Bob Weir & Wolf Bros at The Ryman
Photo by Ian Rawn
Bob Weir returned to the historic Ryman Auditorium for the fifth time since 2012, this time with his “Wolf Bros” Don Was and Jay Lane. A somewhat sluggish “Hell In A Bucket,” started things off before Weir donned his acoustic and led the band through song-serving renditions of “Mama Tried” and “Only A River,” the latter from his 2016 Blue Mountain. Weir returned to the electric for Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me” which had a jump-rhythm to it reminiscent of The Grateful Dead’s arrangement of “Queen Jane Approximately.” Here and throughout the evening drummer Lane provided subtle rhythmic bounce without ever tarnishing the beauty of this outfit’s raw sound. This gorgeous reading also featured the first of several very strong Weir guitar solos on this night, utilizing more of a rhythmic, than a single-note approach. Was’ rock-solid stand-up bass, peppered at times with understated adornments, proved an ideal foil. Weir late in the song began to evidence a playful mood, with repeated vocal riffing on “dark out of the night time,” and with his peppered phrasing of the geographically appropriate, “Tennessee Jed” which followed. A moving “Black-Throated Wind” was preceded by a slightly vague story the thesis of which seemed to be that writing music with John Barlow was often an attractive alternative to frosty early morning work in the hay fields and that Lee Dorsey’s music was an influence on this, one of Weir’s own most affecting songs. The opening set closed with a riveting and patient “Lost Sailor,” and its companion piece “Saint Of Circumstance” during which Lane and the “perpetually swaying gently with content” Was locked in, and brought the wind that helped Weir’s deliciously angular guitar soar.
Sound problems forced a couple of restarts during “My Creole Belle,” but with John Oates and Buddy Miller guesting, this ultimately would indeed serve as a special “bustout” for Weir loyalists. Oates remained for the ensuing “Friend of the Devil” before Margo Price took Weir’s acoustic guitar and belted out mighty vocals on a slightly ragged “Me and Bobby McGee” replete with the proper ending which the Wolf Bros had previously eschewed this tour. This trio felt most like a jazz band during “Easy Answers” as each player laid back and let space develop before Weir and Was enlivened this painfully underappreciated gem with riveting interplay. Buddy Miller would return to lend judicious swampadelic guitar first to Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” and later to an absolutely stunning “The Days Between.” Weir sang with focus and passion and Buddy’s presence was vital, particularly when he tossed off a breathtaking solo. Miller’s singular sound proved to be an ideal blend with the Wolf Bros’ raw feel, hopefully he will find a way to join them again. The Wolf Bros’ would also delight with sparse readings of Garcia/Hunter classics “Eyes of the World” and “New Speedway Boogie.” “Speedway,” and the “Throwing Stones” later in the set found Weir at his most vocally intense—each seemingly nods to the midterm elections which would take place the following day The lit up crowd sang energetically along with the choruses of set closer of “Touch Of Grey,” and the Weir-slide-drenched “U.S. Blues” encore and then quietly left to face downtown tornado warnings.