Anytime you get the chance to see a living legend, a founding member of one of the most influential rock and roll bands history, do yourself a favor and see him. A packed house at Music Hall at Fair Park did just that last Thursday when Bob Weir, late of Grateful Dead, came to Dallas on his Campfire Tour.
I talked to a few members of the audience before the show and there was a representation of every age group, from college students to middle-aged rockers wearing Polo shirts to grandparents in perfectly preserved tie-dye T-shirts. They were all loyal Deadheads and dissected my set list like the true fans they were.
We all scrambled to our seats as the lights dimmed and began cheering as Weir walked out alone to center stage. He looked fit in his blue jeans and gray T-shirt and immediately started playing his well-worn acoustic guitar and singing Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”
His “Thank you” to the crowd was barely audible as the fans kept the decibel level rising. Bob spoke louder to dedicate the next song to Lowell George, the writer of “Easy To Slip.” Weir’s complex style of voiceleading on his Martin guitar during the song was a showcase of the talent he has amassed over the years.
Weir then took time to tell the genesis for writing his new album, Blue Mountain,and the Campfire Band joined him onstage to play the title track. The accompanying video overhead caused some of the audience members who were in the process of getting mellow to Ooh and Aah.
Most of the first set was from the new album, with “Only A River” coming next. The thematic beginning shifted with a hard chord change for the second verse and the breathtaking imagery overhead added immensely to the instrumental harmony of the entire band.
The Americana-labeled music continued with the Grateful Dead-influenced “Darkest Hour.” The knowledgeable crowd sang the refrain of the well-written song and gave the singer and themselves a huge hand.
The heavy strings on his acoustic gave a hard edge to the folk-rock sound of “Lay My Lily Down.” The guitar jam gave the crowd a sense of community as everyone who could stand was on their feet dancing to the rhythm. The man to my left danced worse than Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, but he felt the music and expressed it in his own way.
“Gallop On The Run,” with its meaningful lyrics about the simplicity of cowboy life was tremendously appreciated by the fans. The clapping got even louder, though, for Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” Its alternative beginning gave way to solos on acoustic, electric and mandolin, and received an ovation from the already-standing crowd.
The first set ended with “Gonesville.” An almost-religious tone started the song before Bob’s unique style of picking preceded a jam session on stage.
During the brief intermission, the college students behind me told me they were following Weir on the Southeast leg of his tour. Others told me how many times they had seen the Dead play, with many going back to the 60s with their stories.
The second set started with a cover of “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. The audience hit all the high notes while Bob’s physical movements showed the passion and esteem he held for this classic. “Deep Ellum Blues” obviously went over well with the Dallas crowd. He put a lot of emotion into it and the fans danced and sang along.
The jam they played during “Friend Of The Devil” showed off the talent of everyone onstage. Bob then changed to electric guitar for “Althea” as the audience swayed in unison to the psychedelic images on the video.
The crowd erupted at the distinctive first notes of “Cassidy.” The overlaid melodies segued seamlessly into “Truckin’.” The audience drowned him out during the refrains of “what a long strange trip it’s been” as the seminal song has been a staple on classic rock stations since its inception.
The pointed lyrics of “Standing On The Moon” brought out Weir’s innermost feelings before his passionate fret work and emotional voice ended the song. In one of the best set-ending songs, the performers gave it their all on “Going Dow The Road Feelin’ Bad.” The band jammed, the crowd sang and the whole venue shared in the energy of the moment.
They left, but Weir quickly returned alone and performed “Ki-Yi Bossie.” The deeply personal song showed his love for making the new album. The band then returned for “Ripple,” the last song of the night. The crowd clapped all the way through as Bob was spotlighted in white light while the rest of the staged was bathed in a purple hue. The admiring crowd would have stayed all night, but reveled when the lights came on at the mastery they had experienced.
The dedicated fans left knowing they had heard timeless music. Many got to relive parts of their youth while others were seeing a slice of Americana for the first time.
The acoustics at Music Hall were excellent and the staff was extremely helpful. Joe Guzman of Infrared was on hand to record the event.
Catch Bob Weir on the Campfire Tour through July 1.