I could only attend one night of the two local shows, so I stabbed in the dark and took night #1. Glad I did, just for the Weather Report Suite alone! But I'm jumping ahead.
Set one was okay, nothing too wild. The opening jam to start took a while to gel; my friend Allen commented it was clear Bob likes an opening jam so he can check every single one of his guitar effects! Then all of a sudden the jam was poppin' and Karan was rippin' and Bob steered them abruptly into Music Never Stopped. Fun version, but I could've listend to that jam for a while longer....
I was psyched for Playin' but felt the jam was a little tame. The band confirmed this by moving on pretty quickly. Easy Answers really went nowhere, and I think lots of us were REAL glad they ripped into Cold Rain and Snow like they did. Great crowd sing-along action on that one (more of this to come later). The jams in the Ratdog originals trio were some of the best of the first set--lots of nice spacey textures and loose band interaction. The re-vamped Big River was slown down and kind of swinging, a real departure from the old standard Dead delivery. Fun to hear Bob change things up after over 1000 similar versions of that old Johnny Cash chestnut.
Set two was definitely where it was at for me. A nice, slow acoustic Me and My Uncle got everybody psyched, then the Winners started rocking harder (I love this song, saw Bob/Rob play it acoustic in '90 or so, at The Ritz in NYC - I've been a fan ever since - dig those Rudyard Kipling lyrics!).
Next up was Weather Report Suite, and it was excellent, extremely well-rendered in all regards. This was the tune I was hoping for most, and it didn't disappoint. Vintage Weir guitar styling in all its glory (word was he originally wrote this song as a guitar warm-up exercise!). And the band really did this one justice, especially with the backup vocals, which the Dead often really mangled in some of those old versions.
From this point forward the band was pretty raging in all respects. Let it Grow rocked hard - great crowd sing-along on "I AM!" Terrapin was ripping, too (though Ratdog still struggles with a few parts of this one--it's a big number--gotta give 'em credit for soldiering through, even when they get a little lost. Even Bob himself was about a second behind on alot of Hunter's lyrics; the crowd saved him more than a few times!).
The full band Jam and Wharf Rat after the very short bass/sax/drums/Jay's-weed-rap was really nice (this is another long-standing favorite of mine). Karan finally cranked his guitar up and let it completely loose, after seeming to be holding back a bit for most of the night. This was definitely one of the best overall tunes of the night performance-wise. Everybody was killin'.
Throwing Stones and Not Fade were rock solid, but nothing too exceptional after that sweet trio of long, complex classics. The Touch of Grey encore follows me everywhere. I've heard it at nearly every Dead/OtherOnes/Ratdog show I've seen in the last several years. No complaints, great song, but there's definitely days when I'd rather be the guy who hears the Other One every time he goes!
Either way, we left smiling, and heard several people very psyched to have seen Weir's pal and lyricist John Perry Barlow out in the lobby. I didn't glimpse him, but was real happy to hear he was on hand. See you at the Phil shows in a couple weeks.
Scott, Chicago, IL
Time and time again, Ratdog never ceases to amaze me. The first of two shows at the Vic was yet another performance where it seemed to hit high notes that couldn't top previous Ratdog, and now Dead, experiences. I can imagine that this era of Ratdog will be seen as one where everything seems to work. The musician line-up is wonderful, everyone bring something to the mix that when added together the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. The total sound of the band can be quiet as a church or complete as a sonic symphony full of lush, rich notes that are saturated with energy. I couldn't get over how much I liked this show. Let's take a look at some of the highlights.
Opening jams really are a great way for the show to begin. Everyone checks in, then it's off to the races into the first song. What a treat is was to get Music right off the bat. Played to its fullest with all the nuances, it's a tough opener, but they played it effortlessly. Queen Jane's appearance at the show was, for me, the first of many pleasant surprises, one of my favs imortalized on the Dylan/Dead record brought back to life to be enjoyed here and now. Going into Easy Answers was an unpleasant surprise, but in this case, notice I didn't razz it with the Cheesy Answers name. It has matured into a catchy number with a cool backbone. They seemed to stretch it out and give it some interest while doing so. Cold Rain and Show coming out of nowhere was a complete and total surprise for me. AWESOME call and played quite well. Loved it, loved Karan's approach, and the whole sound was great. Who would have figured next that Playin in the Band would appear? Epic song number two to come out and get some airtime. GREAT! Even So, October Queen, Deep End; maybe pick two out of the three, but once again, songs that have matured/grown on me and are pleasant enough and played well enough to deserve respect. Tossing in Big River at the end made for a logical closer. It was great. Good energy, fun, crisp. Great stuff. However, after Big River, we get one more, and it gets its own paragraph.
Eyes of the World has never sounded so good to me as it did tonight. I don't mean to get drippy, but it gave me a few tears in my eye because it was played with such complete love and attention. Mark Karan (who was FANTASTIC all night) really stepped up to the plate a cracked out some great guitar work. The whole band really stepped into a groove that seemed to grab the whole place. I even closed my eyes and just took everything in. Hearing it on their live CDs will be quite interesting, as I'd bet the memories will line right up with actuality. Everything actually rocked.
After such a great set, I was curious to see how #2 would go... Music, Playin, Eyes all in the first set? Unreal! Epic! The second set proved that there was great yet to come.
Me and My Uncle a pleasant acoustic opener. Everyone sounded and looked good. Robin Sylvester seems to fit right it and really covers the bass responsibility with verve. He really picks up the the whole energy of the band. Epic songs continue: WRS, Terrapin, Wharf Rat, more epic tunes to dazzle ye! Bass, Keys, Space was great: short, sweet, interesting, over, next song. Throwing Stones keeps getting better and better, and it was always great to begin with! There's so much you can do with that song and they did it.... After Stones, Bobby made an "E" with his fingers and took us right to what I'm guessing was supposed to be the encore. NFA comes out and, though it's not one of my favorites, it got a good romping. I was pleasantly surprised to even get an encore and Touch came out and was fine. I'm bummed I missed yet again a GDTRFB by one night. Just my luck.
Overall, the entire evening was nothing short of fantastic. Robin Sylvester augments the energy and playfulness of the music. Mark Karan has really grown into an excellent player. I suggest you check out his Puddleduck work at markkaran.com. The free CD has some cool moments on it. Jeff Chimenti and Kenny are integral parts who really give the music some different texture. Jazz styles really work well in the Ratdog repetoire. Jay Lane's drumming really is impressive. He is SO focused on stage and his fills, etc. are really ingenious. Kudos to the rhythm section... they rock.
If you've never seen a Ratdog show, see one. I like their work now better than the Dead's work. Thank you, Bobby, for wanting to work your trade hard and with such dedication. You really bring some big music to small intimate venues. The end result is overwhelmingly good. I'll be sure to see you anytime you're in the area. You're better every time and I'm glad you have fun while working. There's nothing better than that....
Mr. Kotter, Chicago, IL