My bro and I and a buddy made the drive up and it was a right on show. This show was a very well played show, although it started off a little rusty. HC Sunshine was a little weird but the show over all was a great time. The venue, directly behind a Burger King, was very small and intimate. Walkin Blues was a jam out for sure, as was the second set triple entente of Uncle John's > Wharf Rat > China/Rider.
The show did feature many of the solo repertoire of Bob's and I would have liked to hear a few more Dead tunes, but I found myself impressed with each one I must say. Matt Kelly looked a little lost; what was he on...? Anyway, great show! MK JK you were good dude....
Brendan McAuley, Guilford, CT
Some twenty years ago I sat in the Merrill Showcase Cinema in S. Burlington and watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. After the movie, the headlights of my car wouldn't work, but inspired by Indy I took a chance and drove home without any lights. Now I stood about ten feet from a small low stage, no Temple of Doom, but a Temple of Pleasure hosted by Ratdog. My head lights turned as soon as the club went dark.
Higher Ground looks like a gutted movie theater save for a couple of bars and an impressive line up of posters of various jam artists who have played the club, and now a Ratdog poster deservedly claims a space on the wall.
Ratdog plus one crammed onto the small stage. Longtime Weir sideman Matt Kelly had brought his bluesy harmonicas with him. Weir announced "It's ratdog alumni night," and they wandered off into a dissonant jam that ultimately led to the a capella intro of "Here Comes Sunshine" and then back into a pleasant jam exploring the Sunshine theme. Then, during the first break of "Walkin' Blues", the Dog became unleashed. All the mighty power of this collective was revealed. The music played the band as they dropped into a deep bluesy groove. Jay staring into a spot of space driving the rhythm forward. Crunch time.
"Youngblood" found me taking a walk, although there wasn't far to go. The club was crowded (not packed) with mostly male college students who seemed to be regulars at the club as the bartenders knew their names. How they got tickets I have no idea. Back to the rail for the first surprise. "Picasso Moon" was very trippy as Jeff played some strange synth and MK stepped out for his first extended lead. The first of four "Heaven Help the Fool" songs, "This Time Forever," was nicely rendered, then the band plowed into "Shade of Grey" hammering the "Out in the Street" coda to smithereens. A fantastic and poweful Sailor/Saint sent everybody out to the smoking area with a smile.
Set Two: I think Bob played solo for a few minutes, fiddling with some discordant acoustic strumming on Bombs Away as Robin joined a little later. The whole band was finally on board by the time they launched into a version of "Masterpiece" that found me singing along "Gonna be held down by the big poleeeeeeece!" Kelly sang (somewhat impassively) the Pig tune "Next Time You See Me." Another pleasant surprise. Another big tune from the Weir canon and it was off to the races with a big Grateful Dead finish. A seldom heard jaw-dropping Wharf Rat (popular opinion deemed this the tune of the night) blended in to a rockin' China/Rider complete with a lengthy, trippy transitional jam. A rare double encore of the Little Walter harmonica standard "Juke" and a somewhat tepid "Ripple" closed out the set. Weir's young daughter, clad in a black velvet dress holding a stuffed puppy, sat on an amp and stared blankly out at the crowd during the encores. At the end of the tunes, Weir passed his guitar off to a roadie and swept his daughter off her feet. Just as he had done with the audience for the last three hours.
Murphy, Wolfeboro, NH