During lockdown and with the advent of ubiquitous livestream concerts, Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros morphed into a full band.
After starting life as a glorified rhythm section dubbed Bob Weir and Wolf Bros – guitarist Weir, upright bassist Don Was and drummer Jay Lane – the band added keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, pedal steeler Greg Leisz and a part-time, five-piece horns-and-strings section christened the Wolfpack, seriously beefed up its sound and subtly revised its calling card.
Think of it as RatDog on steroids, a quasi-jazzy group playing a mix of Grateful Dead and recent Weir solo material (“Only a River”) with a few covers tossed in for fun.
It’s this amalgam that appears on the Wolf Bros’ forthcoming (Feb. 18) first release, Live in Colorado, culled from shows June 8-12, 2021, in the titular state. It’s a high-quality recording of familiar songs in unfamiliar arrangements.
Of the nine tracks, just two – “New Speedway Boogie” and “West L.A. Fadeaway” – are Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia tracks.
Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is among Weir’s strongest covers of the post-Grateful era. And this one is no exception – played as a five-piece, with Weir’s acoustic guitar high in the mix and the singer holding notes to startling effect.
Leisz, meanwhile, stretches and bends the steel to accentuate Weir’s vocals before miming a train whistle on “Big River,” which flows at a turgid, Dead & Company tempo.
“My Brother Esau” makes a long-overdue return with lyrics updated four decades to “the year 2009;” “Looks Like Rain” benefits from being more Ace than GD; and the 10-piece comes together in glorious groupthink on “Lost Sailor” -> “Saint of Circumstance,” a pairing that bodes well for this band’s potential.
“We’ll be back in just a short bit,” Weir says as the crowd noise fades, a seemingly purposeful inclusion of his set-break announcement, suggesting a second volume may already be in the works.