Words by: Haig Assadourian :: Images by: Tony Stack
RatDog/Keller Williams :: 07.24.07 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO
The summer heat has been consistent in Colorado. It had been weeks without moisture. So, Keller Williams' opener of "Sunny Rain" may have been wishful thinking for an afternoon storm to refresh the crowd. Alas, the storm never came but the evening cooled down mercifully as the sun eventually set behind the amphitheatre.
| Keller Williams :: 07.24 ::
Williams' stew of funky folk jams was well received by the full, early crowd, who found enough energy to dance in the heat. It was also a more organic sounding set than past efforts. K Dub typically employs a heavy dose of phrase sampling that lets him build his songs with a half dozen guitar lines and rhythms, but this set was primarily played with an acoustic guitar that, coupled with Red Rocks Amphitheatre's impeccable sound system, bathed the audience with clean sounding melodies. He broke out his 8-string electric on "Slowmo Balloon," which grooved with samba-like reverb, and in typical Keller fashion, he imitated a trumpet solo with his lips. It's clear Williams has a musical vision for complex song structures but at times that vision is constrained by his economical one-man band approach. I sometimes wish he'd assemble a permanent small band that would free him from "setting up" all his loops.
Keller Williams' strong suit is his observational lyrics that have emerged from a life as a Deadhead and a traveling musician. "Gate Crashers Suck," with its vengeful vitriol against gatecrashers at the Dead's '95 Deer Creek, Indiana show which caused the second gig to be canceled, is brutally hilarious. "Ensuing Freakiness" relays the joys of being a musician on the jam scene. He's an honest cat who wears his heart on his sleeve and pours his energy into every song.
| Williams & Weir on "Dark Star" :: 07.24 ::
Thanks to a local radio station contest, yours truly had a chance to meet and greet with some of the band members before and after the show. Williams told us backstage that there would be some unrehearsed songs tonight. So, when he announced, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," as the sun eased below the ridgeline, we anticipated a surprise. Sure enough, Bob Weir joined to close out the set with an acoustic Dark Star duet that lasted almost 15 minutes, causing the rowdy crowd to hush in an effort to take it all in. A couple bats swirled high above the stage, apparently soaking up the vibrations. This was my highlight of the night.
It turns out Weir was battling a stomach illness during the day so I kept a close eye on him during RatDog's first set. Coincidentally, Rob Eaton from Dark Star Orchestra was sighted nearby in the audience, so I half-jokingly figured if Bobby falls ill, Eaton could step in. The band wandered through a dark, mysterious intro that segued into a "Shakedown Street" that was played more like the slower album version than the more up-tempo version the Dead played live. The pistons were still trying to fire during a pedestrian "Minglewood Blues," but with Dylan's "She Belongs the Me" the band hit their stride with Jeff Chimenti's keyboard crescendos underscoring Weir belting out lines like "She wears an Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks. She's a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique."
| Bob Weir of RatDog :: 07.24 ::
Amidst the heavily Dead-oriented setlist was a relatively new RatDog composition, "Money for Gasoline" (previously known as "Frankie and Johnnie") that sounds great. It has a trademark Weir song structure with plenty of choruses but a jazz heart filled with back-to-back solos from Chimenti, sax player Kenny Brooks and guitarist Steve Kimock, who's filling in for the ailing Mark Karan on this tour. Kimock has a fair amount of history with Weir and the Dead repertoire, having played in The Other Ones and early Phil Lesh & Friends lineups. On "Loser," the pace slowly picked up and Kimock was given some room to take the lead. I was eagerly anticipating his "voice" in this lineup. When he was given the opportunities, he delivered in spades.
After a somewhat lackluster "Brown Eyed Women," the set concluded with a stellar "Weather Report Suite" > "Let It Grow." Williams had stayed on for these last songs and offered a nice complement to Weir's playing and vocals. The guys were spot-on as Kimock's guitar moaned, perfectly playing off Brooks' searing horn solos and Chimenti's driving chords.
| Bob Weir & RatDog :: 07.24 ::
The second set took a decidedly more mellow path. "Me and My Uncle," a predictable pick, whose lyrics ("I'm as honest as a Denver man can be") and country western melody was appreciated by the crowd. It was but the first of several songs where Weir's vocals seemed more sedate. Perhaps I was looking for reasons but I thought about whether his illness was tempering his performance. The next sequence of "Victim Or The Crime," "The Weight" and "Mississippi Half-Step" affirmed my fear that the band was cruising a bit. Kimock's playing felt frustratingly restrained in this stretch. Adding insult was a strobe light assault during "Half-Step" that didn't let fans watch the band.
Weir briefly left the stage while Kimock crafted an expansive introduction to "The Other One," which rejuvenated the set with sublime weirdness from each player and an enjoyable set of bass bombs from Robin Sylvester. A "Stuff" jam continued the exploration into alien space funk wrapped around the "Magnificent Seven" western movie theme song. "Standing on the Moon," typically a Garcia song, has taken on a more emotional form under Weir's stewardship. During his delivery of "a lovely view of heaven but I'd rather be with you," the jumbotron screen caught him weeping a tear.
| Bob Weir of RatDog :: 07.24 ::
Karan's absence has obviously impacted this tour. His recently discovered throat tumor threw everyone for a loop and his treatments will keep him off the tour through the summer. Not coincidentally, RatDog's performance was subdued, emotional and mysterious. The song selection of the second set offered several opportunities to express some of these emotions, although I had hoped for a little more fire along the way. Although some wished for more, the band delivered on a visceral level that clearly connected with the audience throughout the evening.
Setlist :: 07.24.07 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO
One Set: Molly Malloy > Sunny Rain > Beautiful Oblivion (Eve 6), Back Of The Bus (G Love), Breathe > Teen Angst (Cracker), Slowmo Balloon, Loop > Boob Job (David Wilcox), Mullet Cut, Ensuing Freakiness, You Are What You Eat, Gate Crashers Suck, Till The Morning Comes (Grateful Dead), Best Feeling, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band), Dark Star (Grateful Dead)#
# - w/ Weir
Set I: Jam > Shakedown Street > Minglewood Blues > She Belongs to Me, Money for Gasoline > Loser*, Brown-Eyed Women*, Weather Report Suite Prelude/Part 1 > Let It Grow
Set II: Me and My Uncle@4, Victim or the Crime@, The Weight@, Mississippi Half-Step > The Other One > Stuff > Standing on the Moon > Sugar Magnolia
E: At a Siding > Terrapin Flyer
Show with Steve Kimock (Guitar); *-with Keller Williams (Guitar/Vocals); Mark was absent; "WRS" tease before "Brown-Eyed"; Stuff included "Magnificent Seven" theme; Bob sat in with Keller on "Dark Star"
(Keller Williams opened)
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