The ornate, gilded walls of Syracuse’s historic Landmark Theatre were home to a different kind of aesthetic on Thursday, November 8th. A flood of tie-dye rushed through the doors and soon, each seat in the venue was marked by dancing bears and familiar Steal Your Face insignia. For one night, Bob Weir – founding member of the Grateful Dead – and his two-piece band, the Wolf Bros, turned the Landmark into Terrapin Station.
The theatre, which maxes out at a 3,000 person capacity, was a radical downsize for Weir who has spent the past four summers playing large outdoor amphitheaters, baseball stadiums and music festivals with the touring group Dead and Company. The cozy venue, paired with the stripped-back musical arrangements of just Weir on guitar, Don Was on standing bass, and Jay Lane on drums, created an intimate experience for fans as Weir explored old songs in new and exciting ways.
The first set was marked by Grateful Dead Classics, “Jack Straw,” a jaunty, rambling rendition of “Me and My Uncle,” a stripped yet funky take on “Althea,” and “Loose Lucy.” For the set’s closing number, “Bird Song,” Weir welcomed Rochester-native Mikaela Davis to the stage, who provided breath-taking harmonies and harp work throughout the lengthy number.
While energy was high throughout the first set, the second took the existing momentum and pushed it further, wandering into electric, jam-heavy territory for the remainder of the night. The trio opened with Little Feat’s “Easy to Slip” and the crowd welcomed the trio’s venture into another cover, erupting in approval as the first notes of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” escaped from Weir’s guitar. The trio hit their stride as “Watchtower” faded into Dead classic, “The Music Never Stopped.” As the set neared its end, Davis returned to the stage to accompany the trio on “Wharf Rat” and “China Cat Sunflower.” The entrancing nature of her harp’s melodic sound made you wish it was a permanent fixture on “China Cat Sunflower,” which was naturally followed by its longtime partner and crowd-favorite, “I Know You Rider,” to close out the set.
The audience was in for a great surprise when the four musicians returned to the stage opening their encore with Neil Young’s “Down By The River.” Davis and Weir went back and forth taking turns singing lead. The beauty in Davis’ voice wrapping itself around such ominous lyrics was reminiscent of a power so quintessential to the Grateful Dead- which was their ability to encompass sound and emotion in full spectrum, never portraying the light and the dark as juxtaposed, but as complementary.
For the final encore, the band performed a touching rendition of “Ripple.” The Landmark was filled with the rising voices of Deadheads as they sang and clapped in unison, nearly competing with the voices of Weir and Davis. The song transformed the energy of the room into something tangible and capable of connecting strangers to one another. As the band took their bows and the lights came on, a greying man in a Jerry Garcia t-shirt gave me a high five and I was overcome with the feeling that Weir was earnest as he sang Jerry’s closing lyric: If I knew the way, I would take you home.