Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Weir does former band mate proud

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18 (updated 8:17 am)
Staff Writer
Rowe: Mom’s 'B natural’ solace is seeing Dead jammin’ (3:00 am)
GREENSBORO - Two hours into Bob Weir's show, when he started singing about ripples on still water, a handful of fans turned their Bic lighters into beacons Sunday night inside Greensboro's War Memorial Auditorium.

It's an old-school concert move. But it seemed appropriate. Weir, the former rhythm guitarist for The Grateful Dead, helped write and play some of the most memorable American music over the past 40 years.

And he played some of that Sunday night with his band RatDog.

Weir opened with "Here Comes Sunshine," and two sets and an encore later, he ended with "Ripple."

Fans got the classic: "Samson and Delilah," "Good Lovin'," "The Other One" and "Peggy-O." But Weir also dipped into the obscure, bringing out "Cream Puff War" from The Dead's first album in 1967.

At least three generations of fans turned the 2,400-seat room into one big dance hall, where everywhere you looked - the aisles, the rows, the orchestra pit - were often a mass of arms, hips and hands.

And up front was Weir, looking like a stoic grandfather with his bushy, salt-and-pepper beard. He wore his signature concert uniform - T-shirt and shorts - and he played on a stage flanked by an American flag, a North Carolina flag and two oddities on an amp: a bowling pin and a Barack Obama bobble-head.

The sound was impeccable, and the show went on without a hitch - other than a last-minute scramble by auditorium staff to find Weir a hair dryer before the show.

Weir - and The Dead - have always loved making a stop in Greensboro. The Dead played five times at the coliseum, including a memorable two-night stand in 1991 that drew 29,000 fans.

Twenty months ago, Weir ended his spring tour with RatDog at War Memorial. That show drew 2,022 fans.

This time, on a Sunday night, a tough time for drawing any kind of crowd, RatDog drew about 1,500 fans.

Weir, who turned 61 last month, hasn't lost any of the vigor in his voice.

He did the Jazzy Bob, the Rock-Star Bob, the Outlaw Bob, as he sang his own songs as well as tunes from his former band mate and friend, Jerry Garcia.

Weir was a long-haired 16-year-old, wandering the streets of Palo Alto, Calif., when he heard banjo music, wandered into a music store and met Garcia. They jammed together and decided to form a band.

That was New Year's Eve, 1963. In August 1995, after three decades of playing music with The Grateful Dead, Garcia died of a heart attack. He was 53.

In an interview this summer in Acoustic Guitar magazine, Weir says he still feels Garcia's presence onstage. Weir says he'll play something and feel Garcia saying, "Nah, nah, don't go there" or "Yeah, there. Go there."

Well, Garcia would have been happy Sunday night. Weir did him proud.

Contact Jeri Rowe at 373-7374 or jeri.rowe@news-record.com