Bobby Weir and The Wolf Brothers featuring The Wolfpack played their third Texas stop during the final week of their winter tour this past Thursday, and I was fortunate to be able to drive down from my hime in Oklahoma for the show. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the Dallas Ft. Worth metroplex. I grew up a couple hundred miles south in Houston, and well, there’s always been a heated rivalry between these two Texas cities. Yet, the Dallas area, particularly during my younger years, always attracted a better concert schedule than Houston, especially when it comes to Grateful Dead related shows. Still, Texas as a whole fairs a lot better in that category than my current home state of Oklahoma, so southward I traveled.
The Majestic Theatre is located in downtown Dallas, a lingering remnant of the past glories of Theater Row. Constructed in 1920, the venue is an official Dallas Landmark, and is listed within the National Register of Historic Places. Upon its opening the Majestic hosted a variety of legendary vaudeville performances from Houdini to Mae West and Bob Hope, as well as the best of the Big Band era including Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway while also hosting a plethora of movie premiers. Like many of its era though, the theatre fell on hard times, ultimately closing in July of 1976 before being restored and updated as a full-time music venue, reopening in 1983. Somehow though, this was my first visit to the theatre, and I was blown away by just how beautiful the venue is, and also how good the sound was throughout and how friendly the staff and team were as well.
Weir and The Wolf Brothers have been on a month long late winter jaunt across the States that kicked off in North Charleston, NC back in February and will have concluded at the Ryman in Nashville by the time you’re reading this, with Dead and Company’s final tour just ahead on the horizon. Weir is a road dog if there ever was one, often reminding me of B.B. King’s constant touring schedule as well as his ability to put together such an outstanding ensemble of musicians. I’ve been able to see nearly every touring configuration Weir’s done post-Grateful Dead, and this was a band I’d been hoping to see since it was put together. I loved the concept of it all so much. Originally formed in 2018 as a trio of Weir, drummer Jay Lane and Don Was on upright bass, the band has expanded to now includes former Kingfish collaborator Barry Sless on pedal steel, as well as Ratdog and Dead and Company alum Jeff Chimenti on keys to help round out the sound. The band’s 2020 New Years Eve performance (reviewed by yours truly here: https://americanahighways.org/2021/01/05/show-review-bob-weir-and-wolf-brothers-new-years-eve/ ) saw the addition of strings and horns, and were introduced as the Wolfpack and really took the band to a new level in my humble opinion. The Wolfpack currently consists of Brian Switzer on trumpet, Sheldon Brown on sax, Adam Theis on trombone, Mads Tolling on violin, and Adam Kelly on cello. During this performance as well as a few others on the tour, violinist Matthew Szemela was subbing for Mads Tolling.
Taking the stage just after 7pm, the band launched in to the first of several “Texas” songs with “Jack Straw,” followed with “Odessa” from Ratdog’s under appreciated 2001 release, Evening Moods. Next up, “Loser” with its reference to Abilene, TX, and then “Deep Ellum Blues,” a song I was fully expecting them to play primarily considering the proximity to the legendary Dallas neighborhood., but also because Dead and Company have played it during each of their last two Dallas tour stops. I’ve always loved Weir’s Dylan interpretations, so the evening’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was quite well welcome.
“He’s Gone” was up next, with a really fun “Mama Tried” seguing into a raucous “Turn On Your Lovelight” to close the first set and honor a fallen brother, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan a day after the anniversary of his passing in 1973. With that, Weir stepped to the microphone with his familiar, “We’ll be back in just a little bit” as the band left the stage for the set break.
To kick off the second set, Weir dug deep, polishing off a remnant of the Grateful Dead’s early jug band days with “Stealin’” before getting into the real meat of the evening, with a stunning two part “Dark Star” that sandwiched “Truckin’” as well as another Ratdog era song, a cover of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” before rejoining the second verse of “Dark Star” which then wound down only to build into “Scarlet Begonias” and onward into a blistering “Viola Lee Blues” an emotionally touching “Black Peter” and a memorable “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.” The band briefly left the stage before returning for an encore of “Black Muddy River” sending the appreciative audience home with smiles etched on their faces.
All in all, this was one of the best performances I’ve seen Weir perform over all the years I’ve been seeing him, and that’s pretty damn remarkable considering that’s been over some 35 years. There’s something about the simplicity of it all, the stripped down nature that really appeals to me. Sure, there’s plenty that critique the slower pacing of the songs, or that Weir’s playing style isn’t suited for leads. But for me, it comes down to the singer and the songs, and the fact that Weir is still out there doing it his way at 75 years of age. He looks great and sounds great and seems like he’s still having the time of his life performing these songs that have meant so much to so many of us.
Keep an eye peeled on Bob Weir’s webpage for Wolf Brothers’ dates and updates for Dead and Company’s final tour kicking off in May. I’ll likely be back in Dallas for that show and I’d love to see you there!