The Opera House is a renovated 18th century theatre of about 1100 capacity. The first signs that something slightly unusual was happening in the city last night were spotted some 400 yards from the venue when large numbers of Deadheads and other crazies were to be seen milling about the area close to the city's medieval walls. I was apprehensive about how Bob might view the show. The Dead`s only apprearance in Newcastle was in 1972 during their first full European tour and the band subsequently described the audience as being one of the coldest that they ever played to (Newcastle audiences are renowned for their rowdiness & great vocal support). I needn't have worried. It was obvious from the outset that this was a fanatical Dead audience and the anticipation and excitement in the audience beforehand was tangible. Almost every face wore a huge grin BEFORE the gig. Whilst there were many people from around the UK there and also from Stateside, the audience was largely local "Geordies."
It took a few minutes to get used to Bob`s beard, it makes him look a little older. More than one person mentioned that they thought he was morphing into Jerry. Without fanfare or hello, they launched into a really tight show. I'll not list the songs played as they can be read elsewhere but every Dead number was welcomed like an old friend. New songs were equally ecstatically received. Ratdog as a band proved a joy and really tight and they were excellent musicians. Whilst Bob and his fellow musicians have undoubtedly stamped themselves over their sound, particularly with the addition of a sax player, they have still fully kept the spirit and good vibe of the Dead intact particularly during the jams.
The first set lasted about 70 minutes. During the break I visited the gents and could barely see through the splif haze. Floating back to the bar for a drink I was able to bump into numerous old friends all along for a show that they could hardly believe was happening in Newcastle. Many folks who saw the Dead in London/Edinburgh in 1981 and 1990 were there.
The second set was continous, lasted over 2 hours and notched up the pace throughout, starting acoustic and ending blazing. Rumour had it that this was a sounding out excecise for a full tour be The Other Ones. I hope so; they can expect a rapturous reception. The near capacity crowd left with that warm feeling that, even if only an afterglow, only the Dead family can give you.
Tony Penaluna, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
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