Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Review of Ratdog in Syracuse

Here's a (cheesy but fun) article from The Post Standard:

No Rest for RatDog
What a long, strange trip band took to Friday show

By Mark Bialczak Staff writer

Question: How do you crank up the heat on an already steamy RatDog concert?

Answer: Have singer-guitarist Bob Weir lead his band into one of the classic songs from the Grateful Dead.

Still in full winter beard as RatDog took up the touring torch after a two-week break on Friday night at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, wise man Weir ended the first of two sets by directing RatDog into the golden goodie "Scarlet Begonias."

His band mates responded with love and affection for the song that Weir, Jerry Garcia and mates made famous.

Weir sang clear and true, "She wore scarlet begonias tucked into her curls. I knew right away she was not like other girls," as Mark Karan carried the lead on guitar, Robin Sylvester thumped on bass, Jeff Chimenti worked the keyboards, Jay Lane walloped the drums and Kenny Brooks stood ready with his saxophone.

And the crowd went crazy.

Already on their feet and dancing since the moment RatDog started the set jamming into "Help on the Way," the happy hippies that remembered Weir from the 1960s on and the new breed that's adopted RatDog as the official keeper of the torch for that special blend of folk, rock and roots music let out an audible "aaahhhh" and raised the emotional ante.

Weir and the band seemed as happy as their fans, and the smiles were definitely because of their chemistry playing music.

They had endured a nightmare flying from California to the East Coast on Thursday night. The ice storm forced their pilot to divert their plane to Harrisburg, Pa., from where they bused through the night to Syracuse. And as they took the stage at 8 p.m., their luggage had yet to catch up with them.

No matter. All seemed well as Weir led them through a stew of RatDog songs ("She Says," "Odessa" and "Tuesday Blues") Bob Weir songs ("Supplication"), Jerry Garcia solo songs ("Bird Song") wonderfully selected covers, and, of course, a Grateful Dead favorite or two ("Peggy-O").

In the first set, they paid tribute to the Rolling Stones with "It's All Over Now." Weir and mates took the 1964 song and turned it country, brimming with twang and bite.

In the second set, the cover spotlight shined on Bob Dylan, and Weir wonderfully and triumphantly spit out all of Dylan's complicated lyrics in "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall."

Weir stands as the unconditional leader onstage, proud at front and center and quick to use hand signals to direct the rest of them where he wants them to go musically in his vision of the song at that moment.

But one reason RatDog has become such a solid member of the jam music scene - the band sold out the Landmark despite playing in Central New York five times in the past four years - is because Weir isn't afraid to let the other musicians stretch themselves out, too.

Karan's tasty guitar, Sylvester's jazzy/funky bass, Chimenti's honky-tonk keyboards, Lane's sturdy percussion and Brook's spicy sax all add special textures to RatDog's repertoire, no matter the song source.

Mark Bialczak can be reached at or 470-2175. His blog "Listen Up" is at


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