The Bridge Session | San Rafael | Review | Photos

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Dave Vann

The Bridge Session :: 03.24.12 :: TRI Studios :: San Rafael, CA

Big photo gallery below review!

Bob Weir & The Bridge Session Band by Dave Vann
An early arrival for the HeadCount sponsored live webcast dubbed ”The Bridge Session” found the one-time-only band gathered around a single very expensive looking microphone working up a patient acoustic version of “Uncle John’s Band,” their harmonies rich and touch light as they beckoned one to “come on along or go alone.” In some greater sense, this invitation lay at the heart of this combination musical performance and political/social forum designed to bridge perceived differences and discover common ground. Feeling apart, separate and alone is a frequent feeling amongst voters and even music fans in 2012, and it’s easy to miss possible connections that might well enrich our own lives not to mention society at large. While the players, HeadCount staff and invited roundtable speakers never hammered too hard on these points, the evening offered folks a chance to reflect on where one’s life and interests overlap with others, guiding us there gently and thoughtfully through the vehicle of beautiful, well played music and lively discussion.

The remainder of the rehearsal found the guys working through lovely lean-in-and-listen takes on Dead classics “Ripple” and “Brokedown Palace.” Say what one will about the Grateful Dead themselves, their songbook is one of the most enduring, instantly humanizing and wonderfully constructed in American history. The truth of this shined in the two set performance that followed – and three-song encore that recreated the rehearsal vibe standing in middle of the tiny invited audience – where Dead alum Bob Weir collaborated with a bunch of Brooklyn’s brightest who clearly vibed powerfully off the many Dead numbers they tackled along with smartly chosen and executed covers of Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time,” Cass McCombs’ “Love Thine Enemy” and two from The National, “Fake Empire” and “Daughters of the SoHo Riots.” In addition to The National's bass and drum playing brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, the group – who had been holding 10 hour/day rehearsals leading up to this event – included The National’s Aaron Dessner (guitar, electric mandolin), Kyle Resnick (trumpet) and Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett (keys) with YellowbirdsSam Cohen (guitar) and Josh Kaufman (guitar, lap steel), The Walkmen’s Walt Martin (keys), and Taka Taka’s Conrad Doucette (drums).

Bob Weir & The Bridge Session Band by Dave Vann
After a brief, jovial intro by the evening's emceee, The Disco Biscuits' Marc Brownstein, a HeadCount co-founder, the care and preparatory work the musicians had put in was immediately apparent on Set One opener “Help On The Way,” which moved in a warm, limber manner that scooped one up, the jazzy elements downplayed for a fairly rockin’ version that dropped us into “Love Thine Enemy,” one of the evening’s highlights, a loaded, painfully personal song with broader reverberations and knotty lyrics like, “Hypocrites especially practice the golden rule/ I love what you say though sometimes it’s mean/ Without earthworms how else would the soil keep clean?” Weir shined on this fairly alien material to his usual fare and continued to do so throughout the performance, singing in a clear, strong voice that meshed well with his young collaborators. An appreciation of what others bring to the table was part of the subtext to “The Bridge Sessions,” and this theme came through in ways bold and subtle as they explored music together, often touching on the profound friction and violence that can exist between opposing forces in our culture – a point laid bare in Set One closer “My Brother Esau,” which Weir hadn’t performed since 1987.

It's brother to brother and it's man to man
And it's face to face and it's hand to hand
We shadowdance the silent war within
The shadowdance, it never ends

Buddy Roemer & John Perry Barlow by Dave Vann
While the music was the main lure for those watching online (and most of those in attendance), one of the best portions of the event occurred when a panel comprised of independent Presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, Grateful Dead lyricist and electronic culture pioneer John Perry Barlow, upstart political party No Labels co-founder Mark McKinnon, and Executive Director for the Energy Action Coalition Jessy Tolkan held a half hour discussion of some key issues facing the United States. Each spoke with a clarity and conviction that’s rare in contemporary politics, showing that undisguised passion and reason still exist in this field, each participant showing uncommon good sense, a healthy amount of honest compassion, and a willingness to unleash venom on the right targets.

“We don’t run the country anymore. Checks do,” observed Roemer, who wisely pointed out that despite their stated differences the two controlling major American parties are joined at the billfold to the same wealthy masters. “Try and call your representatives and see what happens. They aren’t taking your call.”

“This is the year of political disruption,” said Tolkan. “The power of the people is not gone. We need to disrupt, disrupt, disrupt, and remember that disruption is our right.”

Tolkan, McKinnon, Weir & HeadCount's Andy Bernstein by Dave Vann
Asked what he thought about the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, Bob Weir, who joined the panel between sets, offered, “It’s not what our Founding Fathers had in mind. If corporations are people put ‘em in prison. But you can’t! How’s that for a big mound of horseshit?” Well said, sir.

At the core of the varied discussion – which I personally would have loved to seen doubled in length – were people seeking some areas a majority of people could rally around and put their shoulders into bringing to fruition. It’s a worthy goal and the truth and power of what was said by Roemer and the others generated a real moment for some of us, a conviction in our spirit to get involved, to participate and engage even in the face of the fractious, tribalizing dissent and abject, fact-free dumbness that abound in today’s political discourse. Throughout this article there are hyperlinks to more information on the participants. Click away, investigate, and ruminate on ways you might get involved. The time for active engagement and full-throated participation is now. And you can begin by getting registered at Headcount and perhaps seeing what you can do to aid their voter registration efforts. As first steps towards active citizenship, it’s a bang-up one.

Bob Weir & The Bridge Session Band by Dave Vann
The second set was by turns playful and intense, mingling sing-a-long fave “Brown Eyed Women” with the propulsive, finger-twisting journey of “The Other One” (which these Dead newbies pulled off with serious aplomb). “Fake Empire” brought Doveman out on lead vocals and found Weir clearly enjoying The National’s music, a fresh but sure convert to their indie beloved tunes. An ever-crowd-pleasing one-two punch of “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider” got attendees in motion at the end of Set Two, a pleasant, comforting reminder of this pairings strange power.

For my own tastes, the quieter moments of Set One’s “Looks Like Rain” and Set Two’s “Standing On The Moon” and world weary reading of Dylan’s “Most of the Time” with Weir in majestic ache and the band in empathetic harmony with him may have been the sweetest musical points. However, it was the thoughtful, interwoven nature of the whole experience that lingers. The subtleties of our differences and sameness were explored in art and conversation in ways that stirred one out of calcified stances…if one opened up and let it. Like most things in this modern world, it’s easy to stop at being entertained or amused. It’s to be hoped that the efforts of “The Bridge Session” participants and organizers will have some positive rippling effects amongst the audience that witnessed it.


Set I: Help on the Way, Love Thine Enemy, Looks Like Rain, El Paso, Friend of the Devil, Cassidy, Daughters of the SoHo Riots, My Brother Esau

Set II: Me and My Uncle, Fake Empire, Most of the Time, Brown Eyed Women, The Other One, Standing on the Moon, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider

Encore: Ripple, Uncle John’s Band, Brokedown Palace

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[Published on: 3/27/12]

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