This was my first ever experience of seeing a Dead-related band live, though I've amassed a large collection of Dick's Picks and other stuff over the last few years. It's great that Weir is still playing music that feels alive; despite the heavy emphasis on old Dead tunes, Ratdog doesn't ever feel like a tribute band. The jazz-orientated direction they've taken definitely works with Kenny Brooks giving a particularly sterling performance when he stretched out a bit. The first set began with a thundering Shakedown Street and took a while to warm up but reached a crescendo with an uplifting Eyes of the World. By the second set they had really warmed up with some serious jamming on a semi-acoustic Victim or the Crime and a fantastic Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Wharf Rat eventually leading to an esctatic Franklin's Tower. Unfortunately the evening came to an end with no encore, which I think might have been due to venue restrictions.... I was definitely ready for more! While I found myself closing my eyes occassionally and imagining that it was '74 and Jerry was up there, the show gave me a real feeling of what a Dead show is about.
Andrew McVicar, Oxford, England
Phew! What a night! A night spent in tye-dye heaven during which Ratdog chewed me up, twirled me around, spat me back out, and then did it all over again!!
I got to the Astoria just as the doors opened and found CJ distributing Eurodead flyers to the people in the queue. We went into the venue, grabbed a beer, and staked out a place near the front.
The band came on and started a loose jam which eventually picked up the riff for Shakedown Street. Bob was wearing a crumpled white t-shirt, shorts and sandals and he was sporting a white almost Jerryesque beard. Standing right down the front I was close enough to see all the band clearly--there was Mark Karan on guitar with Rob Wasserman on stand-up bass then Bob with Jay Lane on drums behind him. Then came Kenny Brooks on sax and finally Jeff Chimenti almost hidden behind his keyboards. The sound was a bit strange from where we stood in the middle; the sax was almost inaudible at times but I wouldn't have swapped the intimacy for a better sound.
Next up was a Dylan cover--She belongs to Me--during which Bob had his first of many vocal lapses. He got to the last verse and went to sing the line, opened his mouth, and nothing came out. A huge cheer went up from the crowd!! He tried again, still nothing; he looked around for inspiration and eventually Mark Karan came over and whispered the line in his ear. Bob headed back to the microphone and carried on.
It was at about this point that my brain suddenly went "Hey that's Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead up there," a huge smile spread across my face, and I turned to look around. The whole audience was grinning like crazies!! Loose Lucy was next; I saw the Dead play this at my one and only show so that was a nice moment.
At the end of the song, Bob put down the guitar he had been playing, a nice black one with the lighting bolt hole in it, and picked up another one. The band launched into a Pink Floyd cover, Matilda Mother. After two verses, Bob fitted a capo and the song segued into Tomorrow Never Knows before returning to finish Matilda. Next up was Big Boss Man before one of the highlights of the first set.
The jam that started the next song was wild. I thought for a moment that it was going to turn into Dark Star part 2. They had played the first verse in Bilston the night before, and after the Newcastle/Kirkaldy Other One I was hoping,but no it changed direction and they moved into Easy Answers. By this time I was starting to float away into the stratosphere but I was snapped back to Earth by my phone vibrating. I pulled it out in case it was the other half but not recognising the number ignored it. Unfortunately the spell was broken and I never really got back to where I'd been.
Well not until the next song anyway--Eyes of the World. Bloody hell, Eyes... I couldn't believe it. I drifted away with the music. "Close your eyes and you'd think it was the Dead," someone had said to me before the show. I tried and it worked but I could also feel the floor moving so I opened them again!! At the end of eyes Bob did his 'we'll be back in a bit' announcement and off they went.
The general consensus from around me during the interval was "F*ckin Hell." I thought about the toilet and the bar but didn't move anywhere.
Weir came back out for the second set with his acoustic around his neck. It was obvious from the opening notes that it was Blackbird. I had another one of those "Hey that's Bob Weir" moments!! At the end of the song the opening notes of the next song signaled El Paso. Bob had to think about one or two of the lyrics but it was a great version.
At the end of the song everyone left the stage except Bob, Rob and Jay; together they played an astounding version of Victim. I know a lot of people don't like this song but I love it. I cheered when Bob sang "Patience runs out on the junkie" but not many others did.
A singalong Brown-Eyed Women followed and then a storming version of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl before the opening notes of Help on the Way. At this point I wondered if they were going to do the whole Help > Slipknot! > Franklins sequence so I did some thing I'd been avoiding doing all night. I glanced down at the set list by Bob's feet. I could see Help and Slipknot! and much further down the list Franklin's so I knew there was going to be an extended sequence but couldn't see the other songs.
Slipknot! was a wonderful version which took me to the dark side and brought me back up again as it headed back towards the end. At the point where the song would change to Franklin's the band stopped and off went Jay and Rob with their Bass/Drums sequence. And Wow!! This was great... Jay and Rob batting riffs back and forth. At one point Rob was using his bow to produce percussive noises from the bass. The band came back and the ensuing jam eventually turned into the familiar Wharf Rat riff.
At this point, the band played the only Ratdog original of the night, Two Djinn, before picking up the riff to Franklin's Tower, which brought the night to a suitable climax. The band took a bow and left the stage. We screamed for an encore but the crew came out and started to take mics away. The house lights came on the venue made announcements asking us to leave. Was there an 11 o'clock curfew??
We staggered out into the London night hot, stoned, and happy!! The Dead cover band Cosmic Charlies had arranged an after gig session around the corner so we staggered off to see them. There had been conversations all night about Bob Weir turning up for a jam but alas no. We did however have the pleasure of Kenny Brooks bringing his sax along and jamming with the Charlies on China > Rider which was, well, cool.
During the night I met loads of Eurotraders who are just to numerous to remember. It was good to be able to put faces to names after all this time. I was also extremely jealous of those who been to more than one show; I wish I could have afforded it. Still this had been an excellent night--one which I won't forget for a while. Let's just hope that bob comes back soon, or Phil, or The Other Ones.
I left about 1 am and wandered off to find my car... what a night.
Kevin Shewan, Rochester, England
I'll make this brief. An utterly brilliant show, far better than Bilston which was great but a little inconsistent. Somewhere on the way down the M40 the band must have discovered a huge pot full of funk which was liberally mixed into the brew along with a side order or good old GD magic. The first set was an absolute stunner from start to finish, just look at the setlist. Easy Answers was particularly low down and funky and as for Eyes... mmm bliss. 2nd set Brown-Eyed Women--great '72-type stuff. A little disappointed when Franklin didn't appear after Slip but we got it later in spades. No encore due to venue time restrictions. My body boogied of it's own accord my mind was open to the universe. More, more, more!!!
David Weston, Hornchurch, England
The previous night (Bilston) seemed to me to be an intense Bobby experience, but perhaps one that sometime threw those more acquainted with the Dead's repertoire than Bobby's side projects. The London audience felt livelier than Bilston, maybe as there was a higher level of familiarity with many of the tunes. We liked the Astoria as a venue; the atmosphere was friendly, the ventilation was good, and the location right at the Tottenham Court Road tube station allowed us a quick getaway to catch the last train home.
This show was epic; the first set on its own is right up there with the best Grateful Dead I ever saw. The Shakedown opener was just right for a show in the heart of the big city, and She Belongs To Me was beautiful as ever. But how did Bobby manage to forget the "bow down to her on Sunday" verse? Luckily Mark walked over and spoke into his ear! This song set the standard for an evening of splendid jamming and forgotten lyrics.
Being right down front, we had the luxury of reading Mark's setlist before the show started, and were jazzed to see--and eventually hear--Matilda Mother. Ratdog playing Syd Barrett in a "sandwich" with Tomorrow Never Knows--this was clearly another mark of respect for London and Britain. The sound was just perfect mid 1960s. We loved it. Next came Big Boss Man, with a line adjusted to "You keep me working boss man... don't let Bobby stop," he sang! A jam lead into Easy Answers and then Eyes closed the first set.
The second set opened with the acoustic mini-set - first Blackbird (another nod to the UK?) and then El Paso. Bobby blew the lyrics of this, getting lost midway through the song. Eventually he listened to the audience and picked up the cue from us. (Memo to GDM - there must be a market for Grateful Dead karaoke!) Then--oh joy--we were treated to an acoustic Victim. "This is the most ?? and vile song I've ever written," said Bobby as an introduction. Rob Wasserman was superb, and we especially loved the bit he played with his bow near the end. I definitely prefer this song accoustic.
The singlaong continued with Brown-Eyed Women. Schoolgirl was next, followed by a great Help On the Way/Slipknot! (We had seen the setlist, so remained calm when the drums/bass solo replaced the expected Franklin's.) I was looking at my watch by then, and thinking about the latest we could leave to make the train, so I was glad when the bass stuff stopped short, and the band launched into a stunning Wharf Rat. (Bobby was born to sing these songs.) I had been longing to hear Two Djinn live for the first time, and my wishes were met. It was as great as I had expected. I love the sax and the entrancing lyrics. The chorus is just exactly perfect. "My strange heroes lead me on." Yes, they surely do. The jamming seemed to last forever and I was beginning to think we'd have to miss the end of the show. Bobby changed guitars, played about 30 seconds of the intro to Corinna, then (to my relief) changed guitars back again and picked up Franklin's Tower to round off the evening. Again, Bobby relied on audience participation to cue him on the last three verses.
My suspicions of an 11pm curfew were confirmed when, after Franklin's, the band did their formal bow. We rushed for the door, feeling certain that Bobby was on our side and there would be no encore to miss.
So now they leave us for the continent. I hope they enjoyed Britain and I hope they come back again soon. As others have said, there was virtually no publicity or press or advertising for these shows. Most people we spoke to were there by Internet-fueled word of mouth. At least the London crowd filled a venue of a respectable size (about 1500), and I suspect that if Ratdog tours again next year they will attract a larger audience. But for now I am very grateful that they came and played for us. And it *was* for us; the numbers of touring Americans was small--far far less than in 1990 when I am sure I was at shows in Germany where Americans outnumbered locals.
Come back soon Ratdog - we love you!
Elspeth MacFadyen, Ipswich, England
There may be nothing like a Grateful Dead concert, but the guests I took last night were saucer-eyed by the end of the night. There were only 2 possible complaints, the first being a touch of forgetfulness on some of the verses, which only endeared Bob to everyone even more. The second complaint: we wish it had gone on all night. The English guests I'd brought were impressed by "the shithot musicianship," and with eyes closed at some points, well, I thought I'd gone back in time. Some favourite moments were the amazing transitions (as ever), and we loved the old favourites (El Paso, Franklin's Tower, and the extraordinarily funky Loose Lucy). So thank you for a real good time. And now to see if I can get tickets for the rest of the European shows. And my face hurts from smiling from ear to ear all night.
Suzi, London, 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
A Yank here who really enjoyed this show. In fact, I'd love to hear it again. Since it's not on archive and too early for SBDs does anyone have a lead on a tape?
Oliver, New York, NY
as a great fan of the dead this gig i had to go what ever
plus being a press photographer i had to go, so with loads
of phone calls to dennis mc nally i got my pass to go and
what a night . i was right down the front a try to keep my
mind on taking photos and b getting all caught up in what
was going on stage and the crowd around me.
i could not get out shame so i had to stay? to the end even now i still remember that night and always will
my introdution to RATDOG thanks dennis
JOHN PECK, EDGWARE MIDDX
Can anyone who was at this show or lives here and happens to read this please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks. 27th October 2008