Bob Weir brought his Campfire Band to the Lone Star State for several spring concerts, including a pair at the magnificent Moody Theater in downtown Austin, the home of the Austin City Limits PBS show. The guitarist also received a special honor before the first show as Mayor Steve Adler presented Weir with the key to the city during sound check.
Smiling throughout, Weir masterfully wove through most of his new, cowboy-inflected Blue Mountain record, as well as many old favorites. The sound in the Moody is so good that even the occasional spells of feedback couldn’t detract and the three-story theatre was mostly full with a rowdy, engaged audience on this Saturday night.
Opening the show solo with the Dead classic, “Loose Lucy,” Weir was rolling from the start while the sonic clarity in the room allowed his acoustic guitar to really shine. Vocally, Weir sounded clear and confident as he worked his way through the mid-tempo rhythm and blues number, easily getting the crowd to sing along with him. So ripe for the live setting, “Loose Lucy” would make a good encore with the obvious hook, “thank you for a real good time.”
Next up was the bluesy “K.C. Moan,” a shorter groove that fits well with the country and folk sensibility of Weir’s new album. A great version of the rare “Black-Throated Wind” followed, providing another strong connection—simply put it’s one of Weir’s best songs. The remainder of the first set featured the majority of Weir’s new record, seven songs starting with the title song. After that, the Campfire Band took the stage for the rest of the set, beginning with a really nice “Only A River.” The sextet features Aaron Dessner, Scott and Bryan Devendorf from The National, Josh Kaufman, Jon Shaw and the timeless Steve Kimock, one of the longest-running Grateful Dead family friends. The band really locked in with Weir and the eleven-song first set came to a ripping end with a pairing of the classic “Rosalee McFall” segueing smoothly into the new “Gonesville.”
The second set started fittingly with the Texas-themed “Me & My Uncle,” the song most played by the Grateful Dead. That was followed by a great version of another rarity from the Reckoning era, “Dark Hollow,” an old folk song that Weir has made his own. Set two usually features all Dead-related songs and the next five were all prime classics from their repertoire. A strong “Tennessee Jed” got the crowd singing and Weir easily handled moving between his songs and Garcia-helmed songs. The band debuted a pumping “Minglewood Blues” but the lack of its normal resolution proved challenging. A vibrant “Playing in the Band” came next and then a beautiful “Eyes of the World.” Kimock’s effortless guitar playing really stood out and he seemed like a mentor for the rest of the young band. Clearly, he’s so familiar with the material that he can provide energy and dynamics on the spot. His solos in the second set really raised the roof, especially on “Eyes” and the set closer, a very powerful “Morning Dew.”
The encore on this tour usually begins solo with the catchy “Ki-Yi Bossie” and did so again this evening. Weir brought the band back for one last song, a very pretty “Peggy-O.” Weir appears more comfortable than ever singing Garcia’s songs and really showed his vocal power throughout the night. Only a few high notes were tricky and his trademark growl was in full force. Often, it seemed Weir really was singing like in his 70s and 80s heyday.