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Columns > Dan Alford - Audio Files

Published: 2001/10/19
by Dan Alford

Ratdog

Business stuff:
The air is beginning to bite and the leaves are
starting to glow, and that means the fall concert
season is upon us. As chock full of music as the
autumnal nights are, however, I have some suggestions
for those spent in front of the stereo. This month
focuses on Ratdog, who recently cut the last two dates
of their fall tour due to the arrival of a new member
of the Weir household.
Next month will be the Holiday Shopping Guide, looking
at some of the best official live releases from the
last year, and December will look at Jorma
soundboards. I’ve been getting a lot of thoughtful
feedback lately, so keep it up! I always love to hear
from ya.
Music:
Since coalescing into a formal band, Ratdog has opened
up countless musical doors. The band has dipped
heavily into the old GD songbook, even pulling out JGB
material, while continuing to thrive on its original
material and loose jamming. Songs are reworked and
fractured and woven seamlessly through entire sets,
even entire shows. Themes established early on
resound in short leads and full-blown jams, so that
every "Evening with Ratdog" becomes an intricate
soundscape- a uniquely dense, often self-referencing
tapestry that captivates the senses. Dig around and
find the highest quality audience recordings and
soundboards that have been leaking out with increasing
regularity, as they offer the best way to appreciate
the details of a Ratdog show. Also check out the
recent live release Ratdog, Live at Roseland Theater,
culled from the two-night stand in Portland that
closed the 2001 spring tour.
Ratdog @ The Fillmore, San Francisco 10-22-00
Disc 1: Festival, Me and My Uncle, Masterpiece > Bury
Me Standing > Greatest Story West LA > Schoolgirl,
Even So
Disc 2: Estimated > Supplication Jam > Estimated >
Samson > Drumz and Bass > 2 Djinn > Throwin’, E:
Knockin’

There’s nothing like a hometown show and this one from
the Fillmore is just about perfect. The opening
acoustic segment features the lyrically heavy Festival
and a sprightly Me and My Uncle with Mark joining.
For years Masterpiece has been the optimal transition
tune and here the slow, steady addition of
instrumentation glows stronger and stronger, shining
just like gold at the end.
The full electric band barely pauses before lighting
up a funky Bury Me Standing. Jeff’s piano adds nice
rhythmic markers for Kenny while he dances a mellow
melody. By the jam the machine is firing all its
pistons, churning forward as Mark slinks over the
surface, tracing coils and playing with Kenny. After
the last verse the music pulls away but quickly hits
the first Ratdog Greatest Story. It is short but
clean, Mark racing, Jeff banging on the keys. With a
downbeat it melts effortlessly into West LA. Bob’s
vocals are excellent- expressive whispers. The band
swings, every nook filled with bleats and cymbal
crashes and rolling bass. Jeff rips out a smoking
solo at the end, Bob, Rob and Jay setting up a smooth
sidewalk for the strut. Next, Kenny delivers a strong
skwonk, riding it clear into the final verse.
Even So is creepy- misty, with Bob’s vocals as the
defined center. Weir has said that the meanings of
some songs eluded him for years- the facets becoming
clear only with time. Even So is certainly one of
those songs, with its strange references and creepy
mood. The short exiting jamlet has excellent
drumming; the bass well spaced with cymbals, cowbells
and tom fills. Jay Lane is certainly one of the
finest drummers on the scene; he’s incredibly
versatile and can he swing!
The strength of Mark’s first solo in Estimated,
complemented by Brooks and Chimenti, is
counter-balanced by the post-vocal jam. Bob defines
the snaky path with chikka-chonks, allowing the others
to flare up before dropping into a slick Supplication
jam. This one really cooks and points back to
Estimated before jogging into Samson.
Drumz and Bass begins by clinging to Samson, but
quirky squiggles and fuzz bass deliver a furious
Lovelight jam. Piano cascades and cymbal flourishes
return and lead to a heart stopping 2 Djinn.
Certainly the best Ratdog original, it rarely
disappoints, but this one is a monster- a lush aural
garden. Bright leads and haunting undercurrents,
biting lyrics and grinding bass, all serve to create
an enthralling performance. The energy is so high, so
sincere, that the "Dreaming is real" portion is
guaranteed to chill time and again. To close Bobby
and the boys turn it up to eleven with a potent,
insanely tight Throwing Stones. Again, the end of the
tune is the receptacle for the stored voltage, the
whole band pounding through it with precision and
ferocity.
It’s Official: King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents
Kingfish
Disc 1: Mystery Train > Mule Skinner Blues, Juke, Jump
Back, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Goodbye Yer Honor,
Big Iron, I Hear You Knockin’, All I Need Is Time,
Around
Disc 2: CC Rider, Home to Dixie, Hidden Charm, Bye and
Bye, Promised, Lazy Lightning > Supplication, Jump For
Joy, Asia Minor, Minglewood, Saturday Night
This complete performance is from the Beacon on
4-3-76, nearing the end of the Dead’s almost 2 year
hiatus (Phish fans have faith). It’s energetic and
fun, Dave Torbert’s bouncing bass and vocals fueling
much of the performance. Bobby sings a number of
tunes and plays a very clean rhythm/support guitar
throughout. Admittedly, there are a couple of hokey
songs (mostly the westerns), but they are easily
dismissed in light of the rest of the show. Some real
standouts include the gospel Bye and Bye, Juke, which
would become a standard in early Ratdog sets, and the
cover of I Hear You Knockin’. It is the last six
tracks of disc two, however, that offer the most
appealing succession of songs. An ebullient Jump for
Joy and grating Asia Minor are sandwiched between a
number of familiar samplings from the Dead’s
repertoire, including a powerhouse Lazy Lightning >
Supplication. The transition shines with reflections
of Matt Kelly’s harp and gives way to Bobby’s verbal
onslaught in Supplication. Whew! This show may be a
bit difficult to find, but it is available and it’s
certainly worth the hunt.

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