Deadheads flocked to Lower Manhattan Wednesday night to catch a movie and a concert about and by the Grateful Dead’s living guitarist and singer Bob Weir as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
It was an older than average crowd at BMCC, flecked with tie-dyes and balding men’s ponytails. In his brief introduction to The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, director Mike Fleiss advised the audience “to take your tabs now,” referring to hits of the Dead’s favorite mind-bending drug, LSD.
Weir discusses acid and many other subjects in the film, which traces his history with the Dead and longtime friendship with the group’s co-founder and leader until he died, Jerry Garcia.
They met in Palo Alto in the early ‘60s at Dana Morgan’s Music store, where Garcia regularly played banjo. An orphan, Weir rebelled at a young age and went off to live with Garcia and the rest of the original members of the Dead in San Francisco.
Those were heady times, when Weir just about did it all, including LSD every Saturday for a year. Marijuana was a given. And there were lots of women. Weir, single until his late forties, was considered the group’s “heartthrob” (Garcia said they needed to have a least one good-looking guy in the band.) He regularly threw after-show parties in his hotel room for women only.
Plenty of time is devoted to Weir’s underrated abilities, especially as a rhythm guitarist. Fleiss weaves in interviews with such unlikely Weir advocates as Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth, Perry Farrell and Sammy Hagar, all of whom sing the wooly-haired and bearded icon’s praises. Weir says he learned harmonics from listening to jazz cats like John Coltrane.
Fleiss, who created The Bachelor and The Bachelorette reality series and directed the doc, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne, breaks down Weir’s life into convenient chapters: growing up; the early Palo Alto music scene; joining with Garcia to form the Dead; the so-called “Acid Tests,” where the band came together; Neal Cassady and the Merry Pranksters (Weir jumped on the bus); the band’s first round of success; the evolution of the Deadhead scene, which Weir always supported; the second wave of success around “Touch of Grey” in 1987; the hero worship of Garcia; his death in 1995 and how it devastated Weir; life after Garcia in the form of Weir’s RatDog and other Dead-y incarnations, like Further and Phil Lesh and Friends; and his late-in-life marriage to Natascha Munter and embrace of fatherhood (they have two daughters).
There’s no narrator, just a lot of talking heads (including all the living Dead band members), but mostly Weir, who carries the film with his offbeat remembrances. In fact, Weir is often behind the beat, just a shade off subject (it must be all the acid). You never quite know what he’s going to say next.
Plus, there’s no shortage of Grateful Dead music in the film. Between archival clips and new versions of songs like “Cassidy” featuring The National, Deadheads can’t complain. In an early segment, the movie’s namesake, “The Other One,” co-written by Weir, gets the full psychedelic animation treatment.
While Weir does admit to using painkillers to deal with shoulder pain (last year he tumbled during a Phil Lesh show) and one of Garcia’s daughters hints at him being difficult to deal with at times, he’s fairly unscathed in Fleiss’ film. This is more of a vanity project than a subjective biography. Mostly, the documentary hails Weir as a psychedelic rock pioneer who deserves more respect and appreciation from those outside the Deadhead world (they, of course, adore Weir and affectionately call him “Bobby”).
After the 86-minute feature, Weir came out and performed a 70-minute acoustic set, accompanied on the last few songs by electric guitarist Steve Kimmock, who’s currently in RatDog. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, sport jacket and loafers, Weir was in good voice, stretching out tunes with chorus repeats and falsetto belts. Many of the songs were his own – from “Hell in a Bucket” to “Corrina” to “Playing in the Band.” The Garcia-penned “Loose Lucy” drew a favorable response and “Not Fade Away” invited audience participation in the form of rhythmic handclapping.
All in all, it was quite a night for anyone, but especially Deadheads, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
There are two more screenings of The Other One at TFF: Apr. 26, 8:30 pm and Apr. 27, 2:30 pm. Both are at the AMC Loews Village at 11 St. and Third Ave.