Bob Weir & RatDog
One of the recurring pleasures in my life is the (at least) twice annual appearance of our old friend Bob Weir and his band RatDog. Yes, it’s been over a decade since Jerry G. left his body and took the Grateful Dead with him, but his little brother Bobby keeps God’s work alive, riding that bus from town to town and spreading the gospel, as it were.
So, my apologies in advance for yet another entry where I yammer on endlessly about hippie music and spend a few hours reliving the past, both recent and distant.
The funny thing about these shows is that you never quite know when or where they’re going to hit. You can typically expect a fall tour and a spring tour. One season he’ll play in Boston (usually at ye olde Orpheum Theatre) and the other he’ll play “out west” in Worcester (boo!) or Lowell (a surprising yay!) Tour dates magically appear on the internet and you have to quickly get the cash up for mail order, a quaint system where you send a hand-postmarked envelope with a money order to Ruby at GDTSTOO and anxiously wait for the tickets to show up. Mail order is more work and stress than Ticketmaster, but you can also score very good seats that way (I’ve even gotten front row center before) and you help to keep part of the old GD world alive. Unfortunately, our good tickets got lost and we had to scramble for mediocre seats from Ticketmaster at the last minute.
All this means that you end up committing to a show without really knowing if it’s going to work with your life. Usually we get Saturday night shows as Boston is a good draw for Dead family bands. For some odd reason this show was on Tuesday, 3/13 at the Orpheum, which turned out to be an awful day as I had to catch an early train to Stamford the next morning. Ouch!
One of the best parts of the shows is reconnecting with tour buddies, ranging from the best of friends to people you only see at the show. We always meet up pre-show, as early as possible, and warm up with Mexican food and beer. In Boston we have the perfect dive in Fajitas & Ritas – right around the corner from the Orpheum, with good, cheap eats and pitchers (!) of Sierra Nevada and Coors Light. We reminisce about seeing the GD back in college and argue over who was the best keyboardist (Keith, obviously), which tours were the best (’72 and ’77), what songs we hope to hear (Help>Slip>Franklin’s) and which ones we’d prefer not to hear (Odessa). All too soon the party ends as we need to get inside on time for a quick beer and trip to the bathroom before the opening jam.
Like the Grateful Dead, RatDog plays a different show every night and we play “name that tune,” with points going to the person that accurately guesses the song first. We are frighteningly good at it, usually trying to hone in on the chord progression or timing during the jam that connects or commences each song.
Jam > Shakedown Street: Giddy up! I love me a nice Shakedown opener and this one had the right energy level. What a fun way start to the night.
Maggie’s Farm: Well, I love Zimmy, but Maggie’s can be a snoozer. It was a decent version, but still…
Mission in the Rain: Now we’re talking! It’s been a tough month and this one hit me right in the heart. It’s a beautiful Jerry song and we’ve all been there before.
Walkin’ Blues: Yup, it was a blues night alright. I do like Walkin’, it’s a good, traditional blues tune that they play very well.
Easy to Slip: I love, love, love cheesy solo Bobby. Awesome.
Book of Rules: This should have been a Supplication jam, dammit, but it worked just as well as a bathroom/beer break.
Little Red Rooster: Another blues classic that brings out the howling hounds.
Bertha: Great song, great version, thought that would end the set, but…
Around and Around: Yes! Not only was this an incredible way to end the first set – a throwback Rockstar Bobby song – but as a Chuck Berry cover I was feeling pretty confident that we’d avoid the dreaded Johnny Be Goode encore. Sweet!
K.C. Moan: Such a great acoustic opener. I always dig KC.
Me and My Uncle: Acoustic Cowboy Bobby! Yee-hah! It’s a fun song with a real lesson for all of us to remember (not really).
Victim or the Crime: I hated this song when the Dead did it electric back in the day, but I love it acoustic with RatDog. It’s very powerful. Am I the Victim or the Crime?
Easy Answers: Cheesy Answers is one of those songs that I hated for years but have grown to adore with RatDog. The jam during the bridge is just mind-blowing. Many people hate this song but I was in heaven.
Eyes of the World: The absolute pinnacle of the night. Kenny’s sax teacher came out to jam and it was fan-fugu-tastic. The Dead really took this song to another level when Branford Marsalis jammed with them and added the Sax parts. RatDog, having the full-time sax player, has always played this song really well. Tonight’s rendition was the best I’ve ever heard. It was perfect. Well done, boys.
Stuff: (Stuff is an improv jam. It was definitely stuff. ‘Nuff said.)
Black Peter: Another great tune. We’ve already gotten our money’s worth, for sure.
Touch of Grey: I guess it’s an anthem of sorts for us Touchheads. It’s weird to think that we’re the last generation of Deadheads. We were the new kids back in the late ‘80s and we’re not so young anymore. Yeah, there are still old timers and some young kids that hit the shows these days, but it’s mostly us Gen X’ers that are still around today. Has it really been 20 years already? It’s a great sing-a-long to end the night.
Johnny B. Goode: NOOOOOOOOOO! You already played a Chuck Berry song. That’s not fair!
And then it was over. A few hugs on the way to Shakedown Street and then on to the train and back to reality. Once again, thank you Bobby for bringing us together and bringing us back, ever so briefly, to another time, when ignorance was bliss. A lot of the ignorance is gone, but there’s still plenty of bliss. Good music, good friend, and a finer appreciation for what we’ve lost, what we’ve found, and the many miles in between.