Wow, what a concert.... Where should I start.... How bout at the beginning! Pulled into downtown Spokane around 4:45PM. Managed to find metered parking right off the main drag, only 75-cents for the whole evening. Things are starting out good. Decided to take a walk around the block before heading for the restaurant. I passed by the "Met," a small venue that holds about 750 people. That was where I saw Rat Dog perform back in 2002. It's right next door to a brand new, larger venue called "The Big Easy," which is where Rat Dog will be playing this time round. It holds about twice as many people and opened last month. Noticed a sign on the "Met" as I walked by saying that Joan Baez was playing there that night.... Interesting. Walked by one of the stage doors of the Big Easy and heard the sound check for Rat Dog taking place. Stopped to listen for a while and met a couple of guys from Seattle. They had checked out the Rat Dog show in Seattle the night before and decided to fly over to Spokane to see them again. As we were talking and listening to the vibes emanating from inside the venue, Joan Baez walks out the front door of the Met and towards her tour bus. We called to her and took a couple of pictures. Things are getting better! After another 10 minutes of listening to the sound check, it was on to the restaurant.
The Big Easy has a restaurant associated with it called "Bourbon Street Uptown Food & Spirits". The decor of both the music venue and restaurant is a New Orleans / French Quarter flavor. I waited for a friend from work to show up, and we had some great Cajun food. I had the Jambalaya (could have been a little more spicy). The real plus to eating at this restaurant is they give you a pass to enter into the music hall earlier than the general public. All seating for the show was general admission, which I usually abhor. I prefer a "reserved" seat so I know I'm gonna be able to put my butt someplace. I hate the "free-for-all" attitude of general admission. Anyway, I got to the restaurant early enough that I got 2 cards with the letter "B" printed on them. They let the people in alphabetically, so my friend and I ended up with excellent seats. We were just left of dead-center in the first row of elevated seating. The only thing that separated us from the stage was a 25 foot dance floor. I can't believe our luck! The general public was let in about 20 minutes later and the dance floor became packed, as was the upper balcony. Since we were eye level with the stage we had no problem with people's heads being in the way. We were able to sit for most of the show and only stood when we needed to stretch our legs. Once again the mix of people was amazing. It was an "all ages" show, and I swear some parents brought their kids with them. I saw kids who HAD to have been still in elementary school, as well as people in their 70's, all set to dance the night away.
The show started just after 8. They opened with a short Jam that smoothly transitioned into "Hell In A Bucket". (That's the song that I wanted to use for my wedding dance.... "I may be going to hell in a bucket, but I sure am enjoying the ride"... but alas, I digress....) From there they broke into "Wang Dang Doodle," a song that they did when they were here in 2002. They took it down a notch for the next three tunes, which were "Lost Sailor," "Saint of Circumstance," and "So Many Roads". The band was very tight, and Bob's vocals were right on. Jeff Chimenti on the keys was excellent, but his playing was not as pronounced as it was in '02. Don't get me wrong, he definitely had his moments, just not as many as I recalled from before. Kenny Brooks the sax player, who was rather subdued back in '02, really took over the show and was featured on a lot of the songs. He brought four saxes with him: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone. The audience went wild whenever he grabbed the Barry. He really adds a lot to the band. The "new" (over a year with the band) bass player, Robin Sylvester, was good, but I missed Rob Wasserman, who I feel was better musically and technically.
The band picked things up again with a rousing version of "Youngblood." I've always liked Leon Russel's version of this song, but Rat Dog definitely did it justice. Audience participation was at a frenzy and continued without pause as the band broke into "Loose Lucy." Next up was one of my most favorite Garcia vocal tunes, "Althea." It's usually hard for me to hear Bob sing lead on songs that Jerry sang, (and for Phil Lesh to sing anything!!!) but the rendition he offered to us was respectable in every way. They closed out the set with another big audience participation number, "Iko Iko." The first set lasted about 75min.
They took a rather extended break, 45min as opposed to the normal 30min, but the reason for the extended delay became apparent at the beginning of the second set. True to (recent) form, the second set started off acoustically. Bob and Mark Karan on guitar, and Robin on the Upright Bass. There were some minor technical difficulties to take care of, and just before things got underway Bob introduced an "old friend" to the crowd. Joan Baez joined them on stage to sing a few songs. They started with K.C. Moan, an old tune that has been revamped by Rat Dog. After the opener, Bob stayed on acoustic while Mark and Robin switched to electric, and the rest of the band appeared on stage for Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Bob and Joan provided the vocals. At one point in the song, Joan does a reputable impression of Dylan, singing a verse with that famous (or infamous) nasal twang. Obviously, the extra delay during the break was to figure out how to fit Joan into the mix. I managed to get a look at the stage setlist after the show, and saw that they only removed one song from the original list in order to accommodate Joan. The song axed was "Throwing Stones," which, while unfortunate, was a willing trade-off (in my mind anyway) to hear Joan sing a few tunes. (Personally, I would've dropped "Standing on the Moon" instead).
Bob stuck with the acoustic guitar for two more tunes, "Bombs Away" and "Black Throated Wind." I never get tired of hearing BTWind.... They performed that song back here in '02 as well. Once Bob strapped on the electric again, they got the audience back into it with "Mississippi Half-Step." That was followed by a Rat Dog original, "Ashes and Glass." It was the first time I had heard this tune, and it's definitely a keeper. I'll have to listen to it again to be sure, but I think they intersperse versus from the nursery rhyme "Hush Little Baby" into it. (Don't worry, it's a "good" thing). Next up, Bob took a short breather while the rest of band switched to percussion and helped Jay Lane beat the heck out of the drums. This was one of the few instances in which I felt the Drum segment was too short.... It was that good. The Drum segment moved into a short but sweet "Space"-type jam. The band slowed things down some more with "Standing on the Moon," which was okay, but as I mentioned earlier, it is not one of my favorites. It was getting close to the end of the show, so it was time to wind-up the audience again. One song that never fails to do that is "Not Fade Away," and it didn't disappoint. The band exits to a standing applause, and returns moments later for the encore, "Johnny B.Goode." The second set lasted about 90min. I could go into more detail about all of the above, but I've rambled on long enough. If ya get the opportunity to see this band, don't miss it! 15min after the show ended I stood in line and got a 3-CD set of that nights performance, direct from the soundboard, which I paid for in advance.
Mark W. Howe, Spokane, WA