Thursday, March 23, 2006

Weir works to keep the set list fresh


Weir works to keep the set list fresh

At age 58 and after thousands of shows, Bob Weir has a clever way of keeping his music fresh for both himself and his audiences: He works hard to not play the same set of songs twice.

The Grateful Dead founding member will bring a newly organized set list to the Calvin Theatre tonight as his other band, RatDog, performs there at 7:30 p.m.

Weir said that he has a methodical, but painstaking, system for constructing new set lists. With a wealth of Grateful Dead songs, solo material, as well as a good number of RatDog songs, Weir has plenty to sort through.

"I pull up the last week or so of shows and all those songs are automatically out," he said in a telephone interview last week. "Then I pull up the set list for the last time we played at the place, and those songs are also automatically out. Then I pick from the songs that are left and try to make a set that go together rhythmically but that break up the tempos a bit."

Although that seems like quite a bit of work just to make a set list, Weir hopes to make it easier soon.

"I'm working on getting some software that will highlight the songs and cross-reference them," he said. "Right now all I have is a database so it's cumbersome to doing it on the fly."

Weir also keeps adding to the length of songs through which he must wade by writing new songs. Yet despite these new tunes, there hasn't been a new RatDog studio album in a few years, so fans are left to wonder when the group might decide to do one again. The answer is "maybe never."

Because RatDog records every performance and sells those live CDs at shows, Weir doesn't feel the need to enter a studio anytime soon.

"The state of audio recording has come to the point where you don't need to go in the studio anymore," he said. "We can record the new songs at gigs or at sound checks and if we get a particularly apt rendition of a song, we can use it. The only limitation is vocals; you want to use a good vocal microphone, but we can always go back and redo the vocals for that."

Weir also noted that RatDog's live performances are better representations of the band's sound. So selling the live shows online is a better model in several ways, both musically and financially.
"The songs sound as good or better than they would in a studio. We sell all we can make of them, so I guess we can't do much better," he said. "And I don't think record companies these days are giving out huge, or even reasonable, contracts to folks like ourselves."

RatDog has undergone numerous personnel changes since its inception in 1995, but the current lineup has been together for several years now. The band includes Jay Lane, Mark Karan, Kenny Brooks, Robin Sylvester and Jeff Chimenti.

Weir said the current band's relative longevity has allowed some interesting developments that should please fans of jam-style music.

"The music is longer winded now that we've learned each others' ins and outs," he said. "We have more to say to each other musically and we know the songs in greater depth."

Weir didn't directly address a question about the possibility of any future Grateful Dead activity, but kept the focus on RatDog.

"This is my high end right now," he said of RatDog. "We played 80 gigs last year and that's about average for us now. The band is really spitting fire now."

So, aside from fresh set lists and a great band, what keeps Weir going as he approaches 60?
"It's all I ever wanted to do," he said. "If I won the lottery and became a billionaire, I'd still go out on the road. I'm fortunate to be able to do this. I couldn't be more blessed."


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