obby Weir just played his first in-person live shows since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the music industry during a two night run at Red Rocks Amphitheater on June 8-9, 2021. The last scheduled show for Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros was a two night run at the Chicago Theatre in early March 2020. I was supposed to be in attendance on the second night but that was the same night they cancelled their tour and the live music industry would lie dormant for almost 15 months.
In many ways, Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros’ first night’s set was a direct response to the unimaginable year that we all have experienced. The first song played by Weir’s ensemble was ‘New Speedway Boogie’, a tune from the Grateful Dead’s seminal fourth studio album ‘Workingman’s Dead’. Although this song has an uplifting melody, the lyrics point to a long journey of mountains and hills where men die of cold even in the heat of the sun. The tune wraps itself up with a mantra oozing with meaning for our times, “One way or another, this darkness got to give.” This poignant phrase was chanted several times before the tune subsided and everyone could feel the light at the end of the tunnel that was Covid.
The next track was “Truckin" a fan favorite that was equally emphatic. The lyrics of this song are all about tragic events like phony philosophers sitting & crying at home, sweet girls being corrupted by vitamin C & cocaine, and being busted down on Bourbon street. Despite all of these mishaps and hard times, the song is resolved by the chorus that encourages the listener to keep trucking through the long and strange trip.
The next song played was ‘My Brother Esau". It also revolves around curses and death. The chorus, which says “ Shadowboxing the apocalypse and wandering the land” is nothing short of a direct metaphor for the world’s experience with the Coronavirus. Shadowboxing is a training technique for boxers when they throw punches in the air and what else were we doing this year besides shadowboxing the apocalypse?
Bob Weir finally addressed the crowd after “Esau” and noted what a ‘holy’ event it was to be back together again after being ‘cooped up’ for so long. The first set continued with a popular song named “Peggy-O” which the Grateful Dead would often cover that eventually bled into ‘Black Throated Wind’, a song from Weir’s 1972 solo album “Ace”. The first set would close with powerful performances of “Brown Eyed Women”, “Weather Report Suite”, and “Let it Grow”.
There was a feeling that flowed through the Colorado air that night, it was a deep breath after a long journey, a moment of silence after explosions, it was the return of a sense of safety and normalcy after a pandemic. Anyone could tell Bobby was excited to be with the people as he told anecdotes of picking out pink guitars with Bob Dylan and developing riffs for Grateful Dead songs with David Crosby. He was giddy to be back out with his band that consisted of Jay Lane on drums, Don Was on the upright bass, special guests Jeff Chimenti on keys & Greg Liesz on pedal steel guitar along with the string and horn section known as the Wolfpack. Weir’s crew played many live streamed shows during the pandemic such as the Relix stream from TRI Studios but it just wasn’t the same.
As the COVID regulations loosened, Weir opened the floodgates of touring again by announcing a two-night run at Red Rocks followed by a two-night run in Vail. He also announced a national 31-date tour with Dead & Company that begins on August 16th in North Carolina. It’s safe to say that live music is creeping back into existence and this journalist couldn’t be more pleased.
The second set began with a beautiful rendition of “Me and Bobby Mcgee” where the crowd was reminded that freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose. The Wolf Pack stood in for most of the second set adding melodic layers to songs like ‘Playin’ In the Band’, ‘He’s Gone’, 'Lady With a Fan’ and more. The most fitting song to have the Wolf Pack on was ‘Terrapin Station’ as they were able to capture all the orchestral movements from the original recording. The Pack took a break near the end of the second set as Weir performed a heart-string pulling take on ‘Standing on the Moon’ but they were back soon to accompany Weir on ‘Sugar Magnolia’.
As visions of sunshine daydreams and walking through tall trees entranced the crowd, the lights dimmed and the band left the stage. It was the crowd’s turn to perform, if they gave enough yelps and screams the band may just return, which they did. The night ended with another track filled with meaning known as ‘Touch of Grey’. Not only was this the Grateful Dead’s first #1 single on the Billboard charts, it is also a song with a chorus that every person needs to hear at this point in time and space, “We will get by.”