Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bob Weir & his Ratdog

The Green Apple Fest is getting a lot of attention. It's a three-city Free Festival on Earth Day (April 22nd), and Bob & Ratdog are headlining the one in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Relix has an article about the festival, and so does Billboard. Those are just a couple...The complete lineup for the festival is here.

Ratdog is on tour, of course. Here's the rest of the March Tour Schedule:

March 22 (Thu)

Classic Center
Athens, GA

March 23 (Fri)
Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
Asheville, NC

March 24 (Sat)
War Memorial Auditorium
Greensboro, NC

More details, including links for tickets is at Meanwhile, here are some articles...

Gordon Hensley's DCspectator has this review:

Bob Weir, RatDog, Pull Off Historic Three Night Run at NYC's Beacon Theater

When I tell my musically-literate friends that Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir’s band, RatDog, is the hottest band on the planet, I routinely get glazed-over looks of skepticism, incredulity and outright derision. They just don’t know any better -- and they would see things differently if they had been fortunate enough to catch the band’s three night run at New York City’s venerable Beacon Theater last week.

In short, Ratdog’s marketing guys and fans alike have every legitimate right to characterize this run as “historic” – and the Thursday and Saturday night shows, in this listener’s opinion, even surpassed the blowout energy level of the prior “threshold” Beacon show: 10/25/03. That, in and of itself, is a major feat. And luckily, unlike past Beacon gigs, these three shows are available from in soundboard/matrix. There are also plenty of high quality auds already proliferating on the internet.

With Bobby Weir’s sixtieth birthday just around the corner, it’s impossible not to have been inspired and uplifted by his utterly contagious energy and vigor; he was a happy man, with a happy band, intent upon blowing the roof off the Beacon, and that was accomplished the first night with monster renditions of the Grateful Dead classics, Estimated Prophet and Sugar Magnolia. Interesting song placements – Black Muddy River out of “stuff” and Uncle John’s Band as the encore – added to the show’s irresistible appeal.

On both Estimated and Sugar Magnolia, Weir and guitarist Mark Karan came right down
to the front of the stage to shred both tunes, and the crowd was treated to several intense, perfectly- timed Bobby lunges that sent the crowd into a collective frenzy. Weir has generally avoided charging the crowd in this manner, for all practical purposes, since the 80’s, and watching him come down front from our 8th row seats – especially on these two tunes -- was a time warp rush. It was great.

But as hot as the band was for the 3/8 and 3/10 shows, one of the big headlines of the entire three day run is the still under-appreciated Mark Karan, who has stepped up in a huge manner over the past several years. With all of the other mesmerizing aural chaos being generated around them by Kenny Brooks on horns, Jay Lane on drums, Robin Sylvester on bass and Jeff Chimenti on keys, the ability of Weir and Karan to lock so singly into soaring sonic jams is spectacular.

In this Beacon run, and as he does now routinely, Karan demonstrated he can summon the power of an incendiary Jerry Garcia guitar solo, but without mimicking Garcia’s signature style and sound. Karan’s own sound is huge, and the ever-growing size and sophistication of his rig is bringing out the best in him and his band mates. Several years back, Weir, in an interview, likened Mark’s playing to an unfolding flower. He’s now in full bloom.

Other Beacon run highlights:

4 Despite the fact Kenny Brooks’s talented trombone-playing buddy, Josh Roseman, didn’t show up, Chuck MacKinnon’s improv trumpet playing during the pre-Other One jam on 3/8 was a mind-blower. He’s damn good, and unfortunately didn’t have as much room or time to stretch out during the 3/10 show. The only other trumpet player I’ve seen play like that with RatDog is New Orleans jazz superstar, Irvin Mayfield.

4 A different version of Stagger Lee was played each night: a generally botched acoustic version on 3/8; a rockin’ traditional electric arrangement on 3/9; and a Grateful Dead-style electric version on 3/10. The fact the band has the self-confidence and chops to throw these three versions out there before being perfected in successive sound checks speaks volumes about the creativity we’re seeing on this ’07 spring tour and the just-completed west coast run.

4 The return of Gloria, Bobby’s Vegas “lounge act” version of My Funny Valentine, killer versions of Looks Like Rain and Black Throated Wind, a Quinn the Eskimo breakout, a super-slithery Althea into da bomb version of Scarlet Begonias, Jerry Jemmott on Milestones>Lovelight, and Tom Pope’s percussive explorations with Jay Lane all three nights, rounds out the highlights. Just too many to list.

One other thing that’s apparent over the past year is how well RatDog’s three new tunes – Jus’ Like Mama Said, Money for Gasoline and Tuesday Blues – have, with such facility, worked their way into the set lists. The jam in Money for Gasoline is different and interesting, and the band clearly enjoys working this tune over as it evolves. The 3/8 version was creative and rippling with energy.

In 1976, some young teen-age friends and I went to see Kingfish at the Beacon, and one year later, saw my first Grateful Dead concert at the Boston Garden. I was hooked. And now, some 30-odd years later, this special ensemble rolls up and down the east coast, west coast and through the American heartland, year in and year out. The fact this still occurs, and does so at this lofty level of performance, is an amazing testament to Bob Weir’s talent, work ethic and spirit; that he’s been able to draw such talented and passionate musicians into his post-Grateful Dead musical universe is special in and of itself. Enjoy the ride while it’s still here.

This review, by George Lenker, is from TheReupublican:

Ratdog hot, even when it's cold outside
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Even when it's freezing outside, Bob Weir's California demeanor comes through onstage through his clothing: He almost always wears shorts during a Ratdog concert.

But during a recent show in frigid Syracuse N.Y., Weir startled some folks by wearing long pants during the show. It wasn't the weather that caused this change, however.

"The airline we flew into Syracuse with mishandled our luggage. Otherwise, it's always July under the lights," Weir said.

So whether or not the recent local warm spell holds, Weir will probably be back to wearing shorts when Ratdog plays the Hippodrome in downtown Springfield tonight at 7:30. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $49.50.

As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Weir spent more than 30 years with that band - an astounding feat of longevity for a rock band by any standards.

Yet Ratdog is hardly a slouch in terms of sticking around. The band has now reached the 12-year mark, playing approximately 700 shows in that period. Weir noted that the band's ongoing success can be attributed to one basic idea.

"The secret to success and longevity is simple; we enjoy what we do," he said. "That enables us to stick together."

Weir added that in terns of the music, this longevity also produces a juicer, tastier creative fruit as well.

"We've learned to hear each other think, and intuit each other's moves. It takes a while to form this kind of bond, but once it's there, it's a wonderfully creative place to live," he said. "The more we play, the better we get."

Although Ratdog released a couple of conventional albums earlier in the decade, the band remains largely a live act. But fortunately for fans who want a permanent record of the songs, the group accommodates them in a method that has become increasingly popular among rock bands these days: They record and sell CDs of their live concerts.

The band started doing this in 2003 and continues doing it today. With modern technology allowing rapid reproduction of discs, the CDs are usually available for fans right after any given show. The discs are recorded straight from the soundboard, so they offer high-quality recordings of the show fans have just seen.

This fits right into the Ratdog fan psyche, many of whom are such fanatics that they even collect set list information for shows they haven't heard. But Weir said that is not the band's bailiwick.

"We have nothing to do with this. The DogHeads do it all," he said, using the nickname for the band's avid followers.

And speaking of canine nicknames, Weir shrugged off a question about the origins of his band's moniker.

"Stuff just comes to me" he said.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has an article by Tom Netherland:

Weir spits fire and finds groove

Listen to the Grateful Dead circa 1966. Then listen to the Dead of the late 1980s or early'90s. The group's style changed as more sounds were added to the mix and went from good to great. Greatness takes time.
Bob Weir ought to know.

The longtime member of the Grateful Dead leads Ratdog nowadays. Fans can see Weir & Co. on Tuesday at the NorVa in Norfolk.

With Ratdog, and much as he and the Dead's Jerry Garcia learned, great bands don't become great bands overnight.

"It's been a slow process," Weir said by phone Monday afternoon from Concord, N.H. "It takes a long time to learn the telepathic way to learn the nuances of the components of a band. The last few years, we've been spitting fire."

Weir assembled Ratdog in the spring of 1995. Shows were scant at first as the band took tentative steps into the world of rock. Gradually, those steps turned to leaps.

Over time, Ratdog's members have learned an unspoken musical language that blooms onstage, Weir said. "Tiny movements or a flick of a finger between themselves can say much more than words can.

"You develop it over the years," he said. "I can play a lick on the guitar onstage, and they'll know what I'm talking about." That's exactly what Weir had with Garcia.

"It comes down to learning how to listen to your brothers onstage," Weir said. "You know how they say that blood is thicker than water? What's beginning to happen with Ratdog was what Jerry used to say we had with the Dead -- that the blood is thicker than the blood."

Perhaps that explains why Weir said that nary a day passes when he doesn't think about Garcia, his musical father. "I can still feel Jerry onstage with me sometimes," Weir said. "He's there. I can feel him in certain songs that we play."

Comparisons with the legendary Grateful Dead are inevitable. Both classify as jam bands. Each features sounds including and well beyond rock. And as with the Dead, Ratdog never plays the same show twice.

"I have a database of 10 years or so," Weir said.

He assembles the set list for each show. When Ratdog rolls into a city for a show, he summons the database.

"First I bring up the last few times I've played the town, and those songs are automatically out," he said. "Plus, like we did in the Dead, if we play more than one night in a town, we won't repeat songs. Our repertoire is about 200 songs."

Dead fans will instantly recognize many of those 200 songs as songs culled from the Dead's repertoire. On any given night, Ratdog may perform Dead classics such as "Sugar Magnolia" and "Uncle John's Band." Ratdog also covers some of the covers the Dead were known to feature, including Marty Robbins' "Big Iron" and Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried."

And also as with the Dead, there are occasional shows and moments onstage that exceed greatness, Weir said.

"It does happen with some regularity. Over a period of time I'll feel weightless. It's like my mind has become elastic. At that point, I'm in a total hallucinogenic state. That happened a lot with the Dead, and it does now with Ratdog."

Ratdog's leader may look like an aging hippie with nary a care, but that's inaccurate.

"I've got a job to do, and I take it very seriously," Weir said. At 59, he has no desire to hang up his guitar anytime soon.

"I asked Johnnie Johnson one time had he ever thought about retiring or coming off the road. He said that'll only happen when his boots were pointed to high noon," Weir said.

"I feel the same way. I've got nothing else better to do. Playing music is all I've ever really wanted to do."

Here's an article by Jeff Maisey from

AFTER AN INITIAL warm-up jam, what song will Ratdog begin with at The NorVa on Tuesday? Will they follow it with "Bertha" or "Shakedown Street"? How about the encore? Could we expect "Franklin's Tower" or "Touch of Grey"?

Keeping fans guessing and making each concert unique through creative song selections and order of performance was a Grateful Dead tradition continued today by its founding rhythm guitarist, Bob Weir, and his band, Ratdog.

Ratdog, which counts Weir (guitar, vocals), Jay Lane (drums), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), Mark Karan (guitar), Kenny Brooks (saxophone) and Robin Sylvester (bass) as full-time members, has an incredible 170-song repertoire to shuffle from city to city.

"I have a database of all the shows since Ratdog started," said Weir by telephone from his home in California. "Generally speaking, what I do is I bring up the last two or three times we played in a given town, and those songs are automatically out. Then I bring up the last seven or eight shows that we have done, and those songs are automatically out. And I start working from there so that we get a big rotation on all our material."

Ratdog's most recent performance in Hampton Roads was last year on March 18. According to, a fan Web site that documents and catalogs each concert set list, the songs played included "Cassidy," "Railroad Blues," "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Mississippi Half-Step," "Dark Star," "Dear Prudence," "The Other One" and "One More Saturday Night," among others.

Considering Weir's set list explanation, those are all but ruled out this time around. But in addition to a few recent originals and an interesting array of cover tunes, the set is sure to be weighted on the Dead side.

The Grateful Dead emerged from the psychedelic, counter-culture scene of the late 1960s, which had its epicenter in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. It was an "artist ghetto" where music, art and literature thrived. Weir says the members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service felt a sense of camaraderie.

"Those bands, we were all thick as thieves. We enjoyed each other as company and had a whole lot of fun."

Not long after The Dead's self-titled debut album was released in March of '67, the environment in the city changed.

"The year of the Summer of Love, the summer of '67, everything went to hell because every loose screw and nut in the country flocked there, and the Haight-Ashbury turned very sour very quickly."

The Grateful Dead would go on to create such album gems as "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead." They also embarked upon national tours that resembled a traveling caravan at times, peopled by diehard fans dubbed Deadheads.

"That started happening in the late '70s," said Weir. "It was ingratiating. It was like having family, pretty much, with you everywhere. Later that following became a little out of control once we started cranking out hit records and stuff.

"When it first started happening, it was like a tighter and more focused group of folk, and it was like being followed around by a gypsy carnival. We'd land in a city and they'd set up a little town outside the gig, and after a few years some of the locales weren't hospitable to that."

Between tours and recording sessions, the members of the Dead explored side projects. Weir explored new musical tangents as Weir/Wasserman and Scaring the Children with fellow bandmate Rob Wasserman on bass.

Wasserman and Weir played their first show as Ratdog on Aug. 8, 1995, the day before Grateful Dead lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia died.

Without Garcia, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead decided to disband in December 1995. They have reunited for occasional tours as The Dead and will continue to do so.

"We owe it to ourselves to reconvene every now and again," said Weir, "but I don't see it this summer."

The Grateful Dead was presented a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in February. Weir said he isn't ready to slow down.

"I'm certainly not done now that I've got my Grammy."

Reach Jeff Maisey at (757) 222-3934 or

And if that's not enough, here's an interview from

First Grateful Dead, now Ratdog, Weir still touring
By Jeff Hahne
Staff writer

After more than 40 years in the music business, it's difficult to summarize Bob Weir's place on the musical landscape.

As a founding member of The Grateful Dead, he's been a fixture of the hippy culture, a voice for the environment, the conductor of three-hour concerts and an instrumental god to jam bands across the world.

His current project, Ratdog, which was formed in 1995, will make its first stop in Greensboro on Saturday.

The News & Record spoke with Weir by phone from his home in California where he discussed the magic of creating a setlist, his thoughts on receiving a lifetime Grammy and the future of The Dead.
How much touring are you doing these days?

"You know, our average is about four to five months a year."
Do you know how many shows you've played over the years?

"I heard that we've done just under 1,000. I have no idea. We've done more than 700, I'm quite sure. That being said, I think we've done some 3,500 with The Dead and maybe more."
How do you keep this fun and fresh for you? Is it the variety in setlists and having so much material to pull from?

"Yeah, it takes work, basically, but it pays off. We have a fairly large repertoire. I guess at this point, if I was looking at our song lists and stuff like that, I'd say we probably have worked up and ready to go about 170 tunes and there are constantly more.

"For instance, when I do a setlist for a given evening, I generally will bring up the city ... we're playing in and the last two or three shows that we played there and automatically rule out all of the tunes we played our last few visits to that city.

"And then I bring up the last five to seven shows that we've done -- and those tunes are automatically ruled out.

"And everybody in the band knows that when a tune comes up on a setlist, it's, in all likelihood, our last crack at it for a while. So everybody just sort of leans into it."
Are you writing much new music these days?

"Yeah, we are. We've got a bunch of stuff that's more than half written, but it's not quite ready to bring out yet. As a matter of fact, for a lot of today I'm going to be working on some new tunes that maybe we'll be able to play on this tour."
Recently, The Dead received the Lifetime Grammy -- what did that mean to you?

"Well, it's kinda edifying. I was playing a show that night so I wasn't able to make the presentation. ... I imagine it will look nice when it gets here and I put it on my mantel or something like that."
When you're performing Dead songs with Ratdog, how is it different for you from playing with the Dead?

"The songs all have their own character and the character is the same, pretty much, for any band that I'm playing with. ... So the major difference is the personnel that I'm playing with, but the song is the same."
I read an interview where you talked about the possibility of hitting the road as a quartet or trio at some point. Do you think that's still an option?

"Do you mean The Dead or me?"
You. I don't know if that means The Dead, or if it means as a new quartet or trio.

"I've felt for some time now that the most meaningful way for The Dead to go back out would be as a quartet. Just the four guys that are still alive with no hired guns this time.

"As for me, I enjoy playing trios."
So, at this point, there are no plans for a version of The Dead to hit the road.

"No, not right now."
What comes to mind when you think back on this legacy that you've created?

"Well, it's the only life I've ever known, so I just look at it as a life, you know ... as my life in particular. And, uh, (laughs) I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that 'cause (laughs) I'm a fairly busy guy. My plate is full with other stuff to think about."
So what are your plans for the rest of the year and further down the road?

"More touring this year. As for next year, we'll just see. At some point, I'd like to get into film scoring a little bit. I think that might be fun, but it certainly never would replace playing live on stage."
Contact Jeff Hahne at 883-4422, Ext. 228, or


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