Bob Weir and Wolf Bros
Photos and Article By: Jennie Walker
Before Bob Weir and Wolf Bros were scheduled to jump on stage, Shakedown Street was booming outside of Portland’s State Theatre blasting Dead songs, with people milling around. Those not looking to buy memorabilia were trying to make it inside as quickly as possible in order to get the best view of the sold out show of only the second touring of this pairing.
Yet, once inside, it felt less like a show and more like a small festival. People milled around and spilled into the aisles. People created conversation with those they knew from previous shows and bonded with those next to them. Some people clustered as close to the stage as possible, others kept to the aisles in order to gain as much dancing space as possible. Some settled around the four microphones recording at the middle of the room, knowing that’s where they were set up to get the best sound. At 7:30 pm, people grew quiet, waiting for the lights to fall. At 7:45, the whistles and hollering started and glow bracelets were tossed around in the crowd. At 7:59:47, the lights suddenly dimmed and the whistling grew into cheering as the trio of singer/guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Don Was, and drummer Jay Lane took the stage.
Some singers like to start with a recorded rumble. Others prefer to let the crowd settle in pitch black until the lazers begin. Bob Weir and Wolf Bros did neither. Instead, a bright white light settled on the trio as they walked to their instruments, the rest of the stage a deepened navy blue color. Not to say there weren’t lasers however - once the music began, two groupings of lights shone intricate patterns onto the walls and ceiling, changing colors as often as the stage did. And boy did the stage change colors - what started as a simple white and navy outing shifted into bright greens and reds, then pastels, then a neon shifting rainbow. Spurts of white emphasized a strumming guitar, and the light patterns changed with the tempo of the songs. Anyone who had the mindset of getting lost in the music and colors it created was surely overjoyed.
As someone who hasn’t memorized even all of the most well known Grateful Dead songs, I was still able to identify and sing along to quite a few. I picked up that the second jam from the first set was “Cassidy,” and got treated to “Truckin’,” “I Know You Rider,” and “Ripple,” from the second set/encore. Songs I didn’t know still shone through for me - Ratdog’s “Even So” was a tune I had never heard of before, yet I was mesmerized by the way Bob’s storyteller voice seemed to go from strong to faltering in a mere second. Leaning on the wooden railing near a side aisle, I felt the picked notes from the bass vibrate through my body and was able to close my eyes and get lost in the crowd and the music along with everyone else. Especially on songs like “Even So” that feel like they’re continuously building up to something, it was easy to understand why people swayed in time with the music as soon as it started. The first real break came after “Little Red Rooster.” This fifth song break was the first true one since the show had started forty-five minutes prior, and people cheered the entire time Bob changed his guitar, only settling down once the first notes of “Most of the Time” was played.
“Most of the Time” was a stunning song to watch live. The lasers, shining bright green, crossing over each other in a way that resembled climbing vines relying on each other to keep upright. They just felt right displayed over a song about such honest heartbreak and loss. Halfway through the song the lazers resembled a brilliant blue, and changed to a bright blue-white a minute later. Simplicity and evolution.
“I Know You Rider” was also an amazing standout for me, and I highly suggest you listen to the recording of it. People are singing along from the start, but something in the way the guitar picks up 3:42 into the song, people get amped. The energy in the room was heightened, easily reflected in the volume of the crowd’s voices after the jam break at 4:20. Bob ups the ante with the included gravel in his voice 4:34. People sing back louder, and at 4:53 it happens - his voice grows quieter, more controlled as the crowd seems to dominate the song during the first instance of “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train.” Yet when the phrase is repeated, it’s Bob Weir who takes the reins and belts the wording back. Cheering erupts the moment “train” is finished. It’s a moment that gave me the best kind of chills in the State and gives me chills again listening to the recording. What a way to end the second set.
The encore, “Ripple”, was a wonderful moment, a more toned down follow up to the ferocity of “I Know You Rider.” Where “I Know You Rider” seems like a competition or call-and-response, “Ripple” felt like a late night singalong; the type where you’re with your friends and everyone’s just happy to live in that moment. If you need evidence, I ask that you refer to the enthusiastic shout of “YABBA DABBA DOO!” at 2:25 or the entire crowd singing along at 3:38.
In general, I ask that you refer to the entire show if you want to put a smile on your face or energy in your steps. Spread the joy you hear to those around you, and don’t worry about what others think of it. For they know you, Rider, and they’re gonna miss you when you’re gone.