Ratdog, The Palace Theater, Albany, NY 11/3
The GD family has perennially played well in the Capital District- SPAC, the Knick (or whatever its corporate title is now) and The Palace- in a whole host of line-ups, and RatDog’s stop at the still classic, though refurbished downtown theater was no exception. It was a night heavy on RatDog originals and covers and lengthy, spacey jams from the GD catalogue. Plus a screwy encore in which Bobby gave a false start- mid verse- to “Brokedown Palace” and had to ask Mark the real words: “Fare You Well My Honey.”
But long before that faulty and fine tribute to the old room, the show opened with a mellow, meandering jam into “Here Comes Sunshine.” Like its intro, the song seemed to stretch and wander for a while before dipping into a swirly tube of music- one of those moments where RatDog comes one big dumb guy instead of six dumb guys, to steal a phrase- with great, bounding bass and fills from keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. The apex of the jam had drummer Jay Lane coming in with color at just the right moment under Mark Karan’s sweet guitar, clearing the way for a Weir’d, muscley move to the end, like a moment lengthened.
The song dropped into the clav laden groove of “Easy Answers,” with its tight, sweaty jam. Mark was slick and hot, searing long leads through the middle of the music, all the guitarists closing ranks in front of the drum riser to work it out. At the mid-song peak Jay and bassist Robin Sylvester slid into a refreshed funk formation, giving the rest of the band new ground as the stage was suddenly coated in lysergic lime green. We were thirty minutes in by the time the sextet began “Baby Blue.”
At the heart of the set was a stunning version of “Lucky Enough.” After verse upon verse of the classically styled Weir tale of perseverance, the jam was off, low and churning with Mark hopping over the tips of surges. The music shifted and pooled, landing in an insanely hot moment of just Jeff, Bobby and Kenny Brooks digging towards the heart. Then Mark joined in lightly, Robin rumbled, and with a few quick taps, Jay sent the song spinning into an expansive, heady trip- quietly sublime renderings leading to those quieter lyrics. “You may find grace, if you’re lucky enough.”
With Kenny blowing so strong and proud through the finale, this was the perfect core to a set framed by the “Sunshine” > “Answers” at one end, and a soupy, psychedelic “Playing” > “Big River” at the other. A windy, but quick path from “Wrong Way Feelin’” landed at the GD jam vehicle, but it quickly became clear that this was something different, a moody ambient jam, like those odd sections in a 72 “Other One”- immediately after the set the guy behind me said, with a slightly disturbed look on his face, “It just got strange in there.” The improv began with a heavy fog rolling in off the river, more a distorting wall than wet mist. Mark’s lead was a bright beacon but it moved slowly, ominously, with Jay cracking and clacking and thumping behind it all. No one could find a way out, just caught hanging, until Bobby, or maybe it was Kenny who started it, pressed into a dub interlude. But it never really held on to its shape, still lost in the fallen cloud. Off in the distance Mark spied “Playing” but he was lost again too. Instead, Jay laid down a new beat that slowly drew in all the elements. Admittedly this jam was out there, murky and amorphous, and not for everyone- but for the junky cosmonauts it was just right.
The acoustic mini-set opened with a bit of a blasldquo;Mexicali”, but that was followed by a version of “Hard Rain” that just about pulled down the theater. Simply put, no one does Dylan like Bobby, and he absolutely crushed the song, with the aid of Jays swollen drums and Robin’s thundery bass- at the end of the third verse he popped one deep note and held out his axe to shake it across the room. The Palace grew smaller with cheers and people on their tip toes grabbing at the space, like trying to take the song from the air.
The electric set began with “Even So” > “October Queen” > “The Deep End”, the center tune seemingly a biting pre-election indictment of the Colorado evangelical minister who had been outed the day before for meth-laden trysts with a male prostitute. The instrumental puffed itself up as it always does, rearing at “Other One”, though it was clear the song would not actually materialize. Mark was twisting and rocking on stage, whipping the band into more and more furious charges, while Kenny laced through the structures on soprano sax. The stage was bathed in bright blue as Bobby skipped and hopped, Robin slapping out wave after wave low end. When the music finally deflated, Jay bunched up and kicked out the backbeat to “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the rest of the band fell into a full “Playing” tease over top before launching into “Uncle John’s Band.” The song was well received and smiley, the flood waters overrunning the river bank. It tapped into the same “Deep End” energy, but painted it brighter, with cool cascades spilling out from every corner. “Other One” resurfaced minutely, and Bob turned the stage over to the band for an oddly rhythmic “Stuff” segment, that closed with a great series of drum breakdowns- Jay so rarely does a true drum solo anymore.
Another spacey segment led to a crisp “Black Peter”, littered with slide guitar and rich harmonies- funny how much that alters the feel of the song. Leaving the song for a bluesy stroll, Kenny took the band out and around a corner. The “Playing Reprise” was big and glorious with pulsating bass and huge jungle drums- a drawn out climb that eventually pieced together all the elements. The jam was comfortable and fun, but you tell that it was only a stop on the way, especially when it opened on Jeff’s piano, and with a thump! headed back into “Uncle John’s Band.” Jay kept shifting beats, at one point dipping back into the dub, Bobby playing slick with Marc while Kenny toyed with his pedals and effects, and then intertwined with guitars to ride high and mighty toward the final verse. “Whoa, what I to know, how does the song go?”