SHOW REVIEW: BOBBY WEIR & WOLF BROS. @ ACL LIVE (3.7.23)
Amid the inescapable ramp up of impending SXSW insanity, on a balmy and foggy evening last Tuesday, our Capitol City welcomed yet another legendary guitarist in Bobby Weir to the esteemed Moody Theater stage. As is typical with all things “Dead“, the bright-eyed, tie-dyed masses of all ages were lined up in full throated spirit in anticipation of an early 5:30 door opening, jockeying in place to get a shot at the front row. Custom shirt and glass pipe vendors were sprawled out along 2nd St., each with their warring psychedelic playlists creating an echoing corridor of weirdness. It was the picture perfect backdrop for Weir, who was on his first full-fledged solo tour since his 2020 pandemic-shortened concert run. Lucky for us, he was treating his loyal Austin deadheads to not just one, but two sold out evenings in our fair city.
His veteran supporting Wolf Bros. lineup was unchanged since that run, with Don Was (as current president of Blue Note Records) on bass, Jay Lane (formerly of Primus) on drums, and longtime partner, Jeff Chimenti on keys. Never a one for expansive festivities, the former Grateful Dead stalwart wasted no time in setting the ruminative tone of the evening with ‘Hell in a Bucket’ leading off the set. Donning a basic grey t-shirt, worn jeans, and Birkenstock sandals; the white haired, mustachioed troubadour proclaimed, “I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least Im enjoying the ride”. Weir’s journey over the past 6 decades has certainly been a long, strange trip, and it was safe to say those in attendance were going to enjoy this acid-streaked and nostalgic trip down memory lane. One the Dead’s most consistent song appearances in ‘Minglewood Blues’ quickly followed which got an expected rise from the eager crowd considering Weir stated he’s “Wanted in Texas”, as the second verse proclaims. Another well-established Dead-era track in ‘Brown Eyed Women’ continued the strong set list, before the first of Weirs own in the relatively fresh, ‘She Knows What Im Thinkin” made an appearance. Barry Sless’ services on pedal steel were on full display serving as a willing and able stand-in for Jerry Garcia’s lead guitar anthems throughout the evening.
After the latest rendition of another classic Texas-themed fable in ‘El Paso’, Weir briefly stopped to tell a tale of his travels to Mexico with poet and Dead lyricist, John Barlow. As they left the radio station after a performance, Weir continued, ‘Mexicali Blues’ was spontaneously created while “riding and running across those desert sands”. It was a lovely intro to the track and served as a quick reminder of just how many stories Weir must have over the years. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in those days.
Lucky for us the music did not stop there and the emphatic and infectious gyrations on the floor expanded to the mezzanine and balcony seats and aisles to the unwavering ‘The Music Never Stopped’, backed by the introduction of the 5-piece Wolf Pack string and horn section. Music led into ‘Easy Answers’, a Rob Wasserman cover from the 1994 album Trios, and an impressive saxophone solo from Pack member, Sheldon Brown, before winding back up with a reprise of ‘Music Never Stopped’. For the initial hour-long set of the evening, there was seemingly not a single misstep. All business were Weir and Bros. up to this point cranking out classic song after song, though with a tone of restrained ambition. However, as was sometimes the case with Dead sets of yore, the second set to come was when things started truly heating up.
After a short break, the entire crew was back with the bubbly ‘Bombs Away’ from Weir’s second solo LP, 1978s Heaven Help the Fool. According to Weirs recount, the song was his and Barlows tribute to pianist Cole Porter, which was an interesting and frankly unexpected aside. In any event, right out of the gates, the song allowed Weir to show off some of his impressive guitar chops, while often he was overshadowed by Garcia and Co. throughout his career and reduced to rhythm guitar. Ratdog‘s ‘Money for Gasoline’ made an appearance serving as the final aperitif before the main course was to be served up in wanton anticipation of the fervent crowd.
The first main course was a hearty slice of Garcia‘s ‘The Wheel’ with its theme ever so consistent with these hectic times we find ourselves today. We are seemingly caught on a “wheel that can’t slow down” and all we can do is to hunker down and “try just a little bit harder”. That chorus was met with raucous applause and cheers, so its clear Garcia’s message was just as fitting in the 70s as it is now. Perhaps that feeling of helplessness never truly changes.
On the menu next was an absolutely riveting cover version of Bob Dylan‘s ‘Silvio’ which was also penned by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. This love affair of the song is clear given it has become somewhat of a consistent track on the Wolf Bros. setlists. An extended jam session interlude led to an explosion of dancing throughout the venue which then turned to a medley featuring ‘Tequila’ which had many running to the bar to grab another round. If that was not enough, the set just kept the hits coming with ‘China Cat > I Know You Rider’ sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy. At this point in the set Weir and Co. were firing on all cylinders and showed no signs of fatigue 2+ hours into the show.
After that seemingly high-water mark, Weir reflected on his life lived and another year past on ‘Days Between’. It was a somber resettling of the evening and a theme that appeared to allow Weir to contemplate the span of his lengthy career and how sometimes the most important things are right in front of us. Closing out the set felt like it might be a tough task, but no trouble arose for this tight, veteran group that had reached full stride. A 20-min extended ‘Terrapin Station’ with all five movements represented and handled with utmost style and brought the entire house to their feet with a well-deserved standing ovation.
One final short break brought the crew out for a welcomed encore of the In the Dark classic ‘Touch of Grey’, with the crowd echoing in support, “I will get by, I will survive” during and long into the night. While a solid closer to the 3.5+ hour set, it was the full Terrapin that many did not expect to see live as the flabbergasted crowd made their way down the stairs into the dark 2nd St. evening. Banter went back and forth amongst the supporters each sharing and attempting to one-up each other on what was the best part of the night. While there may not have been one right answer, it was clear that we had all caught something special which shows just how incredibly gifted Weir and his band are night after night. As a fitting ending to the evening, a couple young guys were manning a seemingly stolen nitrous oxide tank passing out full balloons to passersby like kids at a circus. It felt surreal, but also somewhat fitting like the heady times of yore. “No thanks”, I said. I was still riding the Weir induced high. Weir and Co. returned the next evening and Im sure it similarly did not disappoint.
All sketches by Jon Wagner @jwagnerviz