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Various Artists - Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros: Live in Colorado Music Album Reviews

Various Artists - Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros: Live in Colorado Music Album Reviews
Where Dead & Company emphasize the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic spectacle, Bob Weir’s rootsy trio offers a more intimate reimagining of his former group’s historic countercultural songbook.

“There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert” is a timeworn Deadheadism that’s been plastered to countless bumpers over the past half century. The phrase is shrouded in the kind of language that can make the world of the Dead feel impenetrable to outsiders, but behind the cliché hides a secret to the longevity of the culture the band birthed. The Grateful Dead live experience exists as a continuum of traditions and disruptions, where new forms and frameworks are birthed in bursts of improvisatory fervor before being codified and incorporated into the band’s extended mythology. There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert because a Grateful Dead concert is a moving target—a porous, multi-celled organism squirming and multiplying as it steadily evolves. This is as true now, nearly 30 years after the death of Jerry Garcia and the subsequent splintering of the band, as it was in 1968, 1977, or 1990.

Garcia’s death obviously threw a wrench into the whole enterprise. Dynastic power struggles ensued, and rather than see the disappearance of the Dead’s center of gravity as a creative opportunity to rally around, the band scattered into shifting factions before reuniting one last time in 2015, in Santa Clara and Chicago. Bob Weir, the band’s rhythm guitarist and Earth-bound foil to Garcia’s more cosmic inclinations, emerged as the fulcrum among the surviving members. These days he splits his time between Dead & Company, the massively lucrative touring act in which he shares the spotlight with John Mayer (the most temperamentally Weir-like Garcia proxy that’s come along), and Wolf Bros, a stripped-down group with bassist-producer Don Was and drummer Jay Lane. With both bands, Weir is dialing in different elements of what a Grateful Dead show can be—on the one hand a grandiose, psychedelic spectacle, and on the other an intimate reimagining of a historic countercultural songbook.

There are moments when Wolf Bros sound like a bar band taking wild stabs at the rootsy side of Grateful Dead’s Janus-faced repertoire (which they speckle with cuts from Weir’s sporadic solo outings), but just as often they emerge as one of the most elegant solutions to the post-Garcia conundrum. There is no lead guitarist in Wolf Bros, and when Weir does expand the group’s lineup, he brings in keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, pedal steel player Greg Leisz, and a rotating cast of horn players, dubbed the Wolfpack, to add color. Weir takes center stage and stays put, often wearing a cowboy hat, perfecting his role as a grizzled road dog. There have been previous stints where Weir assumed center stage, rather than looking for someone to fill the space left by Garcia, but Wolf Bros have lasted long enough to establish its own rugged and spacious approach to the music. It feels like a tacit acknowledgement of the need to move on, implying that if Weir is to fully embody the legacy he helped build, part of that is finding other ways to live inside it.

Weir is not a natural bandleader, but on the new Wolf Bros collection Live in Colorado he does a convincing imitation of one. The album, his first official release since the 2016 studio LP Blue Mountain, collects recordings from his first public performances of the pandemic era, in June 2021. Weir sounds energized and thankful to be playing for an audience after a year and a half off the road. His words often tumble out of his mouth like they’re anxious to miss a deadline, gruff and braying but loaded with raw enthusiasm. At the same time, the band plays at a snail’s pace, which can either feel like a leaden plod or transform a simple tune into a majestic ballad—sometimes within the course of a single song. The album is full of strange incongruities that highlight both Weir’s fallibility and the humanizing charm of a musician with nothing left to prove trying to prove something anyway.

The songs on Live in Colorado are all rooted in American folk traditions, and all but two were played extensively by the Grateful Dead. Opener “New Speedway Boogie” translates best as Weir’s scratchy, knotted chords and boisterous growl move to the foreground, settling into a slow-motion boogie that’s played with a heavy hand and benefits from that vigor and intensity. Likewise, Weir embodies the sleaziness of “West L.A. Fadeaway” better than Garcia ever could, even if his guitar solo maxes out at a few fumbled stabs at a blues lick. The magic of a Bob Weir gig isn’t in the notes that are played onstage, but rather in the camaraderie felt by an audience singing along to lyrics that have shaped their worldviews and given life meaning over the course of many accumulated years. Listening to the crowd holler, “Spent a little time on the mountain,” or “Taught that weeping willow how to cry, cry, cry,” reveals the bigger picture better than dissecting the Lenny Pickett-esque horn arrangements ever could.

Weir picks up an acoustic guitar for a version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a cover that reveals as much about where he is now as it does his intimate history with Dylan’s music. Dylan has been a key inspiration for Weir since before he joined the Grateful Dead at 16, and now, at 74, Weir is mirroring Dylan’s refusal to give in or give up, as well as his determination to turn what could be a phoned-in victory lap into something much weirder and more exploratory. “I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains/I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways” goes the first verse of “A Hard Rain,” and that imagery of a weary traveler echoes throughout Live in Colorado. Weir’s “Lost Sailor” has spent too long at sea; on “Only a River” he returns once again to the mythical Shenandoah of his youth; on “Big River” he travels up and down the Mississippi searching for a woman he never finds. But perhaps it’s the closing “Saint of Circumstance” that best embodies Weir’s current trajectory: “Sure don’t know what I’m going for, but I’m going to go for it for sure.”

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Various Artists - Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros: Live in Colorado Music Album Reviews Various Artists - Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros: Live in Colorado Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, February 25, 2022 Rating: 5

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