On the eve of South by Southwest the hippies are about. Camping stoves sizzle on the busy sidewalk outside the Moody Theater in Downtown Austin.
For the past 50 years, a caravan of bohemians, hitchhikers, bikers, soul-searchers, music obsessed fans and vendors have followed Bob Weir around, setting up mobile cities in the parking lots and campgrounds that surround the venues.
I spend some time talking with the tie-dyed salesmen who’ve traveled from state to state, cooking grilled cheese for the fans and selling t-shirts, jewelry and other goods. It’s a family that has gone through generations and participated in over ten thousand concerts.
Weir opened with the Grateful Dead classic “Bertha” and moved into “Good Lovin.’” These songs date back to the earliest days of the band in their San Francisco home. The sound system at the Moody Theater is such a perfect balance for the group and the fans in the pit fuel the energy.
Bob Weir performs at the Moody Theater. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
The musicians backing up Weir really set this show apart from Dead and Co. While it would have been amazing to hear John Mayer in such an intimate setting, the dynamics here are a modern take on the Grateful Dead with total respect to the origins of the music. It’s a more polished version of the Grateful Dead that really makes the music stand out for a fan that has heard live tapes for decades. Barry Sless performs on the pedal steel and really creates an atmosphere for the group. Pianist Jeff Chimenti really shines here and gets great reactions from the crowd.
“Turn that light on,” Weir sings as the audience unites and the room shakes. “Let it get strong, let it get bright.”
“Half Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo” was a hometown favorite as Weir sang about our greatest landmark.
“Across the Rio Grande, across the lazy river,” Weir sings to the Lone Star State.
What stood out on this tour as well was the version of “West L.A. Fadeaway,” “Don’t Let Go” and other tracks that were sung by Jerry Garcia. The Wolfpack came out to join the band, a five piece horn and string section that really put the show on another level.
What sets this apart from the Dead and Co. concert series is the freedom Weir has without the Grateful Dead name attached. While the set list was familiar, the songs had a totally different atmosphere and were brought into the modern era without changing the spirit of the music. The smaller venues also lend to a much higher quality of sound overall and as a lifelong fan, I was so thankful to have seen Bob Weir and the Wolf Bros featuring the Wolf Pack.
Find tour dates and more info here: https://bobweir.net/shows/
For more Bob Weir coverage, see here: Show Review: Bobby Weir and The Wolf Brothers in Dallas