Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 7:29 pm

Weir and RatDog provide jamming good time
By BRAD PATTON | For The Times Leader

Bob Weir performs with RatDog at the Kirby Center Tuesday.(Don Carey/Times Leader Photo)
Don Carey

Bob Weir performs with RatDog at the Kirby Center Tuesday.(Don Carey/Times Leader Photo)
Don Carey

Evoking the music and spirit of the Grateful Dead while applying their own unique talents, Bob Weir and RatDog tore through two sets and nearly three hours of music at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday.

Weir, a founding member of that legendary band from San Francisco, has been fronting RatDog since just before the death of Jerry Garcia ended the Dead in 1995. Tuesday’s show included seven songs made famous by his original band, plus a handful of others that were played by the Dead many times over their 30 years together.

Taking the stage with an extended jam that first led into “The Music Never Stopped” then into “Casey Jones” (a Dead song originally sung by Garcia), Weir and his musical compatriots set the tone for the evening by making that first segment last for over 20 minutes.

Next up was a version of “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion),” a song from the Grateful Dead’s 1967 debut album. The audience heartily joined in as the group persuaded them to “Come and join the party, it’s everyday.”

The current version of RatDog has been playing together since March 2003, and it showed on Tuesday night. Now more than ever, they seem more like a band and not just backing musicians for Weir.

Each member was showcased at various points during the concert. Guitarist Mark Karan, saxophone player Kenny Brooks and keyboard player Jeff Chimenti provided the flourishes, as bass player Robin Sylvester and longtime drummer Jay Lane built a sturdy foundation.

Lane, the only other member besides Weir who has played at every RatDog show, was featured prominently on an extended drum solo towards the end of the second set. He also provided the patented Bo Diddley beat on the band’s version of “Iko Iko.”

Two Bob Dylan songs were featured; a nice rendition of “Slow Train” graced the first set, while an acoustic version of “Desolation Row” was a highpoint of the second. Unfortunately the latter tune was marred by sub-par sound, including very noticeable feedback. In fact, throughout the evening the sound seemed muddy and distorted, with Weir’s vocals buried in the mix.

Seemingly unaware of the technical problems, the band played a blistering 11-minute version of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” which featured Chimenti on the piano, during the first set. That was followed by an equally impressive take on “Stagger Lee.”

Following a 30-minute intermission, the group came back out with two acoustic numbers, “Stealin’” and Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”

Then came the longest epic of the evening: Weir’s solo tune “Wrong Way Feelin’” which morphed into the Dead favorite “Playin’ In The Band,” which then turned into “Iko Iko,” which was followed by the drum solo/jam section, then “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” and finally “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.”

The band then capped off the concert with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

Just like the Grateful Dead before them, no two RatDog shows are ever the same. Although flawed by the technical shortcomings, Tuesday’s performance by Weir and company was a fine addition to their portfolio.