Tuesday, February 25, 2014

RatDog at HOB Boston

When we heard RatDog was being revived by Weir and coming to town we had to get tickets ... being the re-nascent post-Deadheads we are.  But we showed some reserve and just got tickets to one of the two shows, the first one on a Monday night in February.  They were booked at the House Of Blues which is a great venue for a loud, dynamic band.

My hesitation was based on not being able to categorize Bob's appeal to me well.  He's one of the best ensemble players I've ever heard, though the ensembles I've heard him in most are the Dead and Furthur, so maybe that should be discounted.  And his solo/off-the-reservation work (i.e. Heaven Help the Fool, Bobby and the Midnites) has always left me a little unenthused (besides Ace, which was really a Dead record).  But lately I've heard several great solo/small ensemble pieces by him, which have caught my attention because of the proliferation of media and his intelligent handling of it, most notably his web show, Weir Here.  From that I was familiar with the other members of the historical RatDog band, also familiar with Jeff Chimenti from his playing with Furthur and with Phil Lesh, and also with Steve Kimock, who had mightily impressed me in small exposures on the web.

So we were psyched, got tickets, and showed up in the Fens on a seasonably cold and windy February evening.  I got a great parking place immediately in front of the old Boston State after a quick ride in, and had time to mingle with the other Deadheads on the sidewalk on Lansdowne.  The word was that tickets were either sold out or rare, and most of the people were waiting impatiently for the box office to open.  I was immediately looked at askance, not being in old clothes and dreadlocks (or even close), but when I leaned up against the side doors to the HOB to listen to the soundcheck like everyone else, they figured I was ok.  I actually only saw one guy that whole evening (besides the guys on the stage) who may have been older than me ... it was an under-40 crowd by and large.  One scalper was patrolling and asked me if I was buying.  I wasn't, and then on his next pass he asked me if I was selling; he knew he could turn a profit that day.  I wasn't selling either so that was even more proof that I was cool, I guess.

We all struck up conversations as we milled by the doors and the band worked on perfecting the ending to Mission In the Rain.  This was going to be their 8th stop on this tour, their first real tour since 2009, though they'd appeared at festivals and stuff in the interim.  Most of us had heard at least some bits of the current tour, and opinions abounded, almost all good.  This is one way Deadheads ratify each other (pun of course not intended), by coming to consensus with strangers.  Then Sarah made it up from the T and we scurried into the HOB restaurant for dinner.

I had a quick portabello sandwich and Sarah had a burger, as the restaurant filled up rapidly and time for the doors to open approached even sooner than that.  We were the second group in the inner line when they opened, and we got our chosen spot to the left of the stage, where we hopefully wouldn't be trampled by the crowd.

And quite the crowd it was.  The people streamed in during the 90-minute wait we had for the show, and by the time the band came on stage it was packed, with the floor, the fringes, and the mezzanines all filled with people, though there was some room for dancing, etc.  By the end of the first set though, it was beyond packed and we were totally hemmed in to our corner; and by the end of the second set we could barely take a full breath with the press of people all around us.  And we weren't even on the floor!

Sarah saw three medical emergencies during the course of the night, not counting the guy who puked in front of us.  Smoking pot and/or tobacco was not discouraged by the security guys, who had lots of other things to deal with.  Two of them were standing right in front of us for most of the night, and one saw a guy right in front of him take a quick hit off his pipe; I could tell he was itching to grab the guy and at least tell him he saw what he was doing and he should cut it out, but the security guy was good and instead kept watching for more serious stuff.  This crowd was young, drinking a lot, and I'm sure a few were on Molly and/or opiates.  I'm no hypocrite about drugs, but in this modern age there's some powerful stuff available and the number of people having a hard time with drugs seems to be increasing.

Then the band came on and though Sarah was watching the crowd, I was riveted on the stage the rest of the night, though I did take some time to drink in the scene of the whole HOB raving to Lovelight a bit later.  RatDog on this tour was Bob on guitar and lead vocals, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and backup vocals, Steve Kimock on guitar and steel, Jay Lane on drums, Robin Sylvester on electric bass and backup vocals, and Rob Wasserman on standup bass, which he mostly played with a bow.  They were excellent, notes:

  • My opinion from hearing tapes, also shared by others on the street, was that they'd been wildly inconsistent in the tour so far.  An example of the inconsistency is Bob's posturing vocal style, which seems very hit or miss on tape, but totally worked live!  He was in charge and we were raving.
  • Bob stuck mostly to a tan Gibson all night, though he played the first three songs of the second set on acoustic (a Martin??) and switched to a Strat for the real rockers.  Hadn't seen the Gibson before that I could recall, but it was fine, able to play the bright but bluesy chords to a Mama Tried and able to fuzz out and allow some reggae and/or slide runs.  I love Bob's guitar style.
  • Kimock was astounding.  I don't know why they don't cultivate this guy as another Garcia.  My biggest visual impression of him was holding his pick in his mouth, and almost chewing it, while he finger-picked the electric until it was on fire.  With his bad-hair-decade look and his creased face, this was not a guy mugging for the crowd, this was an artist.  Steve only got out his lap steel (on a stand actually) for Shakey Ground, then he went back to the guitar.
  • I couldn't believe they were really going to play rock with two basses, but they did and this was probably the biggest part of the solid, palpable sound the band produced.  As mentioned, Sylvester picked the electric while Wasserman bowed and struck the strings on his standup, and together they produced such power it was unbelievable.  More bands should try this, but you probably need some very talented musicians to pull it off.
  • Lane on drums was the glue that held them together.  He seems like a space cadet, but when he gets behind the traps he's smooth and tasteful.  Tony "Thunder" Smith joined him on percussion during the Stuff segment, and those guys rocked.
  • Mike Gordon (who was scheduled to play the HOB later that week) replaced Sylvester for Bird Song, and was a great change of pace. 
  • Chimenti had 5 keyboards ... well 6 if you count the 2 rows of keys on the B3.  And he had a big Leslie that was placed right between us and him.  One of the keyboards happened to be a grand fucking piano that he was constantly begging the sound guy for tweaks to, but which sounded great to us.  He shone on the keys even more than he does with Furthur, seemingly allowed by Bob to freak out, jump back and forth like a monkey, and in all be the piano player he wants to be.  He's got a strong voice, but his backup vocals are one of the weak points of the band IMO.

Here's the set list:

The Music Never Stopped
Mama Tried
My Brother Esau
Easy To Slip
Easy To Slip
Mission In the Rain
Easy Answers
Two Djinn

[break, that took about an hour!]

K.C. Moan
Friend Of the Devil
Bird Song
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider
Death Don't Have No Mercy
Turn On Your Lovelight
Shakey Ground
Turn On Your Lovelight

Encore: It's All Over Now Baby Blue

This was an incredible concert.  The quality of the sound and of the musicianship puts it right up with the best I've seen, especially the best rock concerts because the sound was so much better than most have been.

Highlights of the night for me were:

  • going into Mama Tried after Music ... I mean, what?? ... and then Kimock playing a country lead to it that had me melting
  • teasing out a wonderful jam from Lowell George's Easy To Slip and finally going into a bit of one of the best Weir/Barlow songs, Supplication, before finishing it
  • I like Two Djinn more each time I hear it and they did a great intro
  • that I was able to not get all pissed off when yakkers tried to drown out K.C. Moan and the possible surprise best song of the night, Fever ... they finally shut up for FOTD
  • the middle of the second set ... just beautiful stuff
  • one of the best, most soulful Death Don'ts I've ever heard; you'll hear the tape and think Bob is a bit over the top, but this worked live like you wouldn't believe
  • the entire HOB shaking to Lovelight, like this was some go-go club out of the 60s

They came back out for an encore and you knew it would be a Dylan song, but Baby Blue just topped the night off.  This was great stuff.  We got home and in bed by 1:00 ... not too much fun for a Monday!

Here a link to Sarah's pictures.  Also check out this article from JamBase.  And here are some pictures: