Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One Weir Symphony

Artifact of the Week: Symphony Photos, Videos + Book
Tape of the Week: 5/7/11 First Fusion Symphony
Bob Weir...a.k.a. Symphony Conductor! One Weir Symphony! Who would'a thought?  Yet, here I was, all dressed to the 9's on a Saturday night, with my wife on my arm, shaking my head in disbelief as I watched Bobby "Yes, I've been known to wear cutoff shorts, a Madonna t-shirt and a PINK guitar on stage with the Grateful Dead" Weir in a fancy-pants tux, telling symphony jokes and conducting a massive group of somewhat straight classical musicians through the intricate musical dynamics and a-tonal time shifts that make up the legendary Dark Star....  Whoa!! Was that really Visine you put in my eyes for my allergies? What planet was I on, anyway?

Turns out, Planet Weir!  With the setting straight out of Jabba's hideout from Return of the Jedi (check out this shot of Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin masterpiece which is the focal building of the complex where the show took place at the Dead's old '80s stomping ground, Marin Veterans Hall), you couldn't have picked a cooler home-town hall for a show of this magnitude.  And Magna it was was!  Originally scheduled to take place last year, this one-night-only benefit show for the Marin Symphony was an amazing success.  I mean, look at the facts: Bobby only flubbed the lyrics 1x at the show (you want a miracle, you got a miracle!), he was dressed up better than he was at the Obama-Pres-o-dente-ball, the crowd was very mellow with zero gate-crashers, the music was intensely well rehearsed (and ended up proving it had some real legs to it), and everyone attending the sold-out event had a real ship-eating grin from about the 3rd song onwards... Basically, it rocked and socked.  Since the last time I had seen Bob with a symphony, way back in '96, was with the first post-Jerry Dead reunion with the SF Symphony and the rest of the boys...well, it left a lot to be desired (ok, I was already seriously jones'ing for the good old days at that point).  5/7/11 helped change my perception of what the Dead's music and a symphony might be able to really do.
Captain Weir in rehearsal: giving his string-mates an idea

Weir in rehearsal with his Gibson 335
But let's take a step back here. The original gig was scheduled for last October. Bobby had been rehearsing for this gig for at least 11 months.  That's right, 11+ months of planning for a 1-night-only gig.  Sounds very un-Weir-like, no?  At the concession table inside, I was blown away to see that Old Saint Nicholas over at the UC Santa Cruz Dead Archive had put together an entire BOOK about the event!  That limited-edition (1,000 copies), numbered little book was just a beauty to behold. Great articles in there from the usual Dead-scribes...what a cool idea!  And thank you very much, it was printed on real paper from trees and not available for your Kindels! Old school!  You also had a great poster for the occasion that had the obligatory skeleton with baton image going for it.  A class-act all the way around.  
the might 1-show-only...BOOK!
808 is the new one after 909

As my wife and I were looking for some dirty martini's to match our one-time-a-year wedding outfits (note: the wife was PISSED to see all the hippies in their ripped tie-dyes and jeans...didn't they know this was Bobby's symphonic coming-out party?), we were pleased to see a wonderful Marin/Rock/Dead art show that was made up of classic photographs, concert poster art, Mouse originals, etc. What a great way to enjoy a drink before the show.  They also had lemongrass wheat beer.  Mmmmmm.....lemongrass.
Check our old Skullfuck post on this mighty 1st edition!

The audience was made up of all sorts. I thought I spotted some of the core Dead family here and there (Mickey Hart, John Barlow, members of the Dead office, etc.), a few celebrities (was that Journey's Neal Schon taking a pee next to me in the men's room? If so, don't stop believin'!), some actual symphony supporters who were dressed up and seemed a bit confused (as if they were at the wrong event), and then the usual Deadmix of Dreads, Heads, and those in need of Meds.  Our seats were in the back of the hall, so we had a great view of the entire scene unfolding in front of us (including that damn huge camera crane that Kreutzmann Jr. was waving around).  We had a wonderful school teacher next to us who had flown all the way out from Connecticut just for the show (her first trip to California!) and we had a group of about 12 twenty-somethings with some very serious dreads in front of us. Contact hi and dry on the bye and bye!

The show started promptly just after 8 PM and went on for a good 3+ hours w/ the standard Dead break in the middle.  Cassidy kicked it off.... WEIRD choice!  But it worked! Especially when I saw the real-life Cassidy roaming the hall during the break (no, not the Neal Cassidy, but the lady CassidyRatdog'ish band to great effect.  Jeff C. would get my award for riff's of the night. He sounded amazing on that Steinway piano.  And James Jamerson was in the house (plus Carol Kaye and a dash of the PhilZone) with a plucky deep bass bottom. Juicy bass bottom indeed! How did it get so juicy? There were 3 bassists! So, I couldn't figure out who had the most tone....was it Wasserman? Well, it turns out 3 basses sound better than one... who knew?). Then, the band ripped into a wonderful medley of Let it Grow (no WRS intro??!@?), and a Bird Song/Cassidy reprise. Overall, a pretty damn impressive first set.
Well, the 2nd set is where the chicken ate the pudding, the pigs pinched the pickle and the rabbit hopped the fence.  No, that wasn't Visine you gave me, was it? For this section of the show, we had the entire orchestra out on stage, and they kicked things off with a Vicksburg Cannonball volley.  All the "Band" songs!  Playin' in the Band! Uncle John's Band! Dark Star Band!  Wait... ah, whatever.  Every single note of set 2 was special... it was the real uncle meat. A 'lotta enchilada.  Next, the Days Between....epic. Bobby conjuring up Jerry and doing this slow-ass, melancholy nugget some serious justice.  And of course, Dark Star, well... it was in the Plunderphonics vein. Very nice with enough little cosmic worm-holes where you could actually see Bobby doing an entire LP of just this track with the Symphony down the line (and maybe add a Moog and Voyager to boot).

Now girls, don't drink any of that fruity Kool-Aide backstage...
Jumping ahead a bit, we go to the encores.  Really Bob??  You're gonna play One More Saturday Night on Saturday night with a symphony?  Hmmm....not so sure about that one.  Though, one member of the symphony (I thought it was the conductor at first) got so energized by this number that he started dancing and freakin' out all over the stage and next to Bobby and up and down the concert isles...doing all this weird crap that you have probably seen your freaky Uncle Freddy do after he downed a fifth of Jack at that weird family reunion back in Plano a few years back.  Now, due to selection and scene, my wife and I thought we'd head for the doors so we could relieve the babysitter a bit early.  Turns out we were glad we waited for Bobby to get his 33rd standing ovation and get flowers from his daughters (poppa's gotta be proud).  Next came a wonderful Ripple, and even better, an A Capella version of Attics of my Life that may have been the most amazing song of the entire night!  No joke.. you could hear a bit drop in the hall.  It was gorgeous. It was moving. It brought up memories of Jerry, of one's youth, of all things that change one's outlook from narrow and dark to spacious, clean and positive.  It was most very impressive. Especially when it looked like a spontaneous campfire gathering since no one knew who was supposed to be out on stage or not. I like little moments like that.
Attics A Capella!
If Bob were to walk away with any advice from Dark Star Palace on this show, I would say three things:
  • It's high time for a surround-sound symphonic record of this evening (Justin Kreutzmann was filming the show in hi-def and it was also being multi-track recorded, so Blu-ray-or-bust baby!)
  • Bob should get back into TRI Studios and record an A Capella record ASAP.  The Attics closer showed how amazing the Dead catalog could be done with just great harmonies alone.  Get CS&N + those symphony singers and start layering up those harmonies!
  • Thank god you have that mustache and beard. Why? Because you are an elder, Mr. Weir.  You are a band leader. Jerry probably wouldn't believe it, and nor would most Heads if you asked us this 20 years ago.  But, that facial hair fits your status as the Civil War General, modern-guard composer, Ace living member of the Dead and all around leader of freaks that you are.
Well done, Professor Weir.  Now, onwards to the 2nd Fusion....or at least a 2nd show to prove to the Visine that it wasn't just a dream!
Spot Kreutzmann's crane, win a dollar

Set List

Set One: 
Cassidy > Bird Song, Row Jimmy, West L.A. Fadeaway, Loose Lucy, Friend of the Devil, Let It Grow > Bird Song > Cassidy

the cheap seat pay off yet again!

Set Two: 
Playing In The Band > Uncle John’s Band > Dark Star V1 > Jack Straw, Days Between > Dark Star V2 > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’ Reprise

One More Saturday Night, Ripple, Attics of My Life

Until next time at Dark Star Palace.....


  1. You write like a Gonzo 'Head Hemingway. I herebye nominate you for an award!

  2. Great post! So nice meeting you and being your neighbor. Still shaking my head over the show!
    (Hope you caught TRI Studios' debut last night...!) Can't wait to read more posts ;)