This was a small club; there hardly looked room for the band on the stage. They came on soon after eight and started playing a fairly loose jam which they turned into “Jack Straw.” This was nice as JS was the first song I saw the Dead play live. They carried on from the end of JS into “Dark Star” (well, the first half of “Dark Star”), and on into “Odessa.” At the end of this they stopped (briefly) – a half hour medley of three songs to begin. The second part of the first half was also a segue of through three (or so) songs, starting with a song which I hate to admit ignorance of (I have since discovered it was “She Says” – something I’d sort of guessed anyway). From here the band went up a gear into "Liberty" at the end of which it seemed as if they returned to "Dark Star," but only briefly as Mr. Weir was soon playing the introductory notes to “Prelude”/”Weather Report Suite” – why did the Dead drop this so long ago? Certainly here it was excellent (and apparently the first electric version of it in a while). The final part of WRS (“Let it Grow”) really stood out and was the highlight of the first set – “Christmas has come early” and “Boy, they can play” were the comments someone (whom I did not know) was throwing about – I found it hard to disagree!!!
The second set began with an acoustic song I did not know (“The Winners”), after which Bob strummed a few chords then sang the instantly recognisable line “They’re selling postcards of the hanging.” Mark Karan started on acoustic (but not for very long). The song built up with variations on some of the verses – including a reggae one! Mr. Weir fluffed the start of one of the verses – but with that many words to remember, who can blame him? Then it was back to the land of my ignorance for “This Time Forever” and “Shade of Grey” from which they went into “Truckin’.” The problem with a song as familiar as “Truckin’” is that it can suffer from the “familiarity breeds contempt syndrome,” but this clearly was not the case here – the version really cooked! I think it is a tribute to Mark Karan that for much of the show he did not seem to be attempting to copy Jerry but that on the chromatic runs at the end of “Truckin’” it sounded as if Jerry was there. Superb, probably the highlight of the set, not that things dropped noticeably when Mr. Weir held up his hand in a ‘c’ shape (prompting me to think incorrectly “Cassidy”?) and led the band straight into “The Wheel.” The Bass/Drums followed next, with Mark Karan bowing in mock hero worship to Rob Wasserman when he returned to the stage. “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” came next and the final run through “Throwing Stones” and “Not Fade Away” finished the concert in a familiar fashion. “Johnny B. Goode” dedicated (as always according to Bob) to Johnny Johnson was the encore which finished the nights proceedings.
I must admit that I’d only heard Ratdog via “Ratdog radio” on the internet prior to this show, and the performances there are all from last year. It seems that in the meantime the band has gelled and is more cohesive. Certainly this concert was even better than I’d expected.
Clifton Jones, Belper, England
A promising start to my first Ratdog show--a tasty chili con carne washed down with a pint of Archers followed by some Glastonbury Tor in The Olde White Rose, a fine pub in glorious downtown Bilston. Archers beer, which used to be advertised as an every day ale of country folk, reminded me that I was missing a potentially crucial episode of The Archers. Would Brian and Siobhan finally get found out at The Royal Show? I was quite relaxed about it though. Surely Bobby would have listened and would let us all know the latest plot twist (hopefully in lieu of a yellow dog story). Anyway, a fine start to the evening.
So, on to the show and the venue is just as I remembered it from two weeks earlier (Arthur Lee and Love), and about as full, albeit with significantly more tie-dyed shirts and spliffy aromas.
Jack Straw emerged from a slight and rather inconsequential noodle, and I was rather disappointed that such a fine song was a bit on the ragged side, not helped by Bobby's vocals being way too low in the mix and in my opinion the bass being too high. Next up, Dark Star, and a surprise that it should appear so early in the evening when the band had yet to find its feet. Maybe that was the problem with it, or maybe it's just one of those numbers that just doesn't work without Jerry, at least for me. Whatever, it really seemed a pointless exercise; it didn't go anywhere or scale any heights and I was starting to feel a bit worried about the show. I was fretting too early! Competent and solid versions of Odessa, She Says, and Liberty (particularly good I thought) got the band into a groove, and then the highlight of the evening for me--a gorgeous Weather Report Suite, beautifully played with the band interacting well and ending the first set on a real high.
For the second set we moved back to the raised section, where the sound mix was better, and from where we enjoyed a superbly realised acoustic Desolation Row, apart from an odd and poorly played reggae style ending. That took us into a great song sequence, and wonder of wonders, Bobby even remembered all the words to Truckin, and got them in the right order. A well rocked out version, straight into a great Wheel with a good fun drums'n'bass ending. The set ended with Knockin On Heaven's Door, followed by an energetic Throwing Stones and NFA, which gave me flashbacks to the Zenith show in Paris back in 1990. Finally Johnny B. Goode as the encore. Someone must know why this song continues to get wheeled out for encores, rather like a decrepit old bloke in an old people's home being traipsed around the garden in his wheelchair before his afternoon nap.
And then out into the night for the long drive home to Oxford. Leaving the venue brought home vividly just what being a deadhead in the UK is all about--three hours of watching Bobby in his shorts and exotic Hawaian shirt, only to emerge into the pissing rain of a crap English summer!
All in all an excellent evening with some fine music to tide me over until The Astoria tonight. However, if I may just carp a bit, why oh why do they bother with the sax player? If he was just adding a bit of sonic colour from time to time that would be fine, but he was playing pretty boring runs, and he insisted on playing as a lead instrument virtually the whole time, competing with Karan's lead guitar and occupying pretty much the same part of the sound spectrum with the effect of muddying the mix and reducing the dynamic range of the band. Or am I being unfair? He was blowing his little heart out after all.
Finally, I still don't know if Jennifer has discovered that the bun in Siobhan's oven is in fact Brian's. Let's hope Bobby listens to the repeat at lunchtime today.
Gabe B, Oxford, 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
Can anyone who was at this show or lives here and happens to read please be kind enough to contact me at email@example.com Thanks. 27th October 2008