Few bands have a fan base as large and dedicated as the Grateful Dead. This is as true in 2019 as it was in the late ’60s. On Tuesday night, the Dead faithful came out in full force as founding member and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir brought his latest project, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros, to the relatively intimate Palace Theatre for two crowd-pleasing sets.
Of all the star-studded post-Dead projects, Wolf Bros has proven to be unique in a few ways. For one, the group is a trio, consisting of Weir, drummer Jay Lane, and upright bassist Don Was. Lane, a longtime and frequent collaborator with Weir, is known for his work with Primus, Charlie Hunter, and Weir’s Ratdog, among others, while Was’ high-profile collaborations include producing albums for Bob Dylan, John Mayer, and the Rolling Stones. Though they aren’t the first trio to play Dead tunes, Was’ upright bass adds different dimensions to the sound than you usually hear with an electric.
Another interesting wrinkle is that Weir is the only guitarist in the group. Though he’s known to take the lead from time to time, Weir’s primary role has usually been playing rhythm, no matter what group he’s in. All things considered, he adapted well and turned in a very solid performance as frontman.
Set one kicked off with a funky “Iko Iko,” a New Orleans standard that’s long been part of the Dead repertoire. The chorus is easy to sing along with and has a fun feel, and both details helped make it a good opening selection.
A few more covers would make their way into the set, including Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” and the Dylan-penned “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” The latter wouldn’t be the only Dylan tune played Tuesday night, as “All Along the Watchtower” and “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” would be played during the second set and encore, respectively. Bob Dylan songs have always been important parts of the Dead experience, but hearing them covered in Dylan’s home state was a treat.
Though the entire set was strong, the strongest part wouldn’t come until just before intermission. This was the set-closing pairing of “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance.” The songs, fan favorites from the Dead’s 1980 Go to Heaven, saw Weir playing acoustic before moving to electric on the jam. While he played primarily electric throughout the night, the acoustic numbers would be among the best, showcasing his dexterity with a tone that fit in well with the sound of the rhythm section.
Set two featured a little more jamming than the first. Built upon the funky rhythms of Lane and Was, the Trio tackled a lengthy and well-played sequence of the Dead’s “The Music Never Stopped,” The Temptations’ “Shakey Ground,” and Weir’s “Easy Answers.” the songs segued easily into each other, and had the crowd dancing throughout.
The set ended after another two-song pair. Dead staple “Wharf Rat,” not the most explosive song, nonetheless fit in well, while setting the stage for the set-ending “Not Fade Away.” Originally recorded by Buddy Holly, the percussive and triumphant “Not Fade Away” was a great choice to end the set. Weir’s voice sounded great on it, as it had the whole night. The crowd roared, wanting more. With all that the band showed, its no wonder they keep coming back.