April 7, 2017
Fair Park Music Hall
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
The Long Strange Trip Continues
Photo Credit Bob Weir Website
An extremely rare occurrence in the Metroplex, like say, the sight of a bald eagle, or snow in March, anytime a Grateful Dead-related project comes to the area is a cause for pause and celebration. In a 30-year career, the Dead themselves only played D/FW a mere seven times. So, touring behind his first solo album in 30 years, guitarist and founding member of the Dead, Bob Weir, was welcomed with a massive outpouring of open arms, usually reserved for a conquering saint. This was Weir's first show in Dallas since 2003.
Taking the sparsely-lit, largely unadorned stage of the stately State Fair Music Hall just after 7:30, Weir, unaccompanied, with only an acoustic guitar for the first 3 songs, treated the famished crowd to a tune written by Bob Dylan, "When I Paint My Masterpiece." The tune was apt, as well as being a foreshadowing of the concert itself and the nearly packed hall of about 3,000 scarfed it down like a corn dog with relish. Reaching back to his 1978 solo album, Heaven Help the Fool, I couldn't help but thinking, "Heaven help the fool who missed this show." (to my buddy, Kris S., I am talking about you). An earnest version of "Blue Mountian," from the new album concluded the brief solo interlude.
Weir was then joined by a virtuoso 6-piece backing band, which included 3 additional lead guitarists, including Steve Kimock, who played the role of Jerry Garcia in the post Dead touring outfit of the late 90's, The Other Ones.
During the course of the show, the guitarists would trade leads as well as instruments. Josh Kaufman in particular, showing himself to be in the same playing league as Kimock, was especially effective, doubling on banjo and lap steel.
As was the tradition of the Dead, the band performed 2 sets, the first one being a warm-up set to get the house sound down and the playing chops loosened for the improvisational fireworks which would follow. Highlights included a lilting, "Lay My Lily Down," as well as a thunderous "Big River," which got the audience on their feet, as it was regularly covered by the Dead throughout their career.
The lighting for the show was extremely basic, but highly effective, with only a large video screen behind the band. During this first set, the visuals consisted mainly of desolate country roads, pastoral mountain ranges, and majestic wildlife, which matched nicely with the gritty music and accompanying lyrics. A nifty "Gonesville," also from the new album, closed out the set.
A brief mention of the venue must be made at this point: Rarely used for rock concerts these days (though both Hendrix and the Doors played there in the 1960s), the State Fair Music Hall is an ancient, pristine and largely undiscovered treasure. I myself had not been there since the mid 1970's, when my parents had season tickets to both the opera and the symphony, and the sound and acoustics there are second to possibly only the Majestic, if even that. A bonus that the majestic does not have, is that security turned a blind eye to the pot smoking, and the bouquet that filled the hall was of fine vintage. Why bands opt to play half-empty shitholes like Starplex, Verizon and Palladium, instead of packing-out places like this, McFarlin and Majestic, is simply beyond me.
For those not familiar with the modus operandi that is the tradition of the Dead, in a few words, the first set is
to get familiar and to build a solid, steady, but safe scaffolding where few chances are taken. The second set is all about diving off of said scaffolding, into the world of serendipity and improvisation, and tonight Weir and company did not disappoint in this regard.
As the entire crowd had hoped, the second set consisted of nothing but classic Grateful Dead songs, or cover tunes the Dead played regularly. The first two were completely appropriate: a lovely version of Marty Robbins'
"El Paso," went right into the song everyone expected, but when delivered, was still a surprise, "Deep Ellum Blues." Witnessing Weir sing the song in Deep Ellum was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience, and I for one got goosebumps. "Friend of the Devil," continued the country vibe, and both it and "Althea" showed that Weir was not afraid to vocally tackle songs originally sung by the late Jerry Garcia.
"Cassidy," was the highlight of the night, one of Weir's best tunes and this had the band swimming in fully uncharted waters during the lead break. It was a marvel to watch the intensity of the players as they patiently awaited their time to add to the improvisation, and the acid-drenched liquid visuals added to the Rocky Mountain high. "Truckin'" galloped like a freight train driven by Casey Jones. During this tune, Weir flubbed the line mentioning "Dallas," letting the crowd fill it in, which they almost missed. Weir flubbed another line during the tune, this time I think unintentionally, and every Deadhead always roars their approval during a mistake, as it very may well have been attributed to extracurricular backstage activities.
Another Garcia tune, "Standing on the Moon," brought things back down to earth tempo wise, but the song itself was still in the stratosphere, accompanied by appropriate, other-Earthly visuals. The sing-along chanty, "Goin Down' the Road (Feelin' Bad) was rip roaring, and had the entire hall, as well as the water bottle in my hand, vibrating in pure, undulating pleasure.
This pleased-as-LSD punch crowd would have been perfectly content had this show ended at this, and the band looked spent, but overwhelming applause and adulation brought them back for a 2-song encore. The song selection of the encore underscored two points: "Ki-Yi Bossie," another new track, reminded everyone in the audience why the band was even there, to support a sparkling new record, and not merely to be content being simply a nostalgia act. The second song, "Ripple," reminded the band just why the audience was there. One of the Dead's all-time best tracks and one of the timeless, enduring pieces of rock music of the 20th century, "Ripple" helped transform the fledgling Grateful Dead from being merely 60's psychedelic warlords, disappearing in smoke, into one of rock's most classic and revered bands. Not bad for a group that started life by playing at Magoo's Pizza Parlor in 1965.