RatDog and Little Feat Rock for Rex!
By Blair Jackson
Bob with Little Feat's Paul Barrere at the Rex benefit.
Photo: David W. Clark © 2007
Is there anything better than rockin’ out for a good cause? The 1,500 or so who packed the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on Saturday December 15 for a Rex Foundation benefit concert don’t think so. As you all know, the Rex Foundation, named after former Grateful Dead roadie Rex Jackson, has long been the Dead’s major philanthropic arm, donating literally millions of dollars through the years to hundreds of small and large non-profit groups of every stripe. The Warfield has been the site of big Rex fundraisers the past three years, and this year’s was definitely a major wang dang doodle!
As usual, the crowd was mostly a mixture of Dead Heads and GD Family types. A scrumptious buffet dinner was served before the music started—the downstairs of the beautiful old theater was set up completely with nicely decorated tables for this event, including the famed “pit” in front of the stage, which is usually a crush of dancers or moshers depending on the event. I didn’t see any moshing that night, but there was definitely plenty of dancing, from the front tables all the way to the back of the balcony.
Three bands were on the bill and all played fabulously and were very well-received. Opening the show was The Waybacks, a mostly acoustic quartet that plays an appealing blend of Americana styles, from country to folk to swing jazz (sometimes all in the same tune!), highlighted by the dazzling interplay of guitarist James Nash and fiddle player Warren Hood. They definitely kicked it big time at the Warfield and had already won over the crowd completely by the time Mr. Robert Weir popped onstage near the end of their set to play a truly inspired “St. Stephen” (with Nash and Weir on tandem lead vocals) and a chugging “Big River.” Wow—good stuff!
Barry Sless and Mark Karan at the Warfield 12/15.
Photo: Bob Minkin © 2007
Little Feat was up next, and what a treat that was. Hard to believe, but the re-formed lineup (sans the late, great Lowell George) has now been back together for nearly 20 years—“new” singer Shaun Murphy has been with them for 12!—and they are a completely reliable fun machine that rocks hard, has tons of soul and very serious instrumental chops. They played a fantastic mix of old Feat classics and newer tunes, including “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Oh Atlanta,” “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” “Hate To Lose Your Lovin’,” Buddy Guy’s “Feels Like Rain” (which Ms. Murphy absolutely killed on), “Willin’” (with Warren Hood on perfect sad country fiddle), and an extended workout on “Dixie Chicken” with Bobby joining them for a couple of strategically placed verses of “Tennessee Jed” and some cool jamming. If you haven’t seen the Feat in a while, by all means check ’em out! They’re the real deal, all right.
That was a tough act to follow, to be sure, but it turns out that RatDog was feeling inspired, too, charging out of the gate with a short “Dark Star”-ish jam that dropped deftly into “Help on the Way.” With RatDog temp guitarist Steve Kimock not available because his wife was about to give birth, the lead guitar slot was ably filled by the wonderful Barry Sless—veteran of the David Nelson Band and many shows with Phil & Friends through the years. What a monster: He definitely has one foot in the melodic-but-trippy Garcia School, but he also adds much of his own personality to his playing, and he’s a fabulously expressive pedal steel player. After the band churned through “Help on the Way” and “Slipknot,” at the moment when “Franklin’s Tower” generally arrives, instead the music veered into “Brown-Eyed Women” and a surprise special guest joined them: None other than RatDog guitarist Mark Karan, who has been courageously battling throat cancer since last summer. Mark has turned up for a song or two at a number of Bay Area events in recent months, but this marked his most extensive stage time since his last tour with RatDog. This is great news indeed, and I’m here to tell ya that he sounded fantastic—ripping long and passionate solos, practically dancing as he played, completely at the top of his game. He and Barry Sless seemed to have some sort of telepathic mind-meld going; they were really in sync.
As you can see from the list below, the band played a nice mixture of tunes, including a couple that had not been played on the West Coast before, “You Win Again” and “Catfish John” (which was more bluegrassy than Garcia’s version, with great harmonies).
For the grand finale, at close to 1 a.m., the Dog was joined by a plethora of players from Little Feat and the Waybacks, as well as a pair of local rapper associates of RD skinsman Jay Lane—Chris Burger and Zachariah Mose from Alphabet Soup—for an epic, if slightly bizarre, version of “Franklin’s Tower.” And they kept on dancin’…
All in all it was quite a night, and the good that will come from it months (and years) from now—in the form of disbursement of funds to needy causes—will make the glow of this evening feel even more special.
RatDog Rex Benefit
12/15/07 Warfield Theatre, SF
Jam> Help on the Way> Slipknot> Brown-Eyed Women*> Truckin’*> Even So* > October Queen*> The Deep End*> The Other One*, You Win Again@, Catfish John@, Money for Gasoline > Stuff > Come Together*> One More Saturday Night* / Franklin’s Tower+
*with Mark Karan on guitar; @ acoustic; + with Karan, Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton, Fred Tackett, Bill Payne, James Nash, Warren Hood, Chris Burger and Zachariah Mose
I have to agree, a set from the show would be a GREAT way to raise a little dough for the foundation. I'll buy them as soon as I can after just buying the Winterland box set!!
We had the wonderful chance to see Little Feat play this summer in our hometown of Frisco Colorado. On Main Street for FREE! What a great time. In the cool Colorado rain these guys just got better and better. Too bad it ended so quickly. Of course they still have the chops! I caught Billy and Paul with Phil and Friends a few yaers ago. Still one of my favorite P&F shows. I hope they come around these parts again. And it doesn't have to be free. JC
I really enjoyed the show and seeing so many familiar faces from over the years. The tickets were my special birthday celebration gift from my wife--it was just a blast. I would like to do it every year. Thanks for a great time for a great cause!
Wasn't Bob supposed to shave for this show???
I went over to Mark and Maile's house on Wednesday (12/19) for an interview. Here's a photo and a link to a transcript of the conversation.
After almost a week I still get that goofy grin when I think about this show. Not only was the music fabulous, but the spirit in the building reminded me of the good old Grateful Dead show vibe. It was a feeling of family and people getting together for good times and a good cause. I am really looking forward to more Rex foundation events in 2008 as we celebrate our 25th anniversary.
Thanks to everyone involved.
It was a wonderful night, musically and for me personally. I needed a good old fashioned night of fun and music (and nothing but fun and music) and this event delivered!
Next time, I'm going to figure out a way to afford the good seats