On February 5th, Bob Weir and the current incarnation of RatDog took the stage at Sweetwater Music Hall to a sold out crowd on a grateful rainy night in Mill Valley. On the edge of starting their cold winter tour, the band’s lineup for this hometown warm-up included Rob Wasserman, Steve Kimock, Robin Sylvester, Jay Lane, and Jeff Chimenti. Some Ratdog history: Weir, Wasserman, and Lane are original members, while Chimenti first played with Ratdog in 1997, Sylvester in 2003, and Kimock jumped in when Mark Karan was diagnosed with throat cancer (he beat it) and had to leave tour in 2007. So, the new old gang is back and by their performance, I’d say anyone going on Ratdog tour is going to be stoked.
The first set of the evening welcomed the crowd with Grateful Dead standards “Jack Straw,” “Row Jimmy” and “Brown-Eyed Women.” Bobby also fired up “Ashes and Glass,” a RatDog fan favorite, and the audience went all or nothing, dancing up a storm. “Jus’ Like Mama Said” > “Milestones” > “Jus’ Like Mama Said” was the highlight of the first set, though. “Milestones” the Miles Davis jazz composition first recorded in 1958, found Weir and the gang creating a good time playing through the standard’s progressions with solid jazz experimentation, right back into a “Jus’ Like Mama Said” coda. The set ended with an awesome twelve and a half minute version of “Money For Gasoline.” Chimenti soloed, handed off to Kimock, and Bobby took the torch with an atmospheric metallic riff he jammed out. The setlist actually had “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Cassidy” slated to close out the first set, but the boys went their own way. Hey, it’s been known to happen.
The band came back for the second set with “Cassidy” leading right into “Bury Me Standing.” As reported back in 2012, The National prodded Bobby to play “My Brother Esau” for the first time in 25 years at their TRI Studios show, and Bobby brought it back out, with Ratdog putting their own funky touches on it. The audience loved it and the band slipped right into a fantastic performance of “Estimated Prophet” that went totally metal into a heavy “Other One.” Then “Dear Prudence,” achieved liftoff before a real dance party took over with “China Cat Sunflower” leading into a nice country “I Know You Rider.” The band returned with an animated “Touch of Grey” encore.
Self-proclaimed “new guy,” Kimock explained after the show that he loves playing with these guys. The special chemistry they have is magical while they can still poke fun at each other if they mess up and just have a great time onstage together. This approach translated well for what proved to be a fun family experience at Sweetwater.