Bob Weir @ Kings Theatre – A Concert Review by Fred Stal
Album Cover credit- Chloe Weir
On the heels of just having released his first album of all original material in over 30 years, Bob Weir played a remarkable concert for fans this past Saturday night at the breathtaking Brooklyn concert venue Kings Theatre. Blue Mountain is not only original and complete, filled with beautiful melodies, but it tells a story relevant to Weir’s life. Even before the Haight scene, before the Grateful Dead, he ran away from home at 15 years old. The young Weir found himself in Wyoming , he always wanted to be a cowboy. He worked with cowpokes, and ranch hands. There was no radio to listen to at the end of a hard working day, just a campfire and a guitar where they sang traditional cowboy songs. This time in his life became the premise for this record, and subsequently this current “Campfire Tour”. Backed by members of the National, who brought up the idea of doing a cowboy record during a webcast 4 years earlier, as well as Steve Kimock, this tour consists of 9 dates.
This show kicked off in intimate fashion, with just Weir and his acoustic guitar, opening with the Grateful Dead classic “Hell in a Bucket”. Fans were thrilled to hear this as the opener, as it became a staple at Grateful Dead shows. They were certainly enjoying the ride from the get-go. Next up was “Corrina” another Grateful Dead tune, starting things off before kicking into the songs from the record and overall musical feel of the tour. The last solo song before the band came out to join in, was the title track from the new record “Blue Mountain”. One very notable aspect of the night, despite the beautiful songs, was Weir’s especially very strong vocals. It just might be the emotional connection and relevance to his roots, or a lot of rehearsals, but clearly something was being done right and you could feel it at this show.
The full band joined in for the remainder of the show. This entire tour Weir is backed by Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, Scott Devendorf, and Josh Kaufman. As well, the entire evening the audience was graced with Steve Kimock on guitar. Kimock is no stranger to the Grateful Dead, and always has a good feel for the overall syntax of the music. Working with Weir in support of this new album is no exception. “Cottonwood Lullaby” had the whole band cooking in the music and working the crowd into the cowboy music feel, with hints of the Dead thrown in. The emotional soundscape of sound from the National as well, really works with these songs. “Only a River” is a staple on the album, and goose-bump worthy music and lyrics. This was without question one of the show highlights, although being a brand new song. “Ghost Towns” starts off almost like a reggae tune, reminiscent of Concrete Jungle, but then goes into the vernacular of the album. Closing out the first set was the well-known Marty Robbins cover “El Paso”, which was played regularly by the Grateful Dead, as well as “Gonesville” which was released as one of the singles off of Blue Mountain.
The second set of music, just like at Grateful Dead shows, proved to be the meat of the music provided on Saturday night. The John Phillips penned tune “Me and My Uncle” could be considered a cowboy song in its own right, and has been sung for decades by Weir. Following the second set opener was the traditional “Jack-A-Roe”, which again was a popular song in the Grateful Dead rotation. This provided a nice mix of the current musical focus with the music Weir grew up with, having literally joined the guys in the Grateful Dead by age 16. A beautiful musical medley was weaved with “Bird Song”, a Jerry Garcia tune, following with “The Other One” which was an early psychedelic jam vehicle for the Dead. “Stella Blue” was up next, another Jerry tune. The beautiful melody made for yet another musical highlight of the evening. Closing out this set of music was the rocker “Jack Straw”. The encore included “Blue Bayou”, a Roy Orbison cover and the traditional “I Know You Rider”. This show highlighted the extended playing Weir is known for, with an emphasis on song structure, both old and new. ” There was always something very traditional about the Grateful Dead, despite the experimental rock and roll music. This record encapsulates a lot of that same feel. Weir just came out to play as a surprise guest with the Vermont jamband Phish last night, and has been ubiquitous as of late. Many of these song, co-written by Josh Ritter, is a landmark record for him, and hopefully he will have more tours supporting these wonderful new tunes.