Review: Bobby Weir & Wolf Brothers Carry on Tradition with New Album

Bobby Weir & Wolf Brothers/Live In Colorado Vol. 2/Third Man Records
Four out of Five Stars

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One of the effects of a lingering legacy means that Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzman will forever be haunted by the ghost of the Grateful Dead, whether willingly or not. That’s only natural of course; it’s hard to escape from under the shadow of one of the most iconic bands of all time, one that defined so many styles—from psychedelia and jam to early Americana and improvisation. Not that the former members want to evade that identification; after all, the reverence for Captain Trips, Jerry Garcia, still permeates every pore. So too, any offshoot of the original ensemble—whether it’s Dead and Company, Phil Lesh and Friends, Ratdog, Planet Drum, or the Other Ones— remains an integral branch of the same family tree.

Weir in particular seems intent on maintaining that essential connection, and while his independent efforts have, in fact, helped him carve out an individual identity, he still boasts absolute allegiance with pure Dead diligence whenever he ventures out on his own. His latest outfit, Bobby Weir & Wolf Brothers, carries on that tradition, and with an all-star ensemble in tow—one that includes ace bassist Don Was, drummer Jeff Lane, piano player Jeff Chimenti, and pedal steel player Greg Leisz—Weir’s well equipped to render the material effortlessly and assuredly. 

The point is proven with Live In Colorado Vol. 2, the second in a series of live recordings by this astute ensemble and one that, naturally enough, leans heavily once again on the Dead’s repertoire. While recast versions of “Mama Tried,” “Ripple” and “Brokedown Palace” might offer few surprises, the band’s ability to stretch out on songs such as “Terrapin Station Suite,” “The Other One” and a seamless medley that combines “Eyes of the World” and “What’s Going On” proves their prowess and takes them further into fusion-esque realms. A five-piece brass and violin section add a sophisticated sound and underpin the jazz-like flourishes, all of which are immaculately rendered even while staying true to the ambitious execution of the originals. In that regard, Weir and the Wolfs manage to stay true to the template while also taking the music beyond any original incarnation by reinventing them in ways that find imagination and intrigue well stirred in a contemporary context.

Granted, the Grateful Dead will always have a permanent presence in whatever ventures its surviving members pursue. However, in this case, Weir and the Wolf Brothers prove that reinvention can be just as relevant. 

(Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

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