By Ray Chelstowski
The Palace Theater in Waterbury CT is one of those legendary venues where greats of all kinds have given career-defining performances. Built in 1922 it began as a home to travelling vaudeville shows and movies. In the 1940’s notable acts like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Jackie Gleason, Pearl Bailey, Al Jolson, the Glenn Miller orchestra, and the Andrew Sisters, would be booked to perform at the Palace. Even illusionist Harry Houdini delivered some of his famous stunts on its stage. By the late 1960’s the vibrant brass industry that had defined the region began moving south and the Palace decided to broaden its audience and open its door to rock n roll. That ushered in acts like Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Steve Miller Band, Aerosmith, and ZZ Top. They would redefine the theater and create a history of their own.
Completely restored and then reopened in 2004 the Palace now again hosts some of the biggest names in music. This past weekend, it fittingly welcomed Bobby Weir and The Wolf Brothers. It’s fitting because fifty years ago to the week, The Grateful Dead performed at The Palace. This appearance by Bobby and the boys kicked off their 2022 fall tour and the show they delivered made some of the songs they played back on September 23, 1972 sound fresh as ever.
Weir, joined by Jay Lane (drums), Jeff Chimenti (keys), Don Was (bass) and Barry Sless (pedal steel) came to the stage with a presence and energy that engaged the crowd from start to finish. The ensemble was complimented for most of the night by The Wolfpack, a five-member group of horns and strings that gave remarkable depth and dimension to the show. The result was simply electrifying.
Unlike many of the recent Dead & Company dates, this room was filled with die-hard fans only. All 2,900 folks in this sold-out show were there to experience something special and be part of the moment. There were no “beginners” just seasoned vets who helped make the room time-travel to an era lost with Jerry Garcia’s passing.
As much talent as there was on the stage, it’s impossible to ignore the exceptional night that Jeff Chimenti had behind the keys. Even with all of the sound that this 10-piece group packed into these gilded walls, Chiment’s piano sparkled and draped itself on the set list like a diamond necklace. It glistened through the night, dancing about with style and substance. It was a great gift.
Jay Lane, a long-time Weir participant and Dead & Company pinch hitter, delivered a performance on drums that was rich, tasty, understated, and in perfect pitch with the mood of the entire night.
Lastly, Barry Sless offered an accent to the melodies that found a way to fill-in for the soaring sounds that Jerry Garcia’s guitar would have otherwise offered. It also provided a balance to the unique approach to guitar that Bob Weir’s playing lays before you. Weir finds a way to give each song great character. At times this is intrinsically theatrical and in lock step with the tale each tune so artfully tells.
The show began with “Playing in the Band”, and while the entire set list soared, a few moments stand apart. The triad jam of “Estimated Prophet” moving to “Eyes of the World” and into a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” shifted time and place and proved that Bobby still can make “surprise” a hallmark of his great showmanship. These moments caught air with a light show that slid into step and propelled the band forward, helping add motion and momentum to the music.
This is a “can’t miss” tour that has a finite beginning and end. It’s hard to imagine where the band can further takes this music forward, but after this rock solid start there doesn’t appear to be any limit to what Bobby and the boys can build together. On September 30th they made this Waterbury landmark a “Palace of Wonder”, always ready for its “close up.”
Sept. 30, 2022 Set List
Set I: Playing in the Band |Walkin’ Blues | Hell in a Bucket | Black-Throated Wind | Queen Jane Approximately | My Brother Esau | Dark Star | Jack Straw
Set II: Only a River| Me and My Uncle | Bird Song | Estimated Prophet | Eyes of the World | What’s Going On | Black Peter | Lady with a Fan |Terrapin Station Suite | Touch of Grey