It is never too soon to welcome Ratdog back to the valley of the sun, so it was with great anticipation that I arrived at the Celebrity Theatre for the show. Phoenix is light on small theaters, but the Celebrity has been faithfully serving our area with great shows since 1974 and in a word the place is intimate. The band chose to not play in the round, which makes the show feel all the more like a "living room" show; there is no seat further than 70 feet from the stage and everyone has plenty of room to dance and shake their bones. Friendly staff and friendly venue--there could not have been a better setting for one more Saturday night with Ratdog.
The show was preceeded by some quick words by the promoter, Danny Zelisko, the closest we've got to a Bill Graham. His heartfelt words of introduction reveal his love for music Dead-related and rock and roll in general. Our scene and the live music scene as a whole need more promoters like Danny Z.
A nice, mellow jam got things going, increasing in tempo until the hum of the tires on the pavement signaled Truckin. The way the boys slid into the song, it was clear that they were settled in for the tour, confident and strong. What their playing says is that they love to play together and it shows. Right from the opening jam, that signature musical triumph was in the air and it didn't let up all night. Truckin segued into an always beautiful Baby Blue. And as if the songs have always been twins, in one note Baby Blue became Brown Eyed Women, a song that connects Ratdog to a time predating anyone in the room, but with contemporary, soaring guitar work by MK. Jeff's key work drove this song, with great interplay by Kenny on sax. Strong vocal performances as well. The Lost Sailor/St. of Circumstance suite was my 1st set highlight. These songs are two of Bobby's finest compositions and Ratdog just flat out owns these songs and performs them with such sublety (Lost Sailor) and energy (St. of Circumstance) that it feels like a privelege to hear them take these songs out for a jaunt. Then Shade of Grey, a song I saw many times acoustic with Bob and Wasserman, but this electric version climbed so high, with the band hitting this brilliant crescendo; I was thrilled to hear this song treated this way. All Over Now is a great kiss off song, rowdy and rolling and deeply bluesy. Nice versions of She Says and Liberty closed the long set.
Acoustic 2nd set openers have become the norm, but tonight Bobby, Mark, Robin and Jay didn't just come out and softly play a cowboy song or two, they simply rocked a killer Victim or the Crime, then right into a fast, powerful Friend of the Devil, with lots of sing along by the crowd. Out came the rest of the guys with Bobby staying on acoustic for a triumphant Black Throated Wind. The band was urgently leading Bobby back to his electric so that Ashes and Glass could be unleashed. This Ratdog original is just a great song and the band knows it and feels it and they just hammered us with this song, again reaching levels of triumph, taking everyone so high the roof could barely contain us. A short minijam allowed everyone to shift gears before erupting into a Terrapin whose groove told us this was going to be a long ride. At the midpoint Bobby and Mark eased off the stage and Jeff led the rest of the boys through a killer, far out very spacey jam segment, before the guitarists returned to the stage for the climatic finale of the suite, the crowd just thundering "Terrapin" at the stage, and the boys just throwing giant chunks of audible joy right back at us and the point where band and crowd merge in performance occurred, that magic place that is fleeting and sought (and not always found) at each show. They brought us down so softly with Dear Prudence, a beautiful exercise in restraint and emotion, again signalling an ownership of a song that inspires. Well then there was the train wreck of a segue way/intro to One More Saturday Night, but there was a recovery and we all grinned our way through the required party song that is itself a document of a show, a tour, a tradition. The band left the stage for a short few minutes before returning with the promoter Danny Z, who was invited to sing back up and shake the tambourine on Touch of Grey. Not that he is vocally or rythmically talented, but he was thrilled and the graciousness of Ratdog in letting him participate was the reciprical of his pre-show graciousness (not unlike years past with Bill Graham playing "percussion" on Sugar Magnolia). I am sure Danny Z. has had some highlights in his rock and roll promotion career, but bowing on stage with the band will surely be ranked high on his list, and it was a reminder that we are all in Ratdog, that the performance is not a passive experience but a group ascension to that higher place: the triumphant human experience. Thank you Ratdog.
Steve Zacher, Gold Canyon, AZ
Bobby opened with a nice little jam that went into a very energetic version of Truckin. Brown Eyed-Women was very played to perfection. Lost Sailor was very nice but, Saint of Circumstance was too slow. It's All Over Now had everyone groovin. Black-Throated Wind was nothing short of phenomenal and probably drew tears from several fans. It was one of those songs you did not want to end. The One More Saturday night closer was outstanding, and Touch of Grey encore, seemed to finish the night just right.
I must say the venue is awesome. Every seat is really good. However, the Nazi security guards saw to it that nobody had any fun. They shook down dozens of people in my view who were trying to smoke weed. My friend lit a joint and three seconds later, some Hitler youth who spends all of his time in the gym had him emptying his pockets. I have never been in a place where the security got so much joy from busting some mellow deadheads who wanted to just get high. I have seen the Dead, JGB, and Ratdog a total of over 50 times, and never witnessed anything like I what I saw at the Celebrity Theater on Saturday night. I would like to know what happened to the ounces of chronic that was confiscated that night. I have seen security take joints and pipes from people, but for a security guard to have people empty their pockets right at their seat is ridiculous. There was no warning whatsoever. If that was not bad enough, these same guards were outside busting people trying to smoke during the break. It was truly sickening. I understand that there is a no smoking policy inside, and they do not want to risk a fire. But why would these same guys come and shakedown people outside the venue. There was no warning anywhere. Just some asshole with a flashlight in your face. These security guards were obviously rejected from the Police Academy and have a chip on their shoulder, which is fine. But what these guys did was so over the line it is hard to comprehend.
I will say this though. As hard as the security made it have fun, Bobby and the gang did their best to give us some good grooves to keep our minds off the security blitz. And they pulled it off nicely.
Jeff, Phoenix, AZ
The on again, off again, on again show was one not to be missed. The full body pat-downs were bogus and the overzealous security was a joke, but this show didn't disappoint. I brought two friends that had never seen the Dead, but opening with Truckin got them moving. Liberty seemed perfect as security harrassed any thing that glowed, even the lady with the flashing heart necklace. Geez, mellow out. The crowd was vocal, and at many points during the show were singing word for word with the band. Terrapin rocked and Touch of Grey left the crowd satisfied. This was one of the best shows I've ever seen. Thank you Bobby!
Gum, Phoenix, AZ
I got to the Celebrity a bit late and there was no F'in place to park that wasn't flooded. Mind you, it hadn't rained in 4 days, but when you have the drainage of Bangladesh, this happens. We got in no problem, no pat-down, no nothing. This is apparently a big deal as several Heads were put through customs in the process. I got my first draft domestic light lager of the evening. Not more than two minutes later, the entire 20-oz. beer got spilled on me. A rush to the bathroom was fruitless, as I was stuck smelling like Lenny & Squiggy after a tough day at the office. Not pretty.
Needless to say, I missed the opening to Truckin' and was there just for the band segue into Baby Blue. The Celeb was F'in packed. Nice rendition of BB, one of my favorite Dylan tunes, but nothing too remarkable. I was settling in, and so was the Dawg. Finding the right place to dance wasn't easy. There was nothing of meteoric heights at this point. Brown-Eyed was a nice upbeat sing-along that fits both Bob & the band perfectly IMO. Then came the familiar notes to Lost Sailor, which was performed really well but then never quite took off during Saint. Maybe I'm used the song in the 2nd set where the band tends to be on fire, but there was something lacking here. Shade of Gray could have been a downer, but it wasn't. Probably the best rendition of the tune I've heard; the Dawg had finally climbed the crescendo missing from earlier parts of the show. Mark Karan was on it the whole night and this was his tune to shine (why no invite to the Dead?). MK the MVP. "All Over Now" was exactly want I wanted to hear at the particular time, the rollicking old school R&B Ratdog of Further Fest past. Fun, fun, fun was had by all with even the most finicky fans groovin' their asses off. The unreleased She Says was next which was done well but the song is just nothing too spectacular. Hey Bobby how about mining some more tunes from Evening Moods or a Midnight era "Josephine"? The first set ended with the nice upbeat if ho-hum "Liberty" which at least put a smile on everybody's face before the break.
Overall a solid, if unremarkable, first set. A few too many lulls to say it was great, but I didn't come away disappointed. Set break consisted of another beer, a shot of "Sex on the Beach" (which actually is much better than other shot I had last night which was "Sex'n'Dumpster"), followed by giving back the community J. Again, I heard complaints of terrible security, but I had no problem lightin' up in the atrium area. The cats in red shirts did come where I was sitting once, but no apprehensions were made.
Made sure I was there early for the acoustic beginning of set II which to my liking was "Victim". This was my first version w/MK and Jay, sitting in, not to mention my first with new bass player Sylvester the Cat. WOW!!! Loved every second of this tune. Haunting rendition with the Cat & Bob really playing off each other. The sound mix throughout was just perfect. Unlike last year, I didn't find myself missing the Wass, even after a staple like Victim. The upbeat crowd-pleaser "Friend-O-Devil" was next, and it didn't disappoint. It was capped off by a killer MK solo. Plus, I don't believe Bob F'ed up the lyrics. Not that I expect the man born cross-eyed to hit every line. The second major highlight was next with just a perfect Black-Throated Wind. Nobody wanted this song to end, as it peaked to unlimited heights. Ashes & Glass was far from a set-killer, as it was one of the better versions of the song I've heard with Bob nailing the lyrics & MK totally shredding the F#ck of the tune. Loved it.
Call me crazy, but after the spacey jams lead into the opening notes of Terrapin, I headed out for a beer and smoke. Of course this couldn't go without a hitch as I noticed a young Philli on my walk down. She stuck out like she was "Only Waitin' for the Captain to board her ship." I ask her how her first Dawg show was going? She wondered how I knew, to which I replied that she looked more likely to be out for a RUN DMC reunion show, with the black jump suit she was sportin'. Why I proceeded to waste 15 minutes here was beyond me. OK, it's not, but I digress.
At this point the Terripan Suite finished up. I'm a bit upset with myself for missing it, but I did catch it last Winter which was definitely the high of that Tucson show. "Dear Prudence" came next and by this point I had my groove back. Love this song in general, and the Dawg, especially Kenny, just nailed the feel of what this tune is supposed to exude. The obligatory "OMSN" came next which was rockin' & rollin' the way it should be. An encore of "Touch" ended the proceedings with another upbeat sing-along, which was what I wanted. Not a huge fan of the more mellow "Knockin" or "Brokedown" to be used for this slot. Overall a very good if unspectacular Weir performance. I'd still rather see Weir in this band than hanging around the Phil & Dead crowd. This just seems like the right fit for Bobby & his talents.
The Captain, Tempe, AZ