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Published: 2004/09/23
by Joshua Sabatini

RatDog, Sausalito Art Festival, Sausalito, CA- 9/4

Thirty minutes to show time at the Sausalito Art Festival on Sept. 4 and RatDog band members are all already circulating around the stage fiddling with wires and instruments. For those gathered, enthusiasm and expectation reigns.

There are many unknowns.

It was the Jeff Chimenti post-Wave that Flag Summer Dead tour, it was the Mark Karan "ready to fire up" after side gigs since RatDog's last string of shows, and it was the Jay Lane and Kenny Brooks after playing here and there round the Bay Area. It was another season with the newest band mate bassist Robin Sylvester. It was the forerunner to RatDog's fall tour. It was RatDog back together again. Ah!

Soon revelation would strike.

"RatDog and Bob Weir, well his legacy is amazing. They are working their way through clubs," Bay Area personality and film critic Jan Wahl says as an introduction amid calls and cheers. Weir, in green shorts and a gray T-shirt, comes to the stage front. He opens with "Black Bird" blue all around him, seagull gliding far off, late afternoon sun shinning on all.

So it begins.

"Black Bird" is the second most played song by RatDog since the band formed in 1995, according to statistics compiled on website RatDog.org. Weir, Karan and Sylvester's acoustic melodies fill the scene: Nearby docked sailboats, stretch of golden crests of Richardson Bay and the Tiburon peninsula afar. Sweet, fluid notes combine with a clear, animated Weir voice. Before the final note disappears, Weir counts out and the trio transitions into "Friend of the Devil." Money exchanging hands at beer, liquor and food booths wanes as festival goers get caught up. Karan's soulful voice backs up Weir for the chorus and his deft string playing is a prelude of what a clearly joyous Karan will offer up later in the show.

Lane sits down at drums about halfway through song, signaling his presence with some snare drum. Suddenly, the tempo and intensity step up. Then Chimenti joins.

After a pause at end of the song comes "Corrina." Brooks appears, completing the band. It's launched: Here on out band plays remarkably with high energy and an adventurous spirit, inviting all along.

Weir attempts to switch guitars midway through "Corrina": first he tries one, then another, but no luck in working them. Band jams while tech fella scrambles for the answer. Without guitar, Weir steps to the mic an odd sight and sings "Corrina, shake-shake, shake, shake-shake" in a deeper than usual voice, over an intense jam. The third guitar proves fruitful. Weir sings "Ready or not," and the last dental gets accompanied by a emphatic pulse from Lane's snare drum. The band's playing in near-perfect unison as if there was never a break in the fraternal touring.

Then comes a river-like flowing transition into "Here Comes Sunshine," a first-ever for RatDog. Weir's mellifluous singing blends seamlessly into the light of the day as well as Karan's streaming licks. The band journeys into a place colored by rich Chimenti keys, a strong bass line and Karan's exploratory rhythm and blues style, and then brings it back to the chorus. They go right into "Help on the Way."

A sense of a magical show creeps out of the gate at this point and now it's: gleefully along for the ride. Karan fills in the space between lyrics gloriously, providing listeners with something to hold on to. Heavy jam during this song with lightning quick, soulful and spacey Karan notes as whole band reaches high clime. Then they head into the familiar "Help" framework, as if a landing pad. The song continues enthusiastically, then ends. As notes trickle, Weir segues into "Even so," tinctured by Chimenti's keys and Brooks' soulful, golden horn as well as the band's backup vocals, a gentle, melodic, haunting echo of "even so." The song is marked by sudden bursts of energy back to slow, smooth, jazz-like episodes.

The song moves swiftly into the ballad "Deep End," in which Karan, toward the composition's end, drives forcefully for what seems minutes and the horn soon joins followed by intense Chimenti keys. Then it all combines together and soon blooms into "Shade of Grey." Once again, toward the song's end, Karan takes the opportunity to shine, firing off soulful riffs on which Weir comes in bellowing "out in the streets," and it's on into an harmonious vocal conclusion.

Weir counts out, and band journeys into an energized, consistently building "Estimated Prophet," which feeds into "The Other One," full of all the fitting strangeness, which eases gracefully into an emotional, touching, nostalgic, sad "Standing on the Mood," ending in an exalting power surge. For this one, Weir delivers a timbre mindful of the old man. There's a brief pause and it's into an upbeat "Slip Knot," during which Chimenti runs off on the keys after one verse, then Karan after another. Overall, all marks are hit.

"Guess we're out of time, thank you," Weir says humbly and is off.

The storyteller reappears for two encores. First is the ripping, as usual, "Saturday Night." At the end, Weir signals band with a strum on his strings for "Ripple."

After the players' bow and departure, the empty stage appears the symbol of the spirit they proved they have for further discovery and deeper communication throughout the fall tour.Salute.

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