Bob Weir & RatDog
Lowell Memorial Auditorium
Although it’s an unpopular position, I’ve always been upfront that I’m first and foremost a Bobby Weir fan. Of course, everyone loves Garcia, and it’s hip to like Phil or Pigpen, but it has never been, and will never be, cool to love Bobby.
Perhaps I’m a victim of my times. I only saw the GD 3 times between 1988 and 1992, having been too young before ’88 and too disappointed by the time 1993 rolled around. And I will admit that (compared to tapes from the 70s) they just weren’t that good anymore near the end. It was particularly disappointing to see Garcia – his back to the crowd, smoking cigarettes, a hulking shadow of his former self. Not at all like the image that I held from countless hours listening to “The Grateful Dead Hour” or watching the movie. Bob was the highlight in that era, stepping into his rockstar persona and providing all of the energy.
But more than that it was his music. Before I even knew who wrote what, I fell in love with “Weather Report Suite”, “Looks like Rain”, “Black-Throated Wind” and the rest of the incredible “Ace” album. Cheesy ballads, rockers and cowboy songs…I loved them all.
Bob’s reputation as a lightweight is unfair. Any musician would kill to have his catalog of songs. Where would the GD have been without the Bobby tunes? Not to knock Garcia and Hunter, but there is no GD without Bobby – his songs, his voice, and his playing.
Lowell was my seventh RatDog show and it was easily the best one I’ve ever seen. Something has changed with this band – perhaps they’re just jelling as a unit – but they’re playing at a higher level than ever before.
I’ll give the initial credit to the rhythm section of Robin Sylvester and Jay Lane. I’ve always felt that RatDog’s sound was a little thin – whereas Phil’s bands tend to kick you in the ass – you literally feel the music – RatDog was always lighter and jazzier, as if the music floated around you. Not this time. There was a weight and depth to the performance that I wasn’t sure that RatDog was capable of. They rocked hard!
Mark Karan is absolutely the workingman’s Garcia – the notes are right, the tone is right, and he sounds good. He’s just absolutely solid and dependable – nothing too flashy or risky, but no disasters either. Mark was very good all night long. He’s a great fit for this band.
Both Jeff Chimenti and Kenny Brooks add so much texture to the music. They are both excellent soloists. Jeff smoothly moves from piano to organ, roadhouse to boogie-woogie, giving an added dimension to each tune. Kenny is like a little bird, flying by for a sweet line or accent, then disappearing again. It’s such a treat to hear his contributions.
And what can be said of the Bobstar? He looks great, his voice is better than ever, his phrasing and delivery is perfect and his lyrical flubs are endearing rather than distracting. No big slide work on Friday, though!
I’m of the opinion that a show is driven by the setlist and your mindset. If you’ve got a bad mindset going in, you’re going to have a bad show. Same thing with the setlist – you’re always going to get a few songs that you’d prefer not to. But if you can go in with no expectations, you’ll have a great time. (But, please no more Odessas!) Friday delivered, both from a setlist and atmosphere standpoint.
I really hope that Bobby keeps Lowell as a replacement for the shithole in Worcester they call the Palladium. The Lowell Memorial Auditorium was a beautiful hall, the sound was good (the PA was too hot though and it sounded like it was peaking at points), and the security was mellow. They let us take beers back to our seats and there was a nice vibe throughout the evening.
But how could there not be a nice vibe for Sing-a-long night? Cause Bobby busted out the sing-a-longs all night long.
The opening jam turned into a nice Help-Slip, which I’ll never complain about, because it’s an excellent opener and Franklin’s is a great encore. Money for Gasoline was great. It’s a decent tune, nothing spectacular, but it’s nice to hear new music from the boys and it’s a fun, upbeat song. Next up was another fun one – Loose Lucy – and by this point we knew that we were going to have a great night.
Now some people weren’t digging the cheesefest that came next, but I was thrilled to get a So Many Roads into Easy to Slip, then a killer Supplication jam back into Easy to Slip. That right there is classic Bobby.
I love Lazy River Road, especially for the solos. It was a nice one. All Along the Watchtower is a little played out, but they added in that nice Reggae bit. The Reggae treatment helped, but it was probably still too long. But the first set had one last surprise for us – a great Might as Well.
Second set started with an acoustic Peggy-O, which was nice, and a Fever, which was okay. Victim or the Crime was next. I was never a Victim fan in the old days, but I love the acoustic version and the end was jammed out perfectly. Another sing-a-long with He’s Gone, but the main course was next – The Other One.
We all know that Lowell is the spiritual birthplace of the beatnicks (and the literal birthplace of Jack Kerouac) so we were expecting some kind of reference in the show, probably Cassidy, but I forget about the “Cowboy Neal” line in TOO. It was an epic TOO and the energy truly peaked when Bobby shouted for Cowboy Neal. After that was Stuff, complete with a Godfather theme! To close out the second set was a solid Dear Prudence and a well-jammed Two Djinn. While not as awesome as set one, it was very good and it just flew by…no snoozers.
Mere moments after they left the stage they were back reprising Two Djinn, before picking up Slipkot! and the final Franklin’s Tower. It was a high-energy was to end a high-energy night.
Bobby, you reminded me once again why I’ve always loved you.