Finally a show I didn't have to travel over two hundred miles to attend. It's been several years since Bobby & crew made it through Houston. What a trip back. First off, let me stress that this was a free show. Talk about getting your money's worth! I arrived early in hopes of getting my "Heaven Help.." LP signed. As I walked across the open air venue, Bobby's bus pulled up. Jude, a friend of mine had the same idea and was already waiting to try to meet Bob. We had a short wait. Bobby came of the bus within minutes and happily signed for us. Thanks again Bobby! The band went straight to the stage to perform a quick soundcheck for the hundred or so fans who had arrived early. Two versions of "Bury Me Standing" followed by a quick jam. Then as Bobby tuned up a national steel, Jay and Mark romped into a loose "Rainy Day Women." The full band ended the soundcheck with a great "Friend Of The Devil" jam.
After the opening act, the band returned for a great first set. The "Stranger" that opened was jammed out at first but quickly fell into an early 80s groove. "Baby Blue" was just incredible. "Youngblood," "Take Me to the River," and "Lucky Enough" followed up, all well played. The first hints of what was to come showed up with an amazing version of "West LA." The "Aiko" that followed was the PERFECT set closer for a show that precedes Jazz Fest.
The Bobby acoustic show began the second set. I've never seen a show where Bobby donned the acoustic for so many songs. Four to be exact. "Blackbird," "Artificial Flowers," "Walking Blues," and "Masterpiece." And so it begins..... I thought it was due, and so it was. "Playin'." A quick forceful version that wound into a unique jam. The jam was as quick as the tune that spawned it. The jam really distanced itself from "Playin'," concentrating on finding its own theme, which rapidly segued into "Bucket." I hadn't heard this song since back in the day and forgot how much I really enjoyed it. The song melted down into the familiar groove of a favorite of mine. Perhaps I'm alone, but I think the intro into "Wheel" is one of the most beautiful pieces of music the Dead ever created. Ratdog really did this tune justice. Most noticible to me was the early part of the song. It seemed Bob stepped back a bit, kinda leaving an open space. Yeah, I know it's weird, but it was like they were showing respect. It really made an impression on me. Kinda hard to explain. They proceded to play the hell outta the rest of the song though. "Wheel" segued into the solos. The set ended with a spirited "Help->Slip->Franklin's" that was played as good as I've ever heard. Bobby seemed really impressed by the Houston sing-along skill displayed on "Franklin's." The band encored with a rousing rendition of "Good Lovin'." All in all this was the best show I've seen Ratdog perform. Best setlist, best performance, best show period. Sorry I'm missing Jazzfest, but can't wait to see Phil in Austin in July.
Did I mention that Houston was a free show?
David Nowels, Houston, TX