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Published: 2003/10/31
by John Penney

RatDog, Bardavon 1869 Opera House, Poughkeepsie, NY- 10/26

Bobby Weir has gone from the pin-up poster boy days of the early 1980s to a grizzled, bearded sage today who humbly makes his way across the stage before smaller audiences. He and the audiences are better for it.

As a New Paltz resident in upstate New York, I relished the thought of seeing RatDog play in nearby Poughkeepsie. Actually, this was the second week of a lucky streak — RatDog was playing at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House, where Bela Fleck and the Flecktones had performed magnificently just seven days before. If you ever have a chance to see a show at the Bardavon, do it. It is an intimate, stately theater — and the acoustics are first-rate.

Bobby and the gang seemed comfortable in the approximately 950-seat room from the get-go, flowing a short jam into "The Music Never Stopped." A workman-like version of "Maggie's Farm'' came next. The band truly hit form on "Youngblood," and I started reminiscing about the old Kingfish days.
That feeling didn't last long, however, as Bobby quickly jumped into two newer numbers — "Odessa" and "Lucky Enough'' from RatDog's Evening Moods’ CD. RatDog's take on "Lucky Enough'' this night is precisely why I go to see live music. On the CD, "Lucky Enough'' isn't a memorable song. It's kind of flat, actually. But live, it packed plenty of emotion, aided by Jeff Chimenti's keyboard introduction, an airy flirtation before the band dove into the song. After a spirited version of "Friend of the Devil,'' Bobby hit full stride, pulling out stellar versions of "Big Boss Man'' and closing with "New Speedway Boogie.''
During the break, I was struck with how unique the first set seemed. RatDog had just played Friday and Saturday night at the Beacon Theater on Broadway in New York City, so perhaps a more obscure, reflective show in Poughkeepsie on a Sunday night was to the band's liking.

Bobby, guitarist Mark Karan and bassist Robin Sylvester came out for the acoustic segment of the second set with "K.C. Moan'' and a much-appreciated "Me and My Uncle.'' The full band then wound its way into the sing-along-with-me "Tennessee Jed.'' Next they roared into "The Other One," taking it down for appropriate breathers between the first and second verses. In the middle, I found myself wondering whether Bobby would leave the second verse for later in the set, but he came back in short order to finish it before launching into a rousing version of "Samson and Delilah." Before the show, Bobby was informed the Bardavon was built in 1869 and seemed excited by this information, sharing it with other members of the band. Ironically, it took a laudable local effort to save the opera house from the wrecking ball, and perhaps this explains how "Samson" ended up on the setlist. "If I had my way, I would tear this old building down'' certainly acknowledged the theater's history.

After a sturdy drum segment, the band gave me the biggest surprise of the night. I have to admit I don't follow setlists as faithfully as I did in days of yesteryear, so I had no idea RatDog was playing the full "Terrapin Station Suite," not just "Lady with a Fan." The suite was mesmerizing, and — for a Dead Head who saw his first show on Halloween night in 1979 — it was vindicating, too. I always wanted to see the Dead play the entire suite live, and Jay Lane's drumming on "Terrapin Flyer'' Sunday night reminded me why. Bobby wasn't done, however. For an encore, fortune was still on my side, as he picked my favorite from Evening Moods. It took me a number of listens before I understood the beauty of "Two Djinn,'' its complexity, and some of the great lyrics it contains: "I'm going to Adam's home/ In a world that we can't see/To sing drunk with the angels/ Play again for free.'' I saw an excellent version of this song as a set-closer at the Beacon Theater last year. For some reason, it didn't seem to work as well as an encore Sunday night, but it was much appreciated, nonetheless.

I have now seen several RatDog and Phil & Friends shows in the last few years. And I caught two Dead shows this summer — one in Hartford and another on Long Island on the anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death. Perhaps it was the beauty of the Bardavon theater or the closeness to home, but Sunday's show was the best post-Garcia show of them all. Here's hoping RatDog comes back to the Bardavon — and soon.

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