The Dead & Company Final Tour is in full swing after kicking off this past weekend in L.A., with the Grateful Dead offshoot stopping on Tuesday in Phoenix, AZ. While the two shows at the Kia Forum served as the official start of the final go-round for Bob WeirJohn MayerJeff Chimenti, Mickey HartJay Lane, and Oteil Burbridge, it’s not until the band is out on the road passing through the veins of the American interstate that the spirit of any tour begins to truly take hold.

Perennial opener “Feel Like A Stranger” got things going, with Bobby prophetically rapping “Gonna be a long, long, crazy, crazy night.” Burbridge’s painted face was another positive harbinger of things to come as Mayer’s lighter-than-air, filtered guitar solo guided the band into the evening.

Dead & Company – “Feel Like A Stranger” [Pro-Shot] – 5/23/23

“Feel Like A Stranger” may have opened the show, but it was Jeff Chimenti’s roaring organ on the following “Alabama Getaway” that really signaled the rest of the band to start their engines on this uptempo quick-rip. Despite being some 2,400 miles away, the line “Just like New York City” in “Ramble On Rose” still elicited a cheer from the crowd at Ak-Chin Pavilion, as it never fails to do wherever Dead & Company find themselves.

A mid-set conference on the mound brought up a discussion about nether regions and some rare onstage banter, “I gifted everyone in the band Gold Bond powder, and we’re enjoying the benefits of it at this very moment and I think you might be hearing it,” Mayer quipped. With everyone feeling loose and properly talcumed, Dead & Co dug into the classic stadium Dead grouping of Traffic‘s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and the reprise section of The Beatles‘ “Hey Jude”. The first few songs of the set were nice, but this was where the band hit its stride with gorgeous interplay between Mayer’s soaring blues leads and Chimenti’s playful Hammond B3 organ.

Energy continued to build through the “Hey Jude” coda before Dead & Co reshuffled the deck with a drop into “Dark Star”. While it was surely a downshift in momentum, the wide expanses of the jam epitomized the Dead & Company that tens of thousands pay to see on a nightly basis: six improvisational masters tapping into their groupmind to wander a plane of existence imperceptible to most.

On the tail end of the first verse, the momentum began to build once again, ultimately leading to a trip down the mine for “Cumberland Blues”. As always, Jeff Chimenti’s honky tonk pian-ee acted as the light shining on the band’s miner’s cap before another hard-working average Joe, “Casey Jones”, finished off the first set.

The band returned light as a feather with “Here Comes Sunshine”, perhaps a little late considering the sun had already set over the desert. Regardless of the hour, Mayer’s serotonin-inducing guitar licks were enough to supply one’s daily dose of Vitamin D. A fittingly ebullient guitar solo nourished the landscape with enough sunshine to bring up some “Scarlet Begonias” and take the band into the heart of set two.

Dead & Company – “Here Comes Sunshine” [Pro-Shot] – 5/23/23

Ripping and running through the second frame, the band rode the “Scarlet” rhythmic breakdown into “Viola Lee Blues” for some Primal Dead rather than the customary “Fire On The Mountain”, though these improvisational sparks would turn to burning embers before long. Circling back for the second verse of “Dark Star”, Dead & Company dished out the first “Spanish Jam” within the song since 8/20/21 at Citi Field, though the Dead’s homage to Miles Davis‘ Sketches of Spain was since played out of “Space” on 6/21/22 in Missouri. By taking this old-school pairing off the shelf, Dead & Company showed their willingness to break open the books and dust off a few old recipes for The Final Tour.

Oteil took control for the eventual “Fire On The Mountain”, with his bobbing bass melding with Mayer’s envelope filter to plod this song along and stoke the flames. Mickey Hart and Jay Lane then assumed the leading position for “Drums”, as Oteil stepped in on banjo bass ahead of the transition into “Space”.

Coming out of the “Space” fog, Weir threw down his quick demand of “I Need A Miracle” before a trip back to the Primal Dead era for “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. Chimenti’s haunting organ combined with Weir’s gravelly delivery connected with the old blues number in a way only possible for a weathered spirit, as Jerry Garcia was able to do when the Grateful Dead brought the song back into rotation in 1989 and 1990. The second set then finished off with a triumphant “U.S. Blues” before Johnbo and Bobby sent everyone home singing with a “Ripple” encore.

Dead & Company’s Final Tour continues on Friday with a sold-out show in Dallas. For a full list of tour dates and to join the waitlist for tickets visit the band’s website. Find out how to tune in every night via here.

Dead & Company – “Ripple” – 5/23/23


Setlist: Dead & Company | Ak-Chin Pavilion | Phoenix, AZ | 5/23/23

Set One: Feel Like A Stranger, Alabama Getaway, Ramble On Rose, Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic) > Hey Jude Reprise (The Beatles) > Dark Star [1] > Cumberland Blues, Casey Jones

Set Two: Here Comes Sunshine, Scarlet Begonias > Viola Lee Blues > Dark Star > Spanish Jam [3] > Dark Star [2] > Fire On The Mountain > Drums > Space > I Need A Miracle > Death Don’t Have No Mercy, U.S. Blues

Encore: Ripple

[1] Verse 1
[2] Verse 2
[3] Spanish Jam in Dark Star v. 2. LTP: 8/20/21.