Friday, November 11, 2005

Bob Weir still loves a fine jam

From Citizen Times:

COMING TO ASHEVILLE: Bob Weir still loves a fine jam
Former Dead artist brings RatDog to The Orange Peel

Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir has traveled to a lot of towns, but Asheville is up there on his list. Weir and his band RatDog are back for a Monday night show at The Orange Peel club.

“I always love to come to Asheville: It’s a singular place,” Weir said. “We go wherever people want us and the people in Asheville seem to enjoy our brand of music.”

Weir has been performing for more than 40 years — much of that time spent on the road — and he credits his enduring vitality to his love of the music. “It’s all I’ve ever waned to do,” he said. Even when the Dead performed close to 100 shows annually, Weir shared his talent with a range of musical projects.

RatDog, which has been around since 1995, started off as a vacation from the Dead for Weir, but has developed a strong following of its own. Teaming up with bassist Rob Wasserman, drummer Jay Lane (of Primus fame), pianist Jeff Chimenti, guitarist Mark Karan and saxophonist Kenny Brooks, Weir’s RatDog runs the gamut, playing both familiar Grateful Dead songs and music that blends different genres and styles.

The band’s lineup has been stable over the past few years, so the members know each other and can predict each other’s moods, Weir said, adding that he prefers to write the music communally with the rest of RatDog. “That way ideas come up that I would never have on my own.”

Like the Grateful Dead before it, RatDog is a jam band that taps into spontaneity. According to Weir, jam bands aren’t just fads tied to specific bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, but represent a style that has existed since before recorded music, around the turn of the last century.

“It’s proven to be a very enduring aesthetic,” he said. “As an audience member you don’t know where it’s going because the band doesn’t know where it’s going,” he said. But even though RatDog’s music approaches its destination like a merry prankster, Weir pays special attention to the musical influences that shape the band’s style.

Drawing from Deadheads, Phish fans and everyone in between, Weir said he enjoys the instant feedback he gets when he plays a live show. “Our audiences become engaged naturally … they let themselves be heard and there’s no denying that they’re there,” he chuckled.
Although Weir likes a good turnout, he believes there are also mysterious elements that contribute to a great show. “It’s all a matter of spirit … there are a lot of things that can just push a show over the top.”

Citing influences from jazz legend John Coltrane to Indian classical music, Weir said RatDog draws from “virtually anything.” It’s important to Weir that he’s conscious of his influences, however, and considers the music he listens to carefully. “If I listen to something, take it in, it’s going to come out so I have to be a little careful … I don’t want to come out sounding like Dave Matthews, because I wouldn’t wear that well.”

So what does the founding member of one of the most popular concert bands listen to? “If I have to listen to music for my own pleasure and edification I want to go as far from what I do on a daily basis as possible,” Weir said.

If Weir were a teenager today, the hippie lifestyle would still look pretty good to him: “I’m not the type of person who likes to be spoonfed my directives or life choices and I think these kids wearing tie-dyes are kindred spirits. I think they’re going to live much more interesting and much better lives than they would otherwise, especially given today’s cultural climate.”

“Music ebbs and flows the same as culture,” he said. “There are times when cultures — and music — become passive and times when they become active. Right now the active people just happen to be reactionary.”

But Weir believes music still has the power to transform society. “If every Deadhead in Florida in the 2000 election — or even most Deadheads had voted in the 2000 election — we’d be living in a very different world today.”

Randy Moser writes about entertainment. E-mail


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