Smile, smile, smile!!!!!!! Incredible night of highs. The expectation and drive down were electric, and once inside the Old COal Exchange I knew things were going to be crazy. The wooden interior gave the hall a special feel – such a shame the balcony wasn't open! Straight from the off – was there a Shakedown tease or was I just grinning it? – things got funky, and stayed like that throughout. A great mix of excitement and energy balanced with those calmer tunes that let the grins merge into one. Scarlet Begonias was my high point – such a shame the Welsh dragon didn't set the place alight. Lovely to twirl away with kindred spirits; you just knew everyone around felt the same and zapped a grin or giggle straight back. The band were spot on – especially liked the keyboard fills throughout – there was plenty of energy coming from them. Great to chat to a few who'd made it over from USA and good to know that they'd thought it was a good 'un. Memories of a crazy tube ride after Halloween '90 sprang to mind. Words couldn't do it justice. Enjoy the rest – things are only just getting warmed up. Cheers.
Hag, Hereford, England
Being a British Deadhead is a frustrating experience. There were very few tours, and in the early 70s scarcely a week went by without an article in the music press about a major European tour. A week later it proved to be a rumour, or the tour was cancelled. In fact the Dead played just 23 shows in Britain (all in England). I was lucky enough to be at 14 from 1972 to 1990.
The Dead never played Wales (or Scotland or Ireland), and I'm fairly certain there were no solo shows unless Hunter did some.
Imagine, then, the sense of disbelief when the ugly roomers (sic) came through in May that Ratdog were coming to Europe, and better still that they would be playing in Cardiff. Most British Deadheads, myself included, never had the resources (financial and perhaps emotional) to go to the States. We knew from tapes and CDs that the spirit lived on past Jerry's death, through Ratdog, The Other Ones, Phil and Friends and so on. The music had changed a bit, but the indefinable "IT" was still there. We envied our American cousins, but we were certain we'd never see it this side of the pond.
All this is by way of an introduction to one of the most amazing nights in my 48 years. The Coal Exchance in Cardiff is what it says--it is where coal was traded in the nineteenth century when Cardiff was the coal capital of the world. Coal has long run out of Wales, but a bright spark took over a virtually derelict building and turned it into a wonderful venue. It's all old wood panelling and amazingly good acoustics provided the music is loud enough.
I arrived and met my friend Niall. The audience was perhaps 500-600 in a venue that might hold 1000. Altrough the crowd was disappointing, there was a wonderful atmosphere and loads of room to dance, and boy was there some dancing! Although there were some youngstetrs, most of the audience were 40-60, ranging from unreconstructed hippies to late middle aged professional couples--a wonderful mix, and boy did they all dance.
I'm not going to go through a track by track review. Suffice it to say that this is a very tight and musically able band, but with a godsent spirit of improvisation at its heart. Although they played Dead songs, including a number of Garcia's, the arrangement and the mood is very different. I'd been worried that this might be a cash-in on former glories, or worse still a tribute band. Far from it, Ratdog take it Fuuurthuur!
The highlight of set 1 was a rocking Scarlet Begonias > Greatest Story. My favourite Dead lyric line has always been "The one thing you need is a left hand monkey wrench," and judging by the dozens of gyrating left hands that flew into the air I'm not alone! A glorious acoustic start to the second set built to a rousing China Cat > Rider finale. The wonderfully sung and played Brokedown Palace was an appropriate and moving encore to send us into the wet Cardiff night.
It still sems surreal. Bob Weir finally plays Wales in his mid 50s. A few hundred devoted Deadheads all within a few yards of one of their idols in a great and intimate venue, not hundreds of metres away at a stadium. When I went to the lavatory during the drums/bass break in the second set, two of the band were there too--what price rock and roll fame?
In conclusion, a fantastic show (and I'm a hardened cynic). Come back soon Ratdog and bring the Other Ones with You!
Adam Gotley, Pontypool, Wales
I'm so glad I went. This is a band that changes from night to night and makes some wonderful music. A non-Deadhead I took to the Bilston show commented there was too much going on and it'd be more powerful if they all played the same lines. There would be 2 or 3 instruments playing around each line and very wonderful it was. Made me do the wild hippy dance with no shame at all.
Thought someone might want to see some comments. The setlists have already been up so I'll skip them.
Newcastle was a great introduction and a wonderful venue. Old opera house, 900 seater. I was shocked it wasn't full (maybe 400 there). Also, very few dancing till the end. Saw one audience member ask one couple to sit down and stop dancing; they were blocking his view! Halfway through the first set, they suddenly turned a corner during Cold Rain and Snow and became a dance band. Got an Other One and the room started rocking.
Decided not to risk Kirkcaldy... a long way away and I thought there'd be few there. There were only 300 in a 3000 size venue but when I saw the list I saw I'd missed a Cassady and Bird Song opener and closer. I went to hear David Byrne in Newcastle instead. There were more dancing there than at the Ratdog!
Cardiff. That was the night! Wonderful little venue. Again, not full but standing so the audience had some incentive to dance or at least shuffle. As in Newcastle, they took 45 minutes of good playing till they caught fire. Then it was jumping up and down for the front few rows, grinning wildly. Noticed, as at other nights that at times Kenny would drop out of the mix and that happened to Bob too. At first I thought it was judicious as, great as sax is, it can smother when used all the time, but Bob's puzzled looks suggested a different problem. Drum and Bass was excellent each night.
Bilston was a much rockier gig. Lots of blues and rock... didn't make me want to dance. Venue acoustics weren't good but even at the front, hearing the monitors I didn't get the dance urge. Made my non-head friend who likes blues happy. Lots of slide guitar from both Bob and Mark Karan. Bob played a Dark Star and it was crap. With as simple a chord pattern as that I think you need instrumentalists who are stellar to play this song properly. Ian Davies, with his special tour shirt that I suspect his mates made for him had had a great night and been 'sniffing the barmaid's apron.' As he staggered off, he predicted an Eyes in London. And he got one.
London. A good 'un. Good crowd. Bob almost chatty. That was the second time he managed more than "we're going to take a short break." Nice to hear a big PA but I still liked the sound better from the monitors... easier to follow the different lines. That and it's great to look up Bob Weir's nostrils real close up and think 'wow, it's Bob.' Mark Karan is very good. He isn't afraid to play lines that sound Garcia-ish so his playing has a naturalness about it. Bass is excellent, he really should lead some in improvised sections, the DnB is great. Jeff Chimenti on piano is in the right place all the time and really lets rip on rock and roll songs. I like the addition of sax although sometimes less is more. Anyone else think Kenny looks like that bloke out of Third Rock From The Sun (especially when he closes his eyes & does the embouchure)?
Afterwards, Kenny was kind enough to turn up at the 12 Bar Club for The Cosmic Charlies, London's premiere GD cover band. Teeny tiny venue and loud loud music. Played mostly early GD stuff. I'd thought it'd be a bit much music or a disappointment but once they warmed up they ripped it up for two and a half hours without a break and played some excellent music. They don't strive to copy each GD instrumentalist so they have their own take and their own grace. Stumbled out of there at 2am.
Was it worth all the petrol and concert tickets? Oh yes, I'd do it again. In London I was not far off phoning in sick and heading for Europe. We don't get great chunks of improvisation and seat-of-the-pants playing. What we do get is a number of excellent musicians playing songs we know and love along with songs we don't know but soon like, making great music to dance to. Come back soon Bobby. And bring Phil.
Ross, Leeds, England