Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Weir embraces past and future


From Times Leader:

Weir embraces past and future
By Michael Lello

Since he was in his teens, Bob Weir has been a touring musician, spending the first 30 years of his career with the Grateful Dead. So it may seem curious that Weir still chooses to spend a large chunk of his time on the road, playing guitar and singing for audiences from California to Connecticut. But if you think about it, it might be stranger still for him to stop: It's really the only life he's known.

As he readied his 10-year-old band Ratdog for yet another tour, instead of preparing to set the tour on autopilot and go through the motions for yet another string of concerts, Weir spoke enthusiastically about continuing the journey and reveled in striving to find new ways to make old songs sing.

If you think Weir's Ratdog is a nostalgia act, think again.

"Basically, when I'm doing the Dead material with Ratdog, I take it from where we left it with the Dead," Weir, 58, said by phone from his home in Mill Valley, Calif., outside of San Francisco. "With the band, I require them to be able to quote the Dead chapter and verse on the most recent recordings that I could find of how it was, and to be able to state that once, and then never do that again."

Weir is joined in Ratdog by lead guitarist Mark Karan, saxophone player Kenny Brooks, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, bassist Robin Sylvester and drummer Jay Lane. The band will perform Thursday and Friday at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe.

Mastering the rulebook and then tearing it to shreds has been a gameplan that has served Ratdog well. The music in the Dead song catalog written primarily by the late Jerry Garcia and Weir has not only proven strong enough to withstand decades of play, but has also been flexible enough for Ratdog to find new wrinkles in those timeless tunes.

Many of the Garcia-penned pieces were on display during what was surprisingly the first-ever musical tribute to the late bandleader, held on Sept. 24 at a sold-out Greek Theater in Berkeley, Calif. Weir served as the musical director and organizer for the event, billed as "Comes A Time" after the Garcia song of the same name. The tribute featured Ratdog, String Cheese Incident and the Jerry Garcia Tribute All-Star Band: Weir, his former Dead bandmates Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bruce Hornsby and some musicians that drew inspiration from the Dead, like former Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Warren Haynes.

Weir disagreed with the notion that the marathon concert comprised exclusively of Garcia's work might have provided him with an opportunity for closure 10 years after his friend's passing.

"For me, there was no sense of closure whatsoever," Weir said. "It felt good. It felt right. It was a celebration.

"I got it together to reaffirm our love for those tunes, not even for Jerry, for that matter, but for me," he continued. "It was more a reaffirmation that those tunes are very much alive, and in some cases even more alive than they were 10 years ago. And that was wonderful."

If You Go:
What: Ratdog, featuring Bob Weir
Where: Penn's Peak, 325 Maury Road, Jim Thorpe
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Tickets: $30
Info: 1-866-605-7325

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