Bob Weir - vocals, guitar; Matthew Kelly -guitar, harmonica, vocals; Dave McNabb - guitar; Jeff Chimenti - keyboards; Rob Wasserman - bass; Dave Ellis - sax; Jay Lane - drums
Initially conceived as a live touring unit for Bob Weir during The Grateful Dead's downtime, RatDog Revue (later shortened to just RatDog) began in 1995 as little more than a side project. The initial lineup featured former Lou Reed bassist, Rob Wasserman, who had previously partnered up with Weir on numerous acoustic duo performances; multi-instrumentalist songwriter Matthew Kelly, a longtime friend of Weir; and drummer Jay Lane. The quartet first hit the road in April of 1995 intending to play a few dozen gigs, but upon the death of Jerry Garcia (on the day of their 3rd gig) and the inevitable dissolution of The Grateful Dead, RatDog became Weir's primary band. Despite numerous personnel changes, RatDog would achieve remarkable longevity, continuing off and on to the present day. Indeed, RatDog would become Weir's most enduring band, lasting longer than any other unit he had been involved with other than The Grateful Dead.
Not surprisingly, RatDog's initial repertoire focused heavily on Weir-composed Dead material as well as a wide variety of covers, with a sound that revolved around Weir's idiosyncratic guitar playing and Wasserman's ability to play perfect counterpoint bass. Over the course of the first several years, Weir experimented with personnel, beefing up the instrumentation by bringing saxophonist Dave Ellis on board and testing out several keyboard players over the next few years, including former Tubes/Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick, Johnnie Johnson and Mookie Seigel, eventually bringing in Jeff Chementi to fill the seat permanently. This lineup would perform 76 shows between the summer of 1997 and spring of 1998 before taking a five-month hiatus. During the interim, guitarist Matthew Kelly would decide to leave the group and Dave McNabb was recruited as his replacement.
On September 6th, 1998, the new lineup would perform their debut gig to help out legendary 1960s icon Wavy Gravy and his charity-driven Hog Farm organization at their annual Hog Farm Picnic, held at the Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, California. This one-off performance would feature a unique RatDog lineup featuring three guitarists, with Matthew Kelly joining in for the last time and Dave McNabb playing his first gig simultaneously, as the band transitioned into their next phase. Here we present that performance in its entirety; the only night RatDog existed as a seven-piece unit.
The set begins with a spontaneous improvisation that segues directly into "Jack Straw," one of Weir's most beloved songs, dating back to the early 1970's era of The Grateful Dead. On this and all the songs played this night, Weir sings authoritatively and knows his way around the material, leading the group through over two hours of his own Dead-era originals and several choice covers, including a pair of Garcia/Hunter songs (much to the delight of the Deadhead-heavy audience).
Other than the opener, the early part of the set focuses on covers, including an ambitious take on Bob Dylan's "Queen Jane Approximately," a gritty stab at "Walkin' Blues," and Matthew Kelly leading the fray on the harmonica driven instrumental, "Juke." Next the group pays tribute to both of the founding Grateful Dead members no longer with us with "Big Boss Man," a Pigpen staple from The Dead's repertoire, and the buoyant and humorous, "Loose Lucy," an all too rarely performed Garcia number.
Following "New Minglewood Blues," which was Weir's earliest vocal contribution to the Dead's debut album, the set becomes one continuous jam sequence featuring many of the staples that he contributed to the Dead's repertoire during the 1970s. Like the beginning of the show, this sequence begins with a loose improvisation for about five minutes before the group takes of into "Hell In A Bucket." Over the course of the next hour plus, the group navigates its way through the "Lost Sailor/Saint Of Circumstance" pairing, "Estimated Prophet," a nearly 15 minute improvisation that includes a remarkably percussive upright bass solo by Wasserman, concluding with rip-roaring takes on "Samson And Delilah" and "Sugar Magnolia," the song that would more than any other define Weir's career as a songwriter.
The audience demands an encore and surrounded by family, friends and DeadHeads, RatDog deliver with an extended romp through the Garcia/Hunter survival anthem, "Touch Of Grey," which serves as a perfect closer to this unique one-off performance.