RatDog, NYCB Theater at Westbury, Westbury, NY- 2/21
Bob Weir and Ratdog – 2.21.14 by Bill Kelly
Long Island (or Lawn Guyland) always a bastion of Deadheads, was treated to a two night run of the newly configured RatDog at Westbury’s circular NYCB Theater. The band features Steve Kimock on lead guitar, Jeff Chimenti on keys, Jay Lane on drums and an unusual double bass ensemble of Robin Sylvester and Rob Wasserman. Surrounded by enthusiastic fans, the opening show began with Weir’s usual guitar salute while the band meandered into slow-paced versions of “Golden Road” and “Crazy Fingers.”
Weir donned the slide for a cover of Willie Dixon’s blues traditional “Little Red Rooster,” growling through the lyrics with Kimock’s guitar and Chimenti’s keyboard darting in around his slide lines. Lane, Wasserman and Sylvester provided a solid rhythmic base throughout the evening, with the bowed bass adding a wonderful sonic underpinning to Sylvester’s three finger plucking. Moving a bit towards a more allegretto tempo, Weir brought a loping cadence to “Tennessee Jed,” reminiscent of the old do-dah man shuffle. The Grateful Dead were always great purveyors of Americana music, and Weir demonstrated the range of the genre by moving from the folksy psychedelia of “Cassidy” into Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.”
Weir, Kimock and Wasserman opened the second set with a slow acoustic cover of “El Paso” (Bob used a teleprompter throughout the show, no repeats of the ‘Bob forgot the lyrics’ moments), leading to “Deep Elem Blues,” with Chimenti adding foot stomping piano lines. This is a configuration that serves the music well, Wasserman’s bowed bass adding sonorous support to Weir’s rhythm guitar during “Candyman” and “WRS Part I.” Switching back to electric guitar for the second part of the suite, Bob was in strong voice, the house lights hitting the surrounding audience during the “I am, I am” refrains.
Westbury is one of those old 60’s suburban venues where the folks would go to see Steve and Eydie or Frank and Sammy impersonators. Tucked away in a small depression off a secondary road, the ramshackle circular arena works inexplicably well with Grateful Dead music. The audience has always been an important participant in Dead shows, and the claustrophobic seating brought the audience in and around the music – reacting with and goading the musicians forward. A funked-up, extended “Eyes” led into a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” the entire venue in full throat. House lights up, the band kicked into “GDTRFB,” each line punched by the thundering dual bassists and Jay Lane’s perfect drumming. The evening closed out with the old favorite “US Blues,” another frenzied sing-along. This post-Furthur incantation of Ratdog is good, and it’s great to see Weir right back on the road, the old troubadour surrounded by outstanding musicians.