Photo by Stuart Levine
Bob Weir, Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael, CA- 10/7
It’s been over 50 years since Bob Weir co-founded the Grateful Dead. During that time, there’s been no stopping Weir, as he continues to delve deep into his cosmic musical exploration. Blue Mountain is his first solo album in ten years, and his first all original songwriting material in thirty years. Weir is at the top of his game here.
Promoting his new collection, Weir calls his cowboy songs, the tour opener took place in San Rafael, CA. The nine-show run is billed as the “Campfire Tour”. Make no mistake, this is Bob’s rodeo, and he’s riding it to perfection.
Weir walked on stage with simply his acoustic guitar, to tell the audience a story of how he ran away from home to become a cowboy. There he stood alone in the spotlight; brave, bare, exposed to a hometown crowd of supporters, who themselves have been on some incredible journeys with Bob before. Proudly, he played the soul-stirring, title track off the album, Blue Mountain.
The band, all of whom contributed to the highly-praised new album, had an unintended late change, which added Steve Kimock and Jon Shaw to the bill. The members also included Josh Kaufman (co-producer of the album), Scott and Bryan Devendorf (The National).
Following the haunting “Only a River,” Bob looked behind him at the imagery of the wide sky and frontier land on the screen and said, “That’s Wyoming, I can just tell.” The stirring tones of “Lay My Lily Down” and the sense of loss was palatable, as Bob sang, “Dig a hole, in the cold, cold ground”. “Whatever Happened to Rose” highlighted Kimock on lap steel. Keeping with the theme of lost loves and dusty ranches, “Ghost Town” wove silky harmonies throughout.
Before “Gallop on the Run,” Weir gave high praise to Josh Ritter for his contributions to the album, calling him a gifted young American writer. The set-ender combo of “He’s Gone” into “Gonesville” was up-tempo and inspired.
The second set had Weir shouldering an electric guitar as he went blasting into a “cowboyed-up” “Althea.” Back on acoustic guitar and ripping it, Weir did a sentimental “Me and My Uncle.”
Back went the screen to the 60’s liquid light show. One might think the conflicting scenes would be distracting, but somehow they worked. A reflection of Weir’s internal makeup; one part horseback riding in a dusty saddle, one part psychedelic space explorer.
The elegant, transitional jam into “The Other One” circled around; the band had taken flight. A very tight, yet loose and fluid version, it still had the cowboy meets space traveler feel, with a crescendo that lifted the crowd right out of their seats.
“Looks Like Rain” was Bob at his absolute finest hour. This song went DNA deep, the emotions powerful, the crowd enraptured. The “Playing in the Band” reprise, had that Ace feel to it. Bringing full circle, both the old Weir’s 1972 solo album, right up to meet the new one.
The three-song encore included “Ki-Yi Bossie,” which Bob played solo acoustic, then finished the profoundly moving evening with “Mama Tried” and “Ripple.”
Honestly, Weir never had to touch pen to paper to be relevant, let alone put together such a body of timeless work. It is interesting to note, that he has been touching the musical void longer than some of his raptured audience has been alive. Yet this legend keeps reinventing himself. It’s one thing to keep the torch light burning; it’s altogether another thing to make new fire.