Former Grateful Dead member Bob Weir returned to the stage – and the Internet – last night, taping a new episode of his weekly web series "Weir Here" in front of a live audience at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California.
Weir's first public performance in more than a month (he performed a private benefit earlier in June for Marin Academy) came five weeks after he canceled all public engagements to deal with an undisclosed health issue that emerged when the guitarist fell down onstage while performing with the Grateful Dead offshoot Furthur at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, in April. The band cited a "strained shoulder," and finished the concert without him.
Weir performed a few days later in Atlantic City before Furthur canceled their headlining slot at the BottleRock festival in Napa, California, and Weir suspended all of his public appearances. That included putting a temporary halt to "Weir Here," in which he typically performs with special guests and discusses Grateful Dead-related topics with various friends and cohorts.
With no official explanation offered for his leave of absence, fans grew concerned about his health while the rumor mill churned. But Weir appeared to be back and in full force as he opened the night with a solo acoustic performance of his solo cut "Black Throated Wind," with his voice in peak form.
Weir invited collaborators onstage one at a time for an expanding and sometimes rotating ensemble that included Widespread Panic's Dave Schools on bass, Primus' Jay Lane on drums, Furthur's Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, singer-songwriter Jonathan Wilson on guitar and Leslie Mendelson on vocals. Bassist Rob Wasserman and multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby rounded out the lineup. They ran through selections from Weir's vast songbook, including a series of traditional Americana tracks more closely associated with the late Jerry Garcia ("Catfish John," "Deep Elum Blues"). The night closed with a rendition of the Beatles' "Come Together," followed by a jammed-out version of Weir's original, "Playing in the Band."
Midway through the proceedings, singer-songwriter Beth Orton performed a mini-set, including a cover of the Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child." Jonathan Wilson and Leslie Mendelson offered their own mini-sets as well.
During two "couch segments," Weir sat behind a desk, talk show-style, and moderated conversations that ranged from high school athletics with the other singer-songwriters to a discussion with the band's archivist, David Lemieux, of the Grateful Dead's May 1977 tour with. (Rhino Records recently announced a 14-disc boxed set with performances culled from that tour).
Weir also took a few questions from audience members, none of whom asked about the elephant in the room; he offered no comment on his recent cancellations and is not granting any formal interviews, precisely to avoid such questions. When a fan asked, tactfully, "How are you feeling today?" Weir responded that he'd be doing better if he had time for his daily workout, but he had been working "like a mule" to prepare for the show. Other than that, Weir said, he was "doing just fine, thanks."
"Weir Here" is expected to resume webcasting on Wednesdays while Weir gets ready to perform later this month on four dates of the Americanarama tour, featuring Bob Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Furthur also returns to the road this summer beginning July 11th at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.