting with the earlier (somewhat heavy-handed) allusions to water, Dead & Company continued to conjure the natural elements by harnessing fire.

Coming out of the light, lofty “Fire” jam, Dead & Company took a hard cut into an abrasive, mid-set jump to “The Other One”. A rough-and-tumble entry into Bobby’s autobiographical tale took its time to develop and would set up what would prove to be the improvisational centerpiece of the second set. Partway through the jam, Mayer picked out a different guitar from his typical PRS—this one with the notable inclusion of a whammy bar, which he used to its full potential—as another abrupt mid-song jump heard all of the pieces of the song slowly come apart for a rhythmic breakdown into “Drums”.

Oteil Burbridge’s full-bodied participation in “Drums”, in particular his inclusion of the African Space Banjo, has helped ease the pain of the missing Bill Kreutzmann. Together with fellow psychonauts Hart and Lane, the trio of rhythmic partners charted a cross-continental voyage through the anatomy of beat, kneading the audience’s collective consciousness into a soft putty before the rest of the band re-entered the chat and eased the crowd back in with “Space”.

Dead & Company went on to establish a permanent residency in the ethereal space between “Space” and the unfinished half of “The Other One”. The band, Mayer in particular, seemed content to live inside the free-flowing improvisation built around the two halves of “The Other One”. By splitting up the vehicle between the two sides of “Drums” and “Space”, Dead & Company weaved a cohesive thread through the second set that was its own reward for keeping close attention, like seeing all the pieces come together at the end of a mystery.

Bringing it all back home to the blues-infused ambiance of the first set, the first “Black Peter” of 2023 fully returned PNC Music Pavilion to reality. If a little drawn out, the Workingman’s Dead B-side at least proved that Bob Weir has been practicing his slide guitar.

The ensuing “Sugar Magnolia” brought with it one of those quintessential American rock moments as the ebullient love song wafted through the open-air amphitheater. To a certain subsection of the population, it’s something as iconic as “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park is to another tribe.

With the clock winding down, Dead & Company bucked tradition and remained on stage to contend for the world’s shortest encore break. Closing out Tuesday’s show came one more archetypal American rock moment with “U.S. Blues” as Dead & Company busted the 11 p.m. curfew for one more run through the chorus.

Dead & Company’s Final Tour picks back up on Thursday in Raleigh. For tickets and a full list of tour dates visit the band’s website.

Setlist: Dead & Company | PNC Music Pavilion | Charlotte, NC | 5/30/23

Set One: Shakedown Street, Cold Rain & Snow (Traditional), Loser, Dire Wolf, Loose Lucy, The Wheel > Bertha, Let It Grow

Set Two: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, Fire On The Mountain, The Other One > Drums > Space > The Other One > Black Peter, Sugar Magnolia

Encore: U.S. Blues