ob Weir sang "El Paso," much as he did many times with The Grateful Dead. Only this time, it wasn't an oddball cowboy song amidst that band's usual extended space jams. No, this performance gave that old Marty Robbins gunfighter ballad a little better stylistic context. Performing live in one of Weir's rare solo show's in support of his fine western-themed new album, "Blue Mountain," Weir sang of rolling rivers and ghost town mysteries.
Standing in front of backdrops illustrating wide angle western nature vistas with nary a human in sight, Weir sounded grateful to be alive, in direct contradiction to his famous band's demise-loving name. Weir told stories about his youth where he shared bunkhouses with real life cowboys. Now, though, all he can do is sing songs where he longs for the lives of these larger than life heroes.
Backed by a versatile, guitar-loaded band of empathetic players, Weir looked and sounded comfortable behind his simple acoustic guitar. Although all the tie-died shirts in the crowd were colorful reminders that this was not your typical country music crowd, the twangy Haggardian beer-head Weir worked up over the stinging electric guitars of "Gonesville" offered proof positive that Weir knows the difference between taverns and juke joints.
Ah, but this was just the concert's first half.
After an intermission, Weir returned to the stage. But instead of nature scenes, though, colorfully swirling kaleidoscopic visuals transformed the stage into a psychedelic scene. After the SoCal-inspired "West L.A. Fadeaway," Weir was joined by John Mayer on guitar and vocals. The two jammed so wonderfully together, it was easy for even the un-Dead Heads in the audience to appreciate how intoxicating The Dead's music could/can be. Later, The National's Matt Beringer came on stage to sing with the band.
It's always comforting to watch a classic rock star age gracefully. With these western-inspired new songs, introducing more familiar Dead tunes, Bob Weir has gone a little country, without getting out of his element. Weir encored with the gentle sing-along "Ripple." "Would you hear my voice come through the music?" its lyric asked. The answer? We heard Weir's voice, loud and clear.