Well hey, I'm not sure just all what when down last night. Rat dog was energetic, happy and tuned in for certain sure. We left as the last note of Sugaree ended. Best bus Service in the World? hmmm? We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The band and audience exchange, responsiveness, and unity was there in spades. I was hoping they'd do Ashes and Glass and they did. The sax player gave all he could. Smiles, kindness, herb, friends, and music. Wish I would have heard more of the bass player and keyboardist. I think the band had higher aspirations.
Kris, Portland, OR
Bob and the Boys brought it all to Portland, OR, on Friday. Terrific setlist with a very special Big River, Minglewood, and Lucky Enough, and Tennessee Jed for us Memphis transplants. In particular, the reworking of Sugaree, He's Gone, and Music Never Stopped showcased Karan's tasty guitar licks and tone. That tight Les Paul sound coupled with those classic guitar riffs brought fresh life to the Ratdog set. The rest of the band was tight as a drum. Kudos to the bass player, Robin Sylvester, I love the Fender P bass. This guy nailed the lines with plenty of gravity and space for the rest of the band to play.
Kenny, Jay, and Jeff were superlative as well. But the one thing that struck me about the show was the harmony. The vocals were, for lack of a better term, flawless. Bobby has great mic technique, and the backups bring the choir out. Harmony, what a beautiful thing.
There were also many intangibles about the night at the Roseland that seem to happen when one of the boys is in town. A lost ticket was recovered, old friends became new friends again, and Bob sang a Looks like Rain in Oregon. Thank you guys, we'll see you soon.
Jason Casey, Portland, OR
The jam started with 'trust the drummer,' who was then joined by Mark Karan on guitar, then bass then keys, then Bobby. It started to get funky, with Karan playing the q-tron "wonk" effect that Jerry used on Shakedown, Estimated, etc. I was calling shakedown, Marn was saying China Cat, Bobby said Music. The Music>Big River>Minglewood was excellent. They've thoroughly reworked Big River. It has a bit more swing to it now and actually had a start/stop at one point. Minglewood's always been a favorite of mine... as are "Portland fillies." The Music that started it all was crazy though. It had three distinct in-between-verse jams, the last one ending with Bobby singing "never stopped... never stopped NO!" over and over. Good stuff. Lucky Enough i was neither familiar nor thrilled with. And while I don't mind Bobby singing almost any Jerry song, I don't really enjoy his Tennessee Jed. For whatever reason, it's one of those songs that I just identify with Jerry completely, so I went to get a beer at that point. Shade Of Grey is actually a great song, but it seems to follow me every time I see Bobby, and it never changes. It's the Sample in a Jar of the Ratdog repertoire for me. She Says is horrible and needs to be removed from all future setlists. That being said, the jam that ended it was pretty good, if not exactly earth shattering. I've never liked Liberty and the version that ended the first set didn't sway my opinion.
I had amazingly huge hopes for the second set. Since '99, I have seen Ratdog absolutely tear shit up quite a few times. The first set seemed a bit too mellow and without enough HUGE tunes. The Music>Big River>Minglewood beginning had me thinking it was gonna be one of THOSE sets, but the set never did regain that initial spark for me. For the last year or so, Bobby has been opening the second sets with a couple of acoustic tunes, but I hadn't seen him do it before so I was interested to see what was coming.
I have a history with El Paso. At one of my first Dead shows, they were doing this tune and it just amazed me how much drama and power they imbued into a song I had only recalled hearing on cheesy 'Best of Marty Robbins' commercials in my youth. In the Dead's hands, it was profound. I think that one performance was one of those times when music literally changed some perceptions for me. So you can imagine I was only too happy to hear this open the set. I'm pretty neutral on LL Rain; I think the great ones are great, and the ones that aren't... well... aren't. This one was great though. Bobby went nuts at the end with the "here it comes... i can't stand the rain NO!" verses, as you would hope he would. Schoolgirl is one of my favorite Pigpen tunes, so I think Bobby is wise to have kept the old school, bluesy shuffle arrangement. It's hard to compare it to the Pigpen versions since the only similarity they seem to share is they lyrics. Schoolgirl rolled along into Ashes and Glass. Well, sort of. It was actually more along the lines of Ashes and Glass/Dark Star. it sounded to me as though they were inserting the verses of Ashes and Glass into Dark Star while omitting the Dark Star lyrics. Very cool, very trippy. I love a bit of "wha?" at a show. This went into a He's Gone, which had the crowd yelling along, happy to know what the hell was going on after the Dark Star weirdness. The "wha" would return in the form of Space though. I literally didn't know what was happening. "Is this a song?" I'm, of course, no stranger to drumz segments, but of all the times I've seen Ratdog, I've never seen em do Space. Weird (and with no drums preceding it taboot). The Ratdog debut of Sugaree followed along nicely, and Bobby handled it beautifully. Karan was especially tasty in the Jerry-soundalike solos he kept taking. Finally came China>Rider, and it was all you'd hope it would/could be. Ecstatic, energetic, raging.
It all ended with an encore of Ripple, which had the crowd singing louder than the band. It was hard not to smile.
This was the first Ratdog show I've seen since Wasserman left and I must say, my disappointment only lasted til Robin Sylvester came on stage. He has a huge presence, with blond hair as long as Sebastian Bach's in his prime. Playing an old school, beat to hell Fender bass and smiling almost constantly while doing the head bop. He also sounds damn good. While he has a more traditional style than either Wasserman or Lesh (but who doesn't), he really held it down. He also seems to keep Karan from straying too far into Jerry soundalike syndrome, which I used to notice Wasserman didn't seem to mind too much.
While this wasn't the best Ratdog show I've ever seen by a far sight, Ratdog has, for me, become one of the most consistent bands currently touring. Even on an average night like this one, there aren't many other bands I would have rather seen.
Kris Mitchell, Portland, OR