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Pop Music Reviews : Rapturous Deadheads, Rootsy Eclecticism at Weir Show

Usually, a band member moonlighting from a major rock group does it to kick back, take it easy, and do some musical meandering.

With the Grateful Dead, laid-back meandering is the gist of the everyday agenda. So it was fitting that Bob Weir tried something different on Tuesday night at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in his duo show with Bay Area bassist Rob Wasserman.

As singer and guitarist for the Old Man River of rock bands, Weir is part of a slowly unfolding musical ebb and flow. But Weir and Wasserman were anything but mellow, playing two sets that emphasized forceful rhythms and, for just a bassist and a guitarist, a fair amount of hard-edged noise.

Still, the 90-minute concert had some of the trappings of a Dead show in miniature--including a packed house of rapturous, new-generation Deadheads and a rootsy eclecticism that combined Weir originals (both solo stuff and Dead songs) with a liberal heaping of standards ranging from “Misty” to Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

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The energy of Weir’s performance compensated for a voice that was as texturally flat and featureless as America’s midsection (despite an earnest effort, Weir is not a singer you want to hear attempt “Misty”). But as Weir strummed his hard, percussive rhythm parts and Wasserman followed his lead with hammering bass lines, one wished that Jerry Garcia would appear to provide some of his sweet, airy guitar melodies.

Especially in the first of their two 45-minute sets, the music lacked the nourishment of melodic grace notes and interactive playing. The second set was less blunt, more reflective, and allowed the duo to stretch out with more responsive playing. They also play the Palace tonight and the Bacchanal in San Diego on Saturday.


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