Bob Weir & Wolf Bros howled through an amazing night of improvisation and fan favorites at the Durham Performing Arts Center, offering a unique glimpse into his talents in a rare trio format. Wolf Bros is an exceptional entry in the vast catalog of Dead-related bands. They leave chasms of space in the sound, creating a psychedelic sparsity utilizing silence as an instrument. The result is room to grow, play and explore, with an added emphasis on the lyrics. Through it all rings Weir's booming voice and peerless approach to guitar, a singular spacey mix of unexpected chord voicings and unusual riffs. As the only soloist soaring above the bedrock of bass of drums, his jangly angular attacks burst with savage energy and wild abandon, hitting heavenly harmonics, slamming the whammy bar, and employing the volume knob to control the subtle nuances.
The Grateful Dead guitarist was joined by a pack with fascinating resumes all their own. Dynamic drummer Jay Lane has played behind Weir since RatDog formed in 1995, and was one of the early drummers in Primus before joining them again years later. His remarkable resume also includes stints in Furthur (with Weir & Phil Lesh), Golden Gate Wingmen & the Charlie Hunter Trio. Rock solid stand-up bassist Don Was scored multiple hits in the '80s with Was (Not Was), later produced albums for the likes of The Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt (and the B-52's "Love Shack"!), and has been President of famed jazz label Blue Note Records since 2012.
The show opened with a chunky rhythm that slowly revealed itself as "Hell in a Bucket", one of several songs to gently find form out of the ether. A dreamy yet foreboding take on "Loser" followed before Weir switched to acoustic guitar for Merle Haggard's #1 hit from 1968 "Mama Tried." Weir has put out 7 solo records over the years, from 1972's Ace to 2016's Blue Mountain. The latter included the next song, "Gonesville," whose acoustic alchemy led into a huge jam filled with musical adventurism.
Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece", first released by The Band in 1971, led to a switch back to electric guitar for "Bombs Away" from Weir's 1978 album Heaven Help the Fool. Airy yet energetic, his guitar expeditions met with Was' pulsing bass and Lane's backing vocals to create a confounding sound unlike anything expected. An exquisite rendition of "Row Jimmy" was followed by "Throwing Stones" - always an intense experience in these polarized times - to wrap up the first set to thunderous applause.
The second set began with dazzling electric guitar work on Little Feat's "Easy to Slip," recorded on Weir's 1998 live duo album with bassist Rob Wasserman. A deeply funky bassline opened up a bottomless groove that morphed into the distinctive beginning to "Shakedown Street," eliciting a huge response from the crowd. They continued with "He's Gone," boasting a bevy of guitar techniques from loose free-flowing improv to tightly clustered onslaughts of notes. A long, exploratory "Playing in the Band" led into "Bird Song," with both songs drastically escaping the confines of their traditional structures to seek out new spaces and new ways of expression.
A passionate run through Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" led to a spiritual rendering of the ever ethereal "Stella Blue," with the audience listening in perfect stillness to each intricate twist and turn. The set closed with a loving singalong to Buddy Holly's eternal "Not Fade Away" and an encore of the third Dylan cover of the evening, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." They'd delivered a rousing performance positively overflowing with creativity and joy. As the cheers faded into the night, there was no doubt that Bob Weir & Wolf Bros had blown the house down.
- Paul Kerr
- Photos by Jerry Friend