Bob Weir: Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros: Living in Colorado, Vol. 2 Album review
Like Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions, the ensemble is founded on the principle that folk music can also be dance music. Where the old band’s cavalcade of trombones and fiddles overflowed with ecstasy, Weir’s band is swishier and more direct, sometimes standing out as a soulful revue. In “The Other One” they revolve around the beat, horns and piano bringing Weir on vocals like the JBs playing their boss on stage. They turn “Eyes of the World” into a ballroom shuffle full of nostalgia, Chimenti throwing out complicated chords that ring like questions and playing his way in and out of key like Thelonious Monk. The group dodges “What’s Going On” in a starry-eyed state of flux, with Weir altering Marvin Gaye’s lyrics to denounce “culture wars” – a sleazy move for any white artist covering a black singer – and equivocates the source of power of the original. “Let’s hope love conquers hate,” he sings, his uncertainty about its effectiveness at least in keeping with the doubt-riddled ethos of the songbook of the dead.
The Dead, after all, were not a respectful band. “Ripple” feigns in the sense of psalmody, but it refuses to resolve, and is keen to insist that the listener has the imperative and the responsibility to find their own way in the world. On Living in Colorado, the crowd is kept high in the mix as the band kicks into the final verse of the song, their collective rendition of the wordless coda making it all sound like a honky tonk’s last call. Weir takes “Brokedown Palace” to its vocal limits, floating the high notes as if waving goodbye with the thousands singing the chorus “fare thee well”. Both songs are standouts from the 1970s american beautyand highlights of the Dead catalog as a whole, but like any anthem, they achieve brilliance when sung loud and earnestly by large numbers of people.
Throughout the collection of songs of the dead, ambiguity and imperfection are spiritual principles to which one must submit. “His job is to shed light, not to overpower,” Weir sings of the storyteller in “Terrapin Station,” the suite of songs featured here in its entirety. The original band never played “Terrapin Station” throughout, and on Living in Coloradothe 21-minute track is assembled from two performances, Wolf Bros. having played the first half one night and the second half the next.
It’s one of the most seductive songs Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter have ever written: the opening guitar line, one of Garcia’s most delicate, seems to weave together, and Hunter’s lyrics use a thwarted love story to suggest that heaven is not a place we set out to find so much as the product of the quest itself. Weir weaves his way through the song carefully, his oaky tone bringing a new level of seriousness to a song that has already been invested with it in abundance. He knows how to rest the melody, drop into a spoken voice for half a line, sharpening the story and drawing the listener closer. Even though technique is the byproduct of age – and his stunning performance on a dark, drifting “Days Between” suggests Weir has more control over his voice now than he ever did – the way his voice comes and goes, grows stronger and expends. this reflects the song’s imperative to move forward despite knowing its limitations. Fifty-five years into a career that continues to take surprising and emotionally touching shape, it suggests that Weir’s greatest audience is himself.