RatDog, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA- 2/14
Bob Weir’s RatDog ended a four-year touring hiatus last night, performing at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA. Alongside Grateful Dead guitarist Weir, RatDog’s latest incarnation includes co-founding members Rob Wasserman (acoustic bass) and Jay Lane (drums), with Robin Sylvester (electric bass), Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), and Steve Kimock (guitar). Kimock played the role of “new guy” in the band, despite countless prior collaborations with Weir, stretching back decades. A rowdy mix of hardcore BoneHeads with scores of shows under their collars, and twenty-somethings who never saw Jerry, comprised the sold-out audience. Befitting Valentines Day, “Love” was an obvious setlist theme, the word cropping up like a weed in song after song, as Bobby the Storyteller wove tales of wretched heartbreak and depthless devotion.
RatDog proclaimed they are back – or asked, “were they ever here at all” – with opener, “The Music Never Stopped.” Robert Hunter’s classic transitioned into The Temptations #1 smash “Shakey Ground,” a first-time-played adventure that featured Kimock wringing soul from his lap steel guitar. First set highlights included a tender, gorgeous “Bird Song,” which flowed gracefully into “Cassidy,” Weir and Kimock digging the groove deep before transporting the jam way out there. Grateful Dead warhorse “Weather Report Suite” closed the set powerfully, with Bobby in excellent voice, thundering, “I am!”
After 45 minute setbreak, concert resumed with a “Scaring The Children” mini-set, as Weir, Wasserman, and Lane performed a pair of tunes unplugged. Bobby stuck with his acoustic when remainder of band returned, to give “Looks Like Rain” a workout. Following two massive GD jam vehicles, Weir gave lovers in the room a moment to embrace and sway, delivering a sweet rendition of the ballad “Standing On The Moon.” My favorite part of the show was a new arrangement of RatDog’s original, “Two Djinn.” The tempo, beat, and instrumentation morphed during the middle section, with Chimenti and Lane dropping fresh hits of synthesizer and electronica, which in turn permeated Weir’s phrasing of the verse – this version stands unique from anything previous. The set closed with Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” a perfect bookend to the opener.
Before the encore, Bobby shared, “It’s kinda been a while for us, but I got a good feeling about this,” to a heartfelt ovation, then brought it home with Hunter’s haiku, “Ripple.” If tonight’s debut is any indication, hungry Doggies along the 18 city Tour are in for a treat.