Monday, November 28, 2005

Bob Weir and technology's march

From the Denver Post:

Bob Weir and technology's march
Next RatDog studio album to be on road
By Ricardo Baca
Denver Post Pop Music Critic

In this modern age, it's conceivable that some hard-core RatDog fans will hit the jam band's show Friday night at the Fillmore and buy a crisply recorded three-CD set of the performance that they'll pick up after the last notes are played. They'll listen to the CDs on the way home in the car, and they'll have the entire three hours of music downloaded to their MP3 player before they go to bed.

The technology that enables these instant live CDs - utilized mostly by jam bands, rock innovators and music festivals - has indelibly changed the concert-going experience for the better. Fans love live CDs, but they really love live CDs of shows they attended. So when Phish and Pearl Jam and the String Cheese Incident and the Pixies all started offering instant high-quality recordings, suddenly there was a better concert memento than the $40 T-shirt.
But there's also a downside to the personalized hyper-convenience of it all.

"All of this has given rise to a phenomenon I'd like to discourage," RatDog frontman and improvisational music legend Bob Weir said from the road last week. "You work, as a singer or bandleader, on getting everything toward a featured ballad that typically comes toward the end of the show. It's supposed to be quiet - but then some dude lets out a piercing (expletive) whistle.

"He's already ordered his disc at the beginning of the break, and he just wants to be able to say, 'That was me! You remember that?' And it's wrong. It's not happening quite so much this tour, so maybe they've already got their piercing (expletive) whistles on tape."

The individual disrespect is outweighed by the overwhelming love in the room at any given RatDog show. And the recordings, which are mostly clean and brought together from two room mics and a soundboard feed, are selling out at the rate of 120-130 per show. (They're also available indefinitely at for $22.50 per set.) Weir's happy with the product, even in comparison with his band's past live recordings.

"These are better than the live albums we've released in the past," Weir said. "We're going to review how the sales are going when we get home to see if we have to get more equipment, because we're consistently selling out. ... But I can't help but think that (these CDs) make a show more of an all- encompassing experience that you can take immediately home with you."

This live documentation couldn't have come at a better time for Weir, a primary songwriter, singer and guitarist for the Grateful Dead, and his Bay Area-rooted musicians including drummer Jay Lane, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, guitarist Mark Karan, sax player Kenny Brooks and bassist Robin Sylvester. The group has been together since March 2003 - longer than any previous incarnation of the band.

"It's as tight as it's ever been," Weir said. "It's more loose, too, in that regard, although it might not be quite as apparent because these days, the interlude jams and stuff like that get to the point a little quicker because we know how to intuit each other better than ever. There's less rambling and more improvisation.

"Working as a single unit ... that's the whole point of the endeavor: to keep the band together and work as a unit. It's like learning how to play an instrument - you also have to learn to play your band, and they have to learn how to play you."

If there's a RatDog fan complaint, it's a call for more new material.

"We have a bunch of starts on a bunch of tunes," Weir agreed. "If we ever stay home long enough, we'll actually finish some new songs."

Weir said he used to think it was possible to write songs on the road, but he's realized that the environs are too scattered.

"I work a 14-hour day out here - and to find a time for writing, even if I could crowbar some space for writing, it would get short shrift, and something else would, too," Weir said. "But I can say that the next studio album will be made on the road, because we have the technology to do that, what with Pro Tools and a laptop, a few extra hard drives and the quality mics we carry around - all that kind of stuff."

Weir said that once the new songs are ready, he's looking forward to the unconventional recording approach.

"It makes it a lot less expensive, and it'll sound as good if not better. If your tracks are cut live or at sound check, when we're really hot playing every day for hours a day, every note's gonna count."

Pop music critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 303-820-1394 or

Fillmore Auditorium, 8 p.m. Friday
via Ticketmaster outlets, or 303-830-8497


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