A guy that I work with has made the sarcastically-toned comment on more than one occasion that "of course Johnny Johnson'll come onstage for the St. Louis show and they'll do 'Little Red Rooster' like they always do." This is accompanied by a roll of the eyes and a shaking of the head to indicate that the dude finds this level of predictability on the part of Bobby Weir and Ratdog to be, shall we say, somewhat less than satisfying for him as an audience member. Well, yeah, I've seen them do it quite a few times by now, too, and if they do it the next time Ratdog comes to town, let me reserve my seat for it right here and now, because I'll be damned if Saturday (11/15/03) night's show at The Pageant in the Gateway City did not include absolutely the hottest set of blues that I have ever seen performed by Mr. Weir, or, for that matter, by almost anybody else. This is how it's done, folks: take a three chord song that, to begin with, you really like to play (and apparently, Bob really likes "Little Red Rooster," seeing as how he's been including it as part of his onstage repertoire for decades now) and then invite a seasoned rock-n-roll veteran to play along, say Chuck Berry's own sideman, Johnny Johnson. Once that combination is complete, listen, listen, listen to everybody in the band, including yourself, and concentrate, stay in the moment, but always keep that sense of adventure handy, and the possibilities are infinite. I can't begin to count the number of times I've personally seen Weir play "Rooster," in and out of the Grateful Dead and otherwise, but bar none, Saturday's rendition topped them all! We (the St. Louis Dead/DogHead community) have also been treated a number of times now to JJ's "Tanqueray," and the report remains the same: it was tight, hot, and smokin', as were "Goin' Fishin'" and the encore of "Kansas City."
But what of the rest of the show without Johnny Johnson? Obviously, I'm biased because I've been a devoted fan of Bob Weir since I was a teenager, and I'm in my 40s now, folks, so my objectivity could possibly come into question--because I'm a fan, not because of my age. But I really felt that the band was "on" Saturday night, from the opening jam into "Music Never Stopped"--always a great choice to start a show--through a stompin' "Minglewood," an upbeat and soulful "Cold Rain and Snow," and Ratdog's own "She Says" (a new song that my wife and I had never heard--she liked it from the start; it grew on me as the song went through its substantial chord changes replete with Weir's predictable unpredictability as a composer) and "Two Djinn," a song that has taken on an enormous power and presence of its own.
Set Two began with an airy acoustic "El Paso," followed by a fulfilling and satisfying "Corrina," another latter-day Weir composition that has taken its rightful place along side classics such as "Estimated Prophet" or "Looks Like Rain." Mr. Johnson took the spotlight for much of the second set, even though he looked just a bit lost during "West LA Fadeaway," but from "Iko-Iko" through the entire "Terrapin Suite" (I had never ever seen "At A Siding" performed live by anybody. Yeah, I know they've been doing it for over a year now, but it was a first for me, and I had to physically pick my lower jaw off of the floor more than once. Wow!) and, in my opinion, Weir's best, and one of the most perfectly-constructed straight rock-n-roll songs ever written by anyone in the business, the one and only "One More Saturday Night" to close the show. It was probably a foregone conclusion that Johnny Johnson would reunite with the band for an encore of "Johnny B. Goode," but "Kansas City" was a pleasant surprise, and for anybody that might have felt disappointed that the final song lacked any sense of surprise for the audience, then maybe those people were at the wrong show in the first place. Sometimes predictability can supply its own sense of satifaction. The result is that you get what you pay for, and with Bob Weir and Ratdog, you get your money's worth.
Bryan, Centralia, IL