Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
There’s no script for how psychedelic rock pioneers are meant to play out their golden years. Folks like Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, the founding rhythm guitarist and bassist of the Grateful Dead, are making it up as they go along. And it suits them.
Many musicians of a more recent vintage have long since settled into a pattern of creatively exhausted greatest-hits tours. For first-generation lions of improvisational rock, that option doesn’t seem to hold much appeal. No, these two are obviously not as quick on the draw as they were 50 years ago — nor should anyone expect them to be. But they continue to hold fiercely to the notion that a sense of musical adventure should animate whatever they do.
Weir and Lesh are in the midst of performing six shows as a duo with guests, a run that arrived at the Wang Theatre on Wednesday for the first of two nights. The sense of familiarity between musicians and audience is indicated by the fact the two are billed on this tour simply by their first names. But with Lesh absenting himself from the latest post-Dead touring incarnation, Dead & Co. — or significant touring at all, really — these shows offer an increasingly rare opportunity to hear him and Weir together, and in a stripped-down format to boot.
The guitarist alternated between acoustic and electric instruments, and percussionist Wally Ingram joined for most songs. In New York over the weekend, this trio was joined by Phish’s Trey Anastasio for a generous set that rattled the jam band space-time continuum. At the Wang, the featured guest was session superman Larry Campbell, whose long resume includes a spell as musical director for perhaps the best late-period incarnation of Bob Dylan’s live band. Vocalist Teresa Williams, who performs as a duo with Campbell, joined for most of the second set as well.
Campbell shone as soloist on electric guitar (“Crazy Fingers”), acoustic guitar (Daniel Lanois’s “The Maker”), and mandolin, the latter on Deadhead national anthem “Friend of the Devil.” It was a treat to hear the old-school pairing of “Cryptical Envelopment” and “The Other One,” even if the impromptu ensemble didn’t exactly find its way into the sort of astral projection the Dead once regularly achieved with it.
A first-set “Bird Song,” with just Weir, Lesh, and Ingram, snuck in some unexpected exploration as the bassist took the lead while Weir complemented him with rhythmic accents. Traditional number “Deep Elem Blues” pulled a similar trick with a game but stuttering jam that featured a nifty segue into “Althea,” with Weir switching from acoustic to electric after musically suggesting the transition.
The evening’s central duo didn’t play anything that will send biographers scurrying to update their legacies. Momentum flagged at times, with all songs taken at tempi that ranged from relaxed to glacial. But Weir and Lesh demonstrated yet again that one of the greatest catalogs in American music stands up to interpretation from seemingly infinite points of view. And in that sense, everything went just as they planned it.
Bobby & Phil
At Boch Center Wang Theatre, Wednesday
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