Bob Weir, the legendary cofounder of the Grateful Dead, and his band Wolf Bros exceeded all expectations on their first livestream concert for Chinese New Year.
Sure, there were technical hiccups. Weir was supposed to be able to talk to fans and answer their questions in a Zoom meeting on the three large screens in front of the stage, but that didn’t work and there was a significant enough delay that the fans continued dancing between songs.
But, truth be told, nobody would have noticed if Weir didn’t mention it. Everything seemed flawless. The acoustics and camera work were top notch and, even moreso than most other livestream concerts in the past year, it sounded amazing. Weir’s guitar playing is as good as it ever was and his voice barely betrayed his age.
The Wolf Bros behind Weir were also holding up their end. Anchored by Don Was—who’s produced everyone from the Rolling Stones to Willie Nelson and cowrote late ’80s novelty hit “Walk the Dinosaur”—on bass, and Bay Area stalwart Jay Lane on drums, their experience and polish were impressive.
Weir opened the show solo on an acoustic guitar with a rendition of Little Feat’s “Easy to Slip” before being joined by the band for “Only a River,” one of the few of Weir’s solo songs to make the cut. The set was mostly Grateful Dead songs, which included “Brown-Eyed Woman,” “Mission in the Rain,” “Tennessee Jed” and “My Brother Esau” in the first hour.
They also included “El Paso,” a cover of a classic Western song that the Dead played nearly 400 times in concert with Weir on vocals, but never included on a studio album, and “Two Djinn,” by Weir’s band RatDog.
That first hour before intermission was heavily folk-influenced, with the songs kept short, on-script and the instrumentation with an almost country twang. It was a strong performance. But once the band came back from the break and got back to its roots, the musicians really started to shine.
The two hours following intermission were a classic jam band show. The second set opened with a rendition of “Playing in the Band” that lasted about 40 minutes and contained most of “Uncle John’s Band” in the middle, a musical sandwich that wasn’t totally unheard-of at Dead concerts but was somewhat rare.
Following the jam marathon Weir introduced one of the Dead’s most well-known songs, “Truckin’,” by saying, “The next one is one of your favorites and I certainly hope it’s one of ours.” Even rock legends aren’t above dad jokes.
They finished up with “Eyes of the World,” an especially mournful version of “Standing on the Moon” and “China Cat Sunflower,” blending seamlessly into “I Know You Rider.” A member of the band joked that it was time for their encore, which consisted of “Brokedown Palace.”
As great as the two-hour, post-intermission jam session was, though, it still didn’t measure up to seeing it in person. Especially for an artist like Weir, no amount of technology can fully replicate the in-person experience.
But it sure was better than nothing.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.