Bob Weir performed with an all-star cast of indie rock musicians at his San Rafael, CA TRI Studios last night as part of the HeadCount-sponsored Bridge Session. A music and activism summit, the three-hour event featured a full-two set performance by Weir and friends as well as a panel discussion that touched on a variety of issues facing the current political climate. Panelists for the round table discussion included independent Presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, No Labels co-founder Mark McKinnon (a former media adviser to George W. Bush, John McCain, Bono and Lance Armstrong), climate change activist Jessy Tolkan and Grateful Dead lyricist and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) co-founder John Perry Barlow. Disco Biscuits bassist and HeadCount co-chair Marc Brownstein served as the event’s emcee and also interviewed a few HeadCount volunteers between sets. A small group of HeadCount donors, media representatives and other friends of the extended Grateful Dead family attended the event, including Cake frontman John McCrea.
As previously reported, Weir’s musical collaborators for the evening were hand-picked by The National’s Scott and Bryan Devendorf. In addition to the Devendorf brothers on bass and drums respectively, the band included National guitarist Aaron Dessner, National keyboardist and noted session man Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett, The Walkmen’s Walt Martin, Taka Taka drummer Conrad Doucette, trumpeter and touring National member Kyle Resnick, Yellowbirds/Apollo Sunshine guitarist Sam Cohen and Yellowbirds guitarist Josh Kaufman, the latter of whom served as the evening’s musical director. Dessner also showed off his mandolin skills on several songs—most notably “Friend of the Devil”—while Martin played organ in order to capture Pigpen’s early contributions to the band. Weir nodded to another one of his fallen bandmates by wearing a pin depicting Jerry Garcia in a patriotic top hat on his guitar strap.
Showing off their knowledge of the Dead, Kaufman and the members of The National worked with Weir on the evening’s setlist and even persuaded the Grateful Dead co-founder to bust out an extreme rarity: At the end of the band’s first set, the group moved into “My Brother Esau,” which Weir has not performed since the Grateful Dead’s October 3, 1987 show at Mountain View, CA’s Shoreline Amphitheatre. Before starting the song, Weir told the audience that he “parked’ the number for over twenty years but that “Esau” is a “tale that never tires of telling itself.” Weir also thanked the members of The National—whose lineup includes two sets of brothers—for encouraging him to revive the song because it gave him an opportunity to rework its bridge. Barlow, who wrote the song’s lyrics for Weir, looked on from the side lines throughout the extended introduction.
In addition to a hefty chuck of covers and originals from the Grateful Dead repertoire, the ensemble covered Cass McCombs’ “Love Thine Enemy” and Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time” as well as The National’s “Daughters of the SoHo Riots” and “Fake Empire.” Weir sang lead on “Daughters of the SoHo Riots,” while Doveman provided vocals on “Fake Empire.” At the end of their second set, the entire group moved into the audience and huddled around a single microphone to perform three tender songs from the Dead’s classic Workingman’s Dead/ American Beauty period: “Ripple,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Brokedown Palace.”
The members of The National are now one of only a handful of musicians to perform with both Weir and Trey Anastasio in the past four months. For more on this weekend’s benefit, be sure to read our recent site interview with the members of The National.
Here’s a look at last night’s setlist
Saturday, March 24, TRI Studios, San San Rafael, CA
Help on the Way
Love Thine Enemy
Looks Like Rain
Friend of the Devil
Daughters of the SoHo Riots (The National, Bob Weir on lead vocals)
My Brother Esau
Me and My Uncle
Fake Empire (The National, Doveman on lead vocals)
Most of the Time
Brown Eyed Women
The Other One
Standing on the Moon
China Cat Sunflower>
I Know You Rider
E: (acoustic in the audience)
Uncle John’s Band
Here’s a look at the show’s “stage” setlist