Friday, July 13, 2007

Concert Review: Bob Weir and his Band Ratdog Howl in Central Park's SummerStag

Written by Dave Alper
Published July 12, 2007

In this the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love it seems only fitting that the most active and prolific member of the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir, perform live in front of his legions of swirling, tye dyed heads in the heart of New York City's Central Park. If one happened to close their eyes for just a moment, they would have indeed been transported back to those halcyon days in Golden Gate Park circa 1967.

The Band, on this night and on this particular tour, sported Steve Kimock of Zero filling in for an Ill Mark Karan. They played a set of mostly Dead tunes with a youthful zeal and enthusiasm not heard, at least to these ears, since perhaps 1985. I have always heard of Mr. Kimock's ability but never, until this night, had the opportunity and good fortune to hear him play live. He's been a fixture on the Bay Area jam Band circuit this past decade, fronting Zero and filling in on the many Dead related touring bands that have materialized since Jerry's passing in '95. He brings a remarkable musical sensibility to this band and the end product is as purely astonishing as anything that I have heard in the post Garcia world.

Tonight, he was the right hand to Weir's rhythm guitar and the two married their respective sounds eloquently on stage much to the delight of what was at least three thousand strong souls braving 90+ degree heat. Ratdog opened with the classic, psychedelic Lennon penned, Beatle tune "Tomorrow Never Knows", perhaps with a nod to that current Summer of Love exhibition at the Whitney Museum a mere five blocks away. But it wasn't until halfway through the set did we realize just how good Kimock could actually be.

The septet broke into Robbie Robertson's "The Weight" with Keller Williams, the warm up act, onstage to lend support and vocals. As each verse rose in crescendo, the lead guitar followed suit like a friendly puppy trailing after its master with its tail wagging. The three part harmony, sax, trombone, and the soulful elegant guitars coloring the verse: " Catch a Cannonball now take me down the line/My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe its time/To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one/Who sent me here with her regards for everyone."

I have heard this classic song, a true favorite of mine, performed many times, the most recent being with Levon Helm at the Beacon Theater on St. Patrick's Day. I have even had the good fortune to hear Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead cover it with Bruce Hornsby on keyboards, but Weir's version on this hot and humid evening equaled or bettered them both! However, just when you think the show had hit its apogee, Ratdog changed gears in midswing lulling us into a false sense of Drums/Space when Bobby raises his hand like a seasoned maestro, and seamlessly cruise his band into the second Beatle tune of the evening, "DEAR PRUDENCE".

Again, Kimock takes control of the song leading his guitar notes into, out, and around this bluesy rendition covered by many, but mostly reminiscent of, and in homage to, Jerry and Merle's kick ass version with Reconstruction. Bob treats the song with a combination of reverence and mischief. When he pleads for Prudence to come out and play, the crowd in unison takes her place right there in the orchestra pit. A solid Help/Slip/Birdsong (with Keller Williams ably filling in on a verse or two /Franklin's Tower closed the show. A workmen-like U.S. Blues was offered for an encore and the summer of '07 felt, for those few warm hours at least, a little like the summer of '67 patchouli oil and all.