Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ratdog tries to make each concert unique

By JEFF MAISEY, Correspondent
© March 19, 2007

AFTER AN INITIAL warm-up jam, what song will Ratdog begin with at The NorVa on Tuesday? Will they follow it with "Bertha" or "Shakedown Street"? How about the encore? Could we expect "Franklin's Tower" or "Touch of Grey"?

Keeping fans guessing and making each concert unique through creative song selections and order of performance was a Grateful Dead tradition continued today by its founding rhythm guitarist, Bob Weir, and his band, Ratdog.

Ratdog, which counts Weir (guitar, vocals), Jay Lane (drums), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), Mark Karan (guitar), Kenny Brooks (saxophone) and Robin Sylvester (bass) as full-time members, has an incredible 170-song repertoire to shuffle from city to city.


have a database of all the shows since Ratdog started," said Weir by telephone from his home in California. "Generally speaking, what I do is I bring up the last two or three times we played in a given town, and those songs are automatically out. Then I bring up the last seven or eight shows that we have done, and those songs are automatically out. And I start working from there so that we get a big rotation on all our material."

Ratdog's most recent performance in Hampton Roads was last year on March 18. According to, a fan Web site that documents and catalogs each concert set list, the songs played included "Cassidy," "Railroad Blues," "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Mississippi Half-Step," "Dark Star," "Dear Prudence," "The Other One" and "One More Saturday Night," among others.


Considering Weir's set list explanation, those are all but ruled out this time around. But in addition to a few recent originals and an interesting array of cover tunes, the set is sure to be weighted on the Dead side.

The Grateful Dead emerged from the psychedelic, counter-culture scene of the late 1960s, which had its epicenter in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. It was an "artist ghetto" where music, art and literature thrived. Weir says the members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service felt a sense of camaraderie.

"Those bands, we were all thick as thieves. We enjoyed each other as company and had a whole lot of fun."

Not long after The Dead's self-titled debut album was released in March of '67, the environment in the city changed.

"The year of the Summer of Love, the summer of '67, everything went to hell because every loose screw and nut in the country flocked there, and the Haight-Ashbury turned very sour very quickly."

The Grateful Dead would go on to create such album gems as "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead." They also embarked upon national tours that resembled a traveling caravan at times, peopled by diehard fans dubbed Deadheads.

"That started happening in the late '70s," said Weir. "It was ingratiating. It was like having family, pretty much, with you everywhere. Later that following became a little out of control once we started cranking out hit records and stuff.

"When it first started happening, it was like a tighter and more focused group of folk, and it was like being followed around by a gypsy carnival. We'd land in a city and they'd set up a little town outside the gig, and after a few years some of the locales weren't hospitable to that."

Between tours and recording sessions, the members of the Dead explored side projects. Weir explored new musical tangents as Weir/Wasserman and Scaring the Children with fellow bandmate Rob Wasserman on bass.

Wasserman and Weir played their first show as Ratdog on Aug. 8, 1995, the day before Grateful Dead lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia died.

Without Garcia, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead decided to disband in December 1995. They have reunited for occasional tours as The Dead and will continue to do so.

"We owe it to ourselves to reconvene every now and again," said Weir, "but I don't see it this summer."

The Grateful Dead was presented a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in February. Weir said he isn't ready to slow down.

"I'm certainly not done now that I've got my Grammy."

Reach Jeff Maisey at (757) 222-3934 or