Is there such a thing as a perfect evening? After spending a night with RatDog in Winston-Salem, I found the answer is a resounding "YES!!!" Everything came together and RatDog showed they perform best in the two-set format as opposed to their abbreviated festival sets. Sure, the festival sets offer a concise format and great atmosphere as Billy Thinnes indicated in his Live Oak review. But this--An Evening With RatDog--is what the band clearly yearns for: a full evening to weave their way through many worlds with an attentive crowd in an intimate venue.
Ziggy's was packed by the time the band hit the stage, greeted by a roaring crowd. The show had sold out at least a few days before, and I imagine the venue would have been miserably hot were it not for the open air; the bar fortunately has half of a wall missing by the stage which allowed the smoke and heat to escape. The stage was only about six inches high and the photo pit was pretty small, so from where I was standing I could reach the tambourine on Bob's mic stand. The stage was small enough that Mark Karan's guitars had to be kept off to the side, and the band had to squeeze between Jeff Chimenti's keyboards and Jay Lane's drum kit to get onto the tiny stage. Very intimate atmosphere to say the least.
The band came began around 9:00 kicking off with a short jam that became a raucous "Truckin." The intense jam coming out of the song became very dark, and RatDog stuck with that "New Speedway"-ish jam for a while before heading into "Playin in the Band." I'm normally not a huge "Playin" fan having heard it so often, but the only word for this version was "hot." The jam really took off, and I think it was during this jam that Bob grabbed his slide. He began using it "normally" on a finger on his left hand, but he soon took it off and began hitting his strings on it with his right hand, making crazy sonic sounds that fit perfectly. "Queen Jane" came out of "Playin," after which the band came to its full first stop. The crowd was absolutely deafening.
Jay, Jeff, and Kenny Brooks left the stage, leaving Bobby, Rob Wasserman, and MK to play a nice acoustic "K.C. Moan." As the song ended, the crowd was so loud--rare for an acoustic set--that Bob just stood there for a couple minutes (it seemed) before uttering "Thank you" which incited the crowd to get even louder. He introduced the next song, "Artificial Flowers," which was also well played. The whole band joined again for "The Winners," where Bob really got off on the "He travels the fastest who travels alone" rave-up at the end. The band carried the jam while Bobby changed back to his electric, and RatDog broke into its first-ever "Brown-Eyed Women." Just exactly perfect. This was incredible hot and I don't know how that was the first time they played it; songs are supposed to be a bit rough the first time through. This was far from rough though as Bob nailed the vocals and the whole band, led by MK, nailed the jam. This version blew away that Crusader Rabbit version from Sweetwater and this, the set closer, left the crowd in awe.
After a short break, the band quickly jammed into "New Speedway Boogie," which was originally supposed to close the first set. This change in placement turned out to be a blessing, as the energy level was high when the band romped into "Mississippi Half-Step!" Now, I don't know why it took so long for RatDog to play this, but it sounded as if it was made for them. The jam just kept taking off with MK and Bobby dueling and just rockin! After a long and hot jam, Jay dropped out the drums to a simple beat, making room for Bob to go off and make those sounds on his guitar that only he could make. Bobby crowed the "Across the Rio Grandio" lines over and over and the crowd was absolutely ecstatic as the song wound down. RatDog then played "This Time Forever/Shade of Grey," which might normally be a low energy point, but not tonight. The song built up throughout and also became a rocker. Into a great great "Hell in a Bucket." MK excelled on this tune, as he did all night, with he and Bob playing off each other and Kenny weaving his sax throughout.
A concise and flawless "Wheel" headed into an intense Bass/Drums segment. Rob was clearly influenced by his collaborations with DJ Logic this summer, as he had a pedal that made Logic's scratching sound that he used during the segment. After a while, the band joined back in and jammed into a beautifully played "So Many Roads," complete with a long period of various phrasings of "So many roads to eaaaaaase my soul." Jeff jammed into a nice "Two Djinn," where MK and Kenny's interplay was a noticeable highlight. In fact, it seemed like everyone was playing off MK. Bobby suffered technical problems with his white Genesis through most of "Corrina," which he more than made up for once he got it working. Once "Corrina," often a set closer, played out, the band dropped flawlessly into the closing notes of "Slipknot!" and a killer "Franklin's" to close the two-hour second set.
"Begging your indulgence we're gonna play another one in the key of A," Bobby said to start the encore. Needless to say nobody was disappointed as the band played the opening notes of "Brokedown Palace." Just a perfect close to the perfect evening, and the audience was going absolutely nuts, even after the first house lights were turned on. The songs were well played and of course well sung, the jams all took off, all six members of the band were interacting with each other throughout the night, the crowd was great, and the atmosphere was great. And after seeing the next two nights in Norfolk (highlighted by killer versions of "Easy Answers," "Candyman," "Schoolgirl," "Uncle John's," "Estimated," "Terrapin," "The Deep End," and "The Other One") and Washington (with strong and appropriate versions of "Liberty," "Shakedown," "U.S. Blues," and "Ashes and Glass," and a "Come Together"-themed "Lovelight"), it's obvious that Winston was not a fluke but the norm for RatDog's "An Evening With" tour. Bob's musical sensibilities, vocal dexterity, and guitar skills are clearly unmatched, and he has put together a band of musicians that have incredible talent and communication abilities, along with unique on-stage personalities that shine through their instruments. I'm putting aside my life to go back out on the road for the tail end of RatDog's fall tour. I'd recommend that any music lover without misplaced hang-ups about Bob Weir and RatDog do the same. This music really does work wonders at such a time.