The tight pack known as Bob Weir & Wolf Bros made its way to the historic Majestic Theatre in Dallas Thursday night for a sold-out concert. For those who somehow don’t know, Bob Weir was a co-founding member of the Grateful Dead and will lead Dead & Company on their final run later this year. And the Thursday night crowd was indeed grateful to get to see Weir perform his original music.
The Wolf Bros formed in 2018 as a trio with drummer Jay Lane — longtime Ratdog drummer and the original drummer for Primus — and bassist Don Was, who has four Grammys as a producer including two best album wins for his work with The Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt. After a tour and a pandemic, the Wolf Bros added keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who's been playing in most of Weir's post-Dead projects, including Dead & Company. The original pedal steel player was Greg Leisz, who's played with everyone from Beck to Clapton. For this tour, though, it was Barry Sless on pedal steel. He's played alongside Weir in the band KINGFISH among other bands in the jam scene.
What gave this show another dimension was The Wolfpack, a string and brass quintet with Alex Kelly, Brian Switzer, Adam Theis, Sheldon Brown and Matthew Szemela on violin subbing for Mads Tolling. These players brought to life elements of the songs that had never been imagined in that arrangement.
The Majestic was the perfect backdrop for the relaxed atmosphere, and the smell of marijuana was not as overwhelming as you'd expect. Fans who attended the two Austin shows said the energy in Dallas was much more intense, and the band's performance reflected the audience's excitement.
One of the signature characteristics of live shows with the Grateful Dead and any subsequent Dead projects is that you never know what they will play. The Dallas setlist was Texas-centric: In all, five songs had Texas references. There was the Grateful Dead's "Jack Straw," "Odessa" (Ratdog), "Loser" (Jerry Garcia), "Truckin" (Grateful Dead) and the song every band loves to play in Dallas, "Deep Elem Blues."
"Dark Star" was also weaved into the set. The classic song by the Grateful Dead is an elusive anthem, seldom played but a beloved choice among fans. Many recorded versions of the song range from 10 to 30 minutes in length. The first two shows in Austin teased "Dark Star," but never actually played it. Other highlights of the night included a rare first set performance of "Lovelight" and a serene version of the Bob Dylan song "When I Paint My Masterpiece."
Overall, the 75-year-old Weir is arguably better now with this band than ever. The group's "mature" era takes its time and better explores the use of vocals in the melody, with instruments seamlessly taking over the lead in a moment, then giving it back to Weir.