Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bobby at the inaugural ball?

Another tour review-

By Ryan Snyder

Bob Weir and RatDog covers plenty of grateful ground
The music never stopped, at least not for Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir. Along with Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s ongoing project, Phil Lesh & Friends, Weir’s touring band RatDog ( has sought to perpetuate the music of the band that has shaped American music like few others. Though the Dead built up an immense musical catalog during their 30 years of prolific touring, a RatDog performance is in reality much more than a tribute to Weir’s old band. The Dead weren’t afraid to fill out a three-hour set with covers by everyone from contemporary Bob Dylan to legends like Howlin’ Wolf, and that approach certainly hasn’t changed one bit for Weir. As Weir has aged, he’s settled into simply celebrating the music that influenced his former band, among countless others. His show at the War Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 16 was very indicative of that, mixing a few Grateful Dead favorites and some traditional tunes popularized by the Dead with a cornucopia of musical miscellany.

In fact, the vast majority of the two 75minute sets were filled with an outstanding collection of jammed-up cover tunes.

The night opened with an improvised instrumental jam that featured heavy references to Miles Davis’ classic composition “Milestones.” Though drummer Jay Lane has shown in the past that jazz stylings are certainly within his rhythmic vocabulary (most notably with the Charlie Hunter Trio), he still chose to lay down a rather rudimentary rock beat. It didn’t exactly detract from what was otherwise an interesting treatment, but it did stick out in a way that wasn’t wholly complementary to the piece. Still, such experimentation is in grand Weir fashion and he’s never really been a by-the-book kind of guy. After a somewhat unremarkable “Here Comes Sunshine,” (a song I’m never really thrilled to see on his setlists to begin with) the show really took off with a sing-along to Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” The audience of gray-bearded Deadheads, twenty-something tour junkies and buttoned-up college Greeks all belted out the chorus of “And I turned 21 in prison/Doin’ life without parole” in perfect unison,” showing that music makes strange bedfellows indeed.

The band followed that up with a sweet and somber “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” the first of three Bob Dylan tunes that would find their way out. “Silvio” would come later in the set with a “Tequila” shooter, while another jovial call-andresponse would come in the second during “Quinn the Eskimo.”

Speaking of the audience in attendance, it’s amazing how remnants of the original scene that Weir helped make so infamous has persisted even today. I witnessed a hilarious encounter between a drugaddled counter-culture refugee and the will-call ticket attendant on my way in. The gentleman, who may or may not have been aware that the ’60s ended long ago, gave a workman-like effort to convince the ticket handlers that “Bobby put him on the list.” As he implored the visibly frustrated woman to “call the producers,” he confidently turned to his wife and said, “Heh, Bobby said he was gonna do ‘Spoonful’ tonight.” I’ll admit that I got a little excited at the notion of hearing the Willie Dixon classic that Weir hasn’t played in over 10 years. But, it seldom turns out the way it does in the song and I reminded myself what decades of psychedelic ingestibles will do to a person’s perception of reality.
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The second I stepped into the auditorium, I was taken aback by the nearly breathtaking combined scent of powerful, earthen funk and wicked homegrown. The War Memorial would later rectify that mater by pumping air freshener though the ventilation system toward the end of the second set. Despite it being a seated affair, controlled chaos reigned with revelers dancing in aisles, in their seats (I see they took my suggestion from last week’s forecast) and more specifically, in other people’s seats.

It was laughable to see ushers checking tickets and ordering people back to the place they were assigned, though it was equally absurd to see many of the faithful respond with obscene gestures and epithets to such requests. You know that calling an authoritarian figure a “pig” has jumped the shark as an insult when it’s being used against venue ushers.
The parking lot outside was filled with ragged RVs and Volkswagen buses, most heavily concentrated down one row of parking that composed quite possibly the sorriest excuse for a Shakedown Street I’ve seen in 15 years of concert-going. For the uninformed, Shakedown Street is the unofficially official area for vendors to peddle their wares found at most of the shows on the jam circuit. There really was nothing shaking on this one, with only a couple of vans selling that fabulous hippie cuisine and a makeshift DJ set-up spinning some electronica after the show. However, it might have had something to do with venue personnel driving up and down the pathway with horns blowing. So much for being an accommodating host. The second set closed out with the Beatles’ “Come Together,” right at the time that Febreeze started to permeate the air, followed by the ubiquitous “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” Weir, in his usual cut-off jeans and T-shirt attire, returned to the stage and announced how great it was “to be back in the blue state of North Carolina” to wild applause. Moments later the opening licks of Weir’s favorite showcloser “Ripple” sounded out to take the crowd home with many, oddly enough, smelling fresher than when they arrived.
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