(Fans mingle during intermission at Tuesday's sold-out Bob Weir & Ratdog show at Shea's.)
Bob Weir & Ratdog
By Jeff Miers
News Pop Music Critic
“They're selling postcards of the hanging/They're painting the passports brown/The beauty parlor is filled with sailors/The circus is in town,” sang Bob Weir during an inspired take on Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” during Tuesday’s sold out Weir & Ratdog show at Shea’s PAC. As abstract as these lyrics are, they still perfectly captured the mood in and around Shea’s, as an enthused troop of Grateful Dead lovers brought a carnival atmosphere to bear on what turned out to be two sets of top-notch Dead-based music from Weir and the band.
Despite the bitter cold, a “Shakedown Street” – the name Deadheads use to describe the independent vending area that that follows every Dead-related band as it tours – was set up across from Shea’s on Pearl St. And inside the venue, what seemed more like a family reunion for more than 3,000 people than a mere concert found an ebullient atmosphere accompanying the non-stop dancing in the aisles. Yes, the circus was indeed in town.
Weir & Ratdog have been on hiatus for several years, as the ongoing Furthur project has occupied most of his Dead-related activity. Clearly, they've been missed.
For this late winter tour, Weir put together a dream team of musicians, as twin basses - Rob Wasserman on bowed upright, and Robin Sylvester on electric - locked horns with erstwhile Primus drummer Jay Lane's impeccable groove. Atop this, Weir's rhythm guitar stabs sparred with the gorgeous, mellifluous lines offered by guitarist Steve Kimmock. Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti provided the icing for this rich cake, playing like a cross between former Dead ivory tinklers Brent Mydland and Bruce Hornsby throughout.
The band took the stage to rapturous applause, eased into an improvised jam, and then into a stirring "Jack Straw," Weir proving that health scares over the past year or so have not diminished his vigor - "Bobby" was most definitely on point throughout the night, singing with strength and phrasing in his typically incisive manner.
The first of the several Dylan tunes covered throughout the evening arrived in the form of "All Along the Watchtower," which morphed into "Wrong Way Feeling" and then "Maggie's Farm," by which point the party was in full flow. A beautiful "Loser," taken at gluey, subdued tempo, offered a forum for some sweet back-and-forth between Weir and Kimmock, but it was during "Two Djinn" that Kimmock delivered his first truly epic solo of the evening. The improvisation unfolded with a masterful eloquence, and built to several peaks, as the crowd followed Kimmock's melodic meandering, offering hearty applause as the journey ended.
After a short break, the band returned with an even stronger second set, a well-turned marriage of "Bird Song" to "Truckin'," the Mardi Gras-themed "Iko Iko," and an adventurous jam that then resolved back into "Bird Song" offering the highlight. Again, the playing was at a consistently high level throughout this set, and Weir and the band were clearly feeling the energy the crowd was throwing back their way.
A fantastic night, made even sweeter by the offical after-show concert held at the Tralf Music Hall next door to Shea's, featuring the Jerry Garcia Band with Melvin Seals. As the marathon Ratdog show let out, Deadheads made their way to the Tralf, and the place filled up quickly, as revelers settled in for several more hours of Dead-based music. And then, the tents were torn down, and the circus left town. Until next time!
Here's the full Weir & Ratdog setlist:
All Along the Watchtower
Wrong Way Feeling
On the Road Again
Deep Elem Blues
Knockin on Heaven's Door
Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Touch of Grey