The Fillmore, Minneapolis’s newest concert venue, does a good job of calling back to hallmarks of the original Fillmore’s past, while trying its best to fit in with the other venues of the Twin Cities. The main floor of The Fillmore is all wood, with chandeliers hanging high above, making it one of the classier of venues in the twin cities. However, the vintage photos of Minneapolis and a well illuminated Prince mural on the wall seem to bring the sentiment that The Fillmore had been here long before, even though it’s a completely new building, opening less than a month ago. Hokey or not, The Fillmore fills a void between First Avenue and The Armory in it’s capacity, hopefully giving musicians another place to play in Minneapolis when they otherwise may not have been able to if other smaller venues had been booked.
While new to us, “The Fillmore” is a name mostly associated with that of classic rock legends. Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers, to name a few, all have albums tied to the Fillmore name, Among countless acts of the late 60’s era that have played there. It’s status in rock n roll was solidified by its original east and west coast venues, now long gone, but in more recent years, turned into a nationwide chain of venues. But perhaps no name is more synonymous with the Fillmore moniker than the Grateful Dead. So it only makes sense that one of their last founding members, Bob Weir, helps to christen the new Fillmore in town by being one of it’s opening acts.
Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers are among one of many of his musical side muses. Weir plays guitar alongside longtime drummer Jay Lane, and producer-turned-upright bassist Don Was. Last year, I wrote about their show at St. Paul’s Palace Theatre, and once again, longtime music fans and deadheads were happy to see a Minnesota stop outside Weir’s arena tours with Dead and Company.
Weir took to the stage in an already very packed crowd, opening with “Hell in a Bucket” before quickly moving to a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River”, Once again eliciting cheers from the line mentioning St. Paul, Minnesota. The western tunes continued with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and “Deep Elem Blues”, all of which were Grateful Dead setlist staples. Last year I had written about Bob Weir’s piercing and trumpet-like guitar tone, which was no different from last night’s Fillmore show. What was a welcome addition to the sound, however, were a handful of acoustic guitar songs, which were both warmer, and blended well with Weir’s weathered vocals. “Only a River” and “Peggy O” both worked well acoustically, while previously performing electric with Weir’s other bands.
“Peggy O” also gave the audience a rare speech from Weir, whose only spoken words to the crowd last year were a brief but sincere “Thank you” at the end of his St. Paul show. Before the tune, he told us about how the song was 500 years old, coming from the highlands of Scotland during wartime. Afterwards, tuning his guitar, he spoke again. “If I can beg your general indulgence” he said eloquently, “We’re going to do another tune at about that same tempo. This one is not quite 500 years old. More like 100.” Then launching into “Deep Elem Blues”
To me the only downsides I could find in the night were the near hour long intermission between sets from the band, and the lack of Bob Dylan songs that were present in last year’s show, albeit a bit too present, as the prior year’s setlist included three(!) Dylan covers. The extended intermission from the band is understandable given the age and tenure of the band. Weir, now 72, expectedly could use some rest when standing on stage for 3 hours a night while on tour. While I can’t blame him for that, the lack of seating in the general admission area began to take its toll on the crowd, some of whom just sat down, or leaned up against pillars. Some, I imagine, could likely have gone to the attached restaurant, purchased dinner, and returned before the next set.
l still that the Wolf Bros would fare better with additional players, even if it doesn’t mean a second guitarist. While Weir is a trailblazer of a rhythm guitarist, A pianist, for instance, could help to fill songs where a lead guitarist would be, or even someone like Mikaela Davis, who had sat in with the band on previous shows to play Harp. Weir has spent most of his life as a rhythm guitarist, so lead-heavy songs can sometimes fall flat. “Sugaree” for instance, a simple two chord song often that ventures into stratospheric peaks in full bands, begs for more than just the two chords Weir had played for more than 10 minutes, even though small individual runs of notes were welcome when he ventured up and down his guitar neck. However, the emptiness in some of these songs allowed for more interpretation to be heard from the bass and drum players. Regardless of instrument, it would be great to see other members join the Wolfpack to expand on songs that traditionally have been platforms for interpretation.
The second set was filled with more covers, with a handful of original songs thrown in the mix. The set opened with a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” made famous by Janice Joplin. “Passenger” “He’s Gone” “Estimated Prophet” and “Throwing Stones” were welcome dead tunes, while “Two Djinn” was a nice throwback to the Ratdog days, another one of Weir’s side projects that come and go. “Dear Prudence” a rare beatles cover, was also a nice surprise to the setlist. Closing the night out, the band performed a hallmark of the Grateful Dead’s catalog “Touch of Grey”
Perhaps what makes the night special is the nostalgic aura of these two names being together again, Fillmore and Bob Weir. A taste of the late 60’s San Francisco counterculture nearly 50 years later in our own neighborhood. A woman I spoke with in line outside the venue told me she had seen the dead at the original Fillmore east, but looked far too young to be telling me the truth. Last night, I suppose she and many others could finally tell a version of that truth, hearing dead songs at a Fillmore.