Bob Weir and Sammy Hagar after a rippin' version of
"Loose Lucy" at RatDog's Earth Day celebration in
Golden Gate Park, April 22. Photo: David W. Clark
It’s hard to single out high points in a tour so jammed with goodies, but a good place to start might be the glorious homecoming show on Valentine’s Day at The Fillmore in San Francisco, which featured one especially audacious (and appropriate) song choice: a swoonworthy rendition of the great Rodgers & Hart standard “My Funny Valentine,” crooned by Bobby as he prowled the stage apron with a hand-held microphone. Then there was the whole show in Vancouver, which some longtime followers of the band placed high on the list of best RatDog performances ever. The Eastern swing peaked with a spectacular three-night stand, sold out for months in advance, at New York’s Beacon Theater. Among the highlights: A potent guest shot (on “Milestones” and “Turn On Your Lovelight”) by the legendary soul/R&B/jazz bass player Jerry Jemmott (possessor of a truly staggering session discography that includes many of the greatest records by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, B.B. King and others too numerous to mention); dear friend Donna Jean Godchaux Mackay lending her unmistakable sweet harmonies to “Friend of the Devil,” “Cassidy” and other favorites; and instrumental reinforcements by such mainstays of the NYC scene as DJ Logic, Tom Pope, Chuck MacKinnon and Dred Scott. And then there was the wonderfully played bit of musical pranksterism that Bobby devised for the Beacon run: On each of the three nights, the band played “Stagger Lee.” No, not the same song three times, but three different takes on the classic American folk legend, in the chronological order of their composition. On opening night, it was Mississippi John Hurt’s immortal country blues version; in the middle spot was the 1959 R&B hit by Lloyd Price; and to close things out, the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter revisionist, Delia DeLyon-empowering retelling of the tale from 1978. It was, all agreed, three halves of a hoot.
After the tour was over, the band returned home for another San Francisco date, this time as part of the annual Green Apple Music and Arts Festival, a multi-city celebration of Earth Day. RatDog headlined the biggest of the Bay Area festival events, a free show at Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park, on a terrific bill that also included Stephen and Damien Marley, The Greyboy Allstars, Martin Sexton and Jonah Smith. Sammy Hagar joined the fun with RatDog on “Loose Lucy.” And hey… was that Bobby’s beloved old Gibson ES-335 guitar (a mainstay of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound era, but very seldom seen onstage since), making a rare appearance for part of the set? Why yes, we believe it was!
The Green Apple weekend wound up being something of a mini-fest for RatDog’s extended musical family as well, as the days preceding the big bash featured club shows by Mark Karan’s band, Jemimah Puddleduck, and Alphabet Soup, the hip-hop/jazz/funk unit featuring Kenny Brooks, Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti.
There was one more local chore before the guys took a well-deserved pre-summer-tour break: An appearance on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, on the penultimate night of Conan’s week of shows taped at San Francisco’s venerable Orpheum Theatre. The band played a compact (four minutes!) version of “Jack Straw” (with Bobby on that 335 again). Alas, there was no meeting of the canine minds between RatDog and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.
On the not-too-distant horizon: A very busy summer, of course! Several choice festival dates (including Bonnaroo in Tennessee, 10,000 Lakes in Minnesota, All Good in West Virginia and the Gathering of the Vibes in Connecticut; plus a bunch of dates with Keller Williams, another with the Allman Brothers Band and more. We’ll be catching up with Bobby and the other ’dogs along the way to get their impressions, musings and unhinged observations, and will pass them on right here. Stay tuned!
And be sure to pay a visit to the band’s official site as well: www.rat-dog.com