Bob Weir and RatDog at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Paul Wellman

Among its many unexpected pleasures, apparently the jam-band show is a great way to muster Independence Day spirit. (And you thought it was the Beach Boys.) Thursday at the Bowl looked a lot like a sunshine daydream, with people from most of the crazy American stripes. There were black, white, and Asian, original and neo-hippie chicks, biker families, bros, successful realtors, and even a professional athlete. “Bill Walton is in the house,” said the frat-looking chain-toker seated behind me. And indeed, there was the counter culture’s favorite seven-foot hoopster, standing near the mixing board in longitudinal splendor, sporting a euphoric grin throughout the five-hour-long performance.

Opener Chris Robinson came out barefooted and lyrically voiced, serving up what he calls “farm-to-table psychedelia.” The set consisted of some preliminary loosening-up exercises, ranging from “Try Rock & Roll” to the gorgeous morphing “Vibration & Light Suite.” Like most great jam bands, the Brotherhood understands the free-form lead-in but rarely knows how to end. Great riffs too often turn into an instrumental form of scat singing.

The same problem plagues Bob Weir’s post-Dead band. But Weir has extraordinary assets to match the dimensions of his own long, strange stage experience. Last Thursday, the show was stolen by newish guitarist Steve Kimock, who at times trance-channeled Jerry Garcia’s light, perfect tone and thundering pedal-less wah-wah. His guitar laughed and screamed. To add to the homegrown splendor, Weir incorporated Ventura violinist Phil Salazar, who never met a tune he couldn’t instantly enhance. The evening built slowly to a combo of “Shake It Sugaree” and “Deal,” and the second set hit awe-inspiring pay dirt with “DarkStar.”

Beauty is hard, said Ezra Pound, but it always seemed like the hippie ethos was meant to disprove that notion. When noodling, hacking, and riffing connects in a long act that mixes dedication and faith, it often creates something bigger than the raffish parts. If that’s not a working definition of these United States, it’s at least something fine to celebrate.


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