On April 18th, 2017 I was in New Orleans to see Bob Weir at the Saenger Theatre. It’s fair to say that if not for the Bob Weir show I wouldn’t have made the trip from Ottawa to New Orleans, but at the same time it would be wholly inaccurate to say that I went to New Orleans to see Bob Weir.
Whether you’ve been there or not, everyone knows that New Orleans is an amazing, unique city; why else would it get all the hype? Their music is ubiquitous, their architecture instantly identifiable, their food is famous around the world and the city’s good old, everyday New Orleans sweaty hurricane voodoo crawdad second line Southern culture is legendary.
And if you have been there? Well, once you find out that everything you’ve heard about the place is true (and them some), it doesn’t usually take a whole lot of convincing to get people back to NOLA.
And such was the case here. A good looking time-share had become available and flights were dipping below $500; those two factors alone were enough to get me pretty close to booking. Perusing the upcoming concert calendar a Drive-By Truckers show at Tipitina’s coinciding with the trip made things look a whole lot better but when I saw that Bobby was booked to play one of my favourite indoor venues in America just three days after the Trucker’s show the stars were unquestionably aligned (the phrases “slam dunk” and “no brainer” spring to mind) and I couldn’t book the trip fast enough.
And so midway through another fantastic vacation in my favourite North American city m’lady and I found ourselves walking up to the beautifully restored Saenger Theatre, where we mingled with the friendly music-loving hippie crowd that comes standard at any Grateful Dead-related concert. I like these people, and I did as much socializing and “hello, how are ya”-ing as I could before m’lady and I crossed the threshold into the grand old building and plodded along the marble floor to the gilded balcony.
Taking our seats, we gaped up at the twinkling blue ceiling and admired the overtly ornate (and inexplicable) Roman statues that ring the vast room. Before long Bob Weir came out to thunderous applause and took his place centre stage. He opened the show all by himself, with a string of solo acoustic numbers that included classics like Walkin’ Blues and The Music Never Stopped. Bobby is a really odd, angular rhythm guitar player and his first four songs were a great opportunity to hear his natural wonkiness uncluttered by backup musicians. It was a great opening to a great show and it really proved that Bob Weir has long been one of rock’s most original rhythm guitar players.
When his band joined Weir onstage* the music might have filled in a bit but it remained calm and rootsy throughout. The rest of the first set was mostly dedicated to Bob’s latest record and while the music was mostly unfamiliar it was all great. When he slipped into Jack-A-Roe late in the first set I almost yelled, “play more new stuff!”
Okay, that’s a lie.
What is true though, is that when I first got into the Grateful Dead I was an unabashed Bobby fan, ever since getting really close to the stage one night in Chicago and noticing clearly that rockin’ Bobby Weir was the clear rock and roller in the band. I would get little support and a lot of raised eyebrows when I would mention that I’d take Bobby over Jerry any day, but eventually – with enough listening – I came around to the Garcia camp. Once I got a really good dose of the bass Phil Lesh jumped close to the top of my respect list and soon Bob Weir found his way to the bottom of said list.
So with Jerry gone I found myself going to a lot of Phil Lesh shows and I had long been figuring he was where my current Dead attention should be directed. Well, by the time Bobby finished his second set at the Saenger – which included sublime versions of songs likeFriend of the Devil, Bird Song, China Cat Sunflower, and I Know You Rider – he had rocketed straight to the top of my Dead priority list (with apologies to Mr. Lesh of course) and I’m very Grateful to be singing Bob Weir’s praises once again.
After stopping in the elegant, chandeliered lobby to purchase a poster and almost a t-shirt too m’lady and I walked out of the immaculate Saenger Theatre and crossed the street to the dilapidated Joy Theatre, where we proceeded to dance the night away to a great band hitherto unknown to us, the Honey Island Swamp Band. But of course, that’s another story.
*The Campfire Band consisted of Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf and Scott Devendorf of The National along with Josh Kaufman, Steve Kimock, and Jon Shaw. Curiously, I had seen Bobby sit in with The National a few years earlier in San Francisco.