Hours before the show, the surrounding
blocks near the Landmark were chiming with the spirits of the
freewheeling throng that have been ringing the bell to bring out the
Dead for the past 40 years. People traveling through all galaxies of
consciousness were parked at Armory Square hangouts, still sailing the
same tie-dye wave. Many were sporting the type of regalia that was
common when Weir, Jerry Garcia and the rest of the crew were ingesting
Electric Kool Aid in the Haight-Ashbury district back in the 1960s.
A lot of outsiders are unable to see past the pigpen
“stereotypical hippies,” and fail to grasp the rhyme and reason of the
band. Yet the Dead were facilitators of individuality and encouraged
their audience to come as they are. It doesn’t matter how you show up:
It’s the impression you leave on people. The true ethos of expression
are radiated from within.
Weir evokes that attitude through his
music, and that’s why he’s still relevant nearly 45 years later. The
audience knew what they were in store for, but had no idea what to
expect, and that’s what keeps them coming back. RatDog dips into the
voluminous Grateful catalog, putting new spins on Dead ditties while
still jamming the extended fantastic and plugging their collective
electric into the socket of traditional American folk music.
There are not too many bands out there
that would play covers of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Bob Dylan’s
snatched by Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” in the same set,
as RatDog did on this night. Lead guitarist Mark Karan tapped
into the spirit of Hendrix on the latter, holding the audience
emotively captive throughout the song before he frenzied the frets on
the climatic crescendo finish.
They surprised the crowd with another borrowed gem, a near-perfect rendition of “Dear Prudence” from the Beatles’ White Album. Quite possibly one of the most rhythmically grooving songs of the Fab Four, RatDog’s drummer Jay Lane had no trouble with simpleton Ringo Starr’s fills while bassist Robin Sylvester played Paul McCartney’s “get to the bottom, then go back to the top of the eighth-note” slide fury.
The crowd dug the covers, but they
really came to dig the Dead songs, and of course, they got their share.
“Bertha” and “Tennessee Jed,” favorites from the early 1970s Grateful
era, were crowd pleasers. The Dead in the disco era was also
represented, as a jazzy version of “Terrapin Station” from the 1977
album of the same name put keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and saxophonist Kenny Brooks in the strobe light and let them get off on their sheets of blotter sound.
The last few years Weir has played here
have all been weekday shows, so when he finally trucked in for a
weekend roustabout the band closed the set with one song that is played
only during Saturday concerts. “One More Saturday Night,” a funk-soaked
tune Weir wrote in 1971, made for a fitting finale to send everyone
back into their own reality.
Weir first began the ride with Cowboy
Neal (Cassady) at the wheel of Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster bus to
never-never land in 1965, and for him, it was one more night and one
more stop of letting all the ghosts of Dead past off to punch more
tickets of the souls traveling down the same road.