Review: BOBBY WEIR AND WOLFPACK at Mershon Auditorium

You can't kill what's already Dead.

By: Sep. 27, 2023
Review: BOBBY WEIR AND WOLFPACK at Mershon Auditorium

You can’t kill what’s already Dead.

The Grateful Dead officially ended Aug. 9, 1995, with the death of Jerry Garcia and Dead & Company played the last stop of its final tour on July 17. However, their music and their fan base simply won’t go away.

To quote Miracle Max from the movie THE PRINCESS BRIDE, “It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

Bobby Weir and the Wolfpack proved that the spirit of the Grateful Dead is not just slightly alive, but being reinvented. Weir and his nine-member jam band gave some of the Dead’s massive song book a jazzy overhaul at Mershon Auditorium on Sept. 26.

The irony of playing Mershon was not lost on the Grateful Dead co-founder.

“If my memory serves me correctly, I’ve been here before,” said Weir, barefooted and wearing an Army fatigue green t-shirt that offset his shockingly gray hair and beard. “Mershon was one of our first gigs and there were only a couple of hundred people here.”

The last time the Dead played Mershon was Sept. 30, 1976, and the opening song that night was, fittingly, “The Music Never Stopped.”

Thanks to Weir and other Dead alums, the Grateful Dead catalog will be around for a long time. The Wolfpack is one of a handful of bands powered by Dead alumni. Phil Lesh, who wasn’t part of Dead & Company, heads up Phil Lesh & Friends and Bill Kreutzmann fronts Billy & the Kids.

For this tour, Weir enlisted long time collaborators Don Was (bass), Jay Lane (drums), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards) and Barry Sless (pedal steel). He then added a string and horn quintet of Sheldon Brown (multiple woodwind instruments), Alex Kelly (cello), Brian Switzer (trumpet), Adam Theis (trombone), and Mads Tolling (violin).

The group grooved through a 17-song set that included seven Dead tunes, one Garcia song, and two songs the Dead used to cover frequently, Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues” and the Memphis Jug Band’s “Viola Lee Blues.”

The band, which was coming off a three-song set at the Farm Aid concert Sept. 23 at the Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, Ind., started its Mershon show with “Viola Lee” segueing into “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Hell in a Bucket.”

When it was just Weir, Was, Sless, Lane, and Chimenti, the Wolfpack had its trademark long guitar solos, drum breaks, and crowd sing-a-longs, especially on “Brown-Eyed Woman” and “I Need a Miracle.” Often Weir seemed to be slowing the pace of the classics as well as his only solo effort of the evening, “Only a River.” At times, it was hard to figure out where one song ended and the other began.  

The string and brass quintet seemed infuse energy into the band and the crowd. The five jazzed up Garcia’s “Bird Song” and powered through covers of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and the Beatles’ “Come Together” with a little snippet of “Eleanor Rigby” thrown in at the end. The band has an affinity for the Beatles, covering “Dear Prudence” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” earlier on the tour.

One of the songs that seemed to hit all the right chords with the audience was Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” a cover tune that seems as poignant now as it did when it was released.

The band closed out the show with the Dead’s signature piece, “Ripple.” The words seem to be tailor made for the evening: If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine/And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung/Would you hear my voice come through the music?/Would you hold it near as it were your own?

The Grateful Dead alumni shouldn’t worry about such things. As long as there are groups like the Wolfpack reimagining their tunes, the Dead’s music will continue long after the musicians retire.

Photo Credit: Karen Scott

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