Ratdog | Paramount Theatre | Denver, CO | 05.13.03

Ratdog finds itself at a unique stage in its musical career, one in which the band is uncertain about what lies ahead. The departure of renowned bassist Rob Wasserman created a sizable hole in one of the top musical acts today. Coupled with the reunion of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, Ratdog now finds itself in limbo beyond its current tour.

We were recently afforded the opportunity to speak with guitarist Mark Karan after the band had undergone the key personnel changes. When asked how the recent moves have impacted the group, Karan was relentlessly positive, noting that “The transition has gone incredibly smoothly. Robin [Sylvester] is an extremely talented bassist, and we’ve been having a great time so far.” Indeed, given his past efforts with Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys, Sylvester brings big-game experience to the band.

Because it remains to be seen how extensively The Dead will tour, the future of Ratdog (as Weir's main show or side project) is up in the air. When confronted with this reality, Karan simply said, “It remains to be seen because nobody really knows what’s going on just yet.” It was probably a difficult question at the time, given Karan was en route to his first cup of coffee for the morning. While future endeavors are in question, the band is opting to focus on their remaining tour by churning out some vintage jams while spicing up shows with new cover songs.

As of mid-May, the band finds itself on the last leg of the US tour, before ending things with a bang in the UK. Denver’s historic Paramount Theatre was the site of festivities on the 13th, with an advertised showtime of 8pm. Not wanting to waste a minute of time, the band began playing at the stroke of eight.

The crowd was still shuffling in as Weir and Ratdog emerged onstage. The set started in classic Ratdog fashion, with the trio of Weir on acoustic guitar, Rob Sylvester on upright bass, and Jay Lane on drums warming up the crowd with a few acoustic numbers. When the first notes rang out, it was evident the band was out to shake things up, as they opened with the relatively new cover of “Me and Bobby McGee,” having debuted it just last month to a stunned audience in Florida.

The band settled into a relaxed groove, and just as the jam out of “The Winners” threatened to go stale, the familiar chords of “Victim Or the Crime” rang through the theater, rejuvenating the crowd’s collective energy. While the trio was immersed in an impressive rendition of the tune, the rest of the band seamlessly made its way onstage, with Weir swapping his acoustic for an electric mid-song, to the delight of the audience.

The first set was highlighted by a rousing performance of “Help On the Way” which featured each of the band members taking a solo before kicking back into the main hook of the song. Also enjoyable was the relatively rare and fitting set-closer “Liberty,” allowing the band to pull out one last hurrah before regrouping backstage. Clocking in at just over an hour, the first set featured a few nuggets of brilliance gleaned from an otherwise well-played selection of songs.

The second set began with the notable addition of Kenny Brooks on sax, adding a different texture to the band’s sound. While “New Speedway Boogie” and “Wrong Way Feelin’” were an interesting combination in theory, the band found itself in need of something to regain the crowd’s attention for the second set. Appropriately enough, relief came in the form of “I Need a Miracle,” which seemed like an absolute perfect choice for the moment. “Wang Dang Doodle” followed, which gave Brooks his first true opportunity to shine, engaging in some thoughtful soloing with the rest of the band synthesizing in some gorgeous melodies.

“Terrapin Station” began so gradually, that many - if not most of the audience - didn’t realize what was happening until the band had locked into the main hook of the song. Great version of the tune. After “Space,” half the band walked offstage to give way to a simpler sound, resulting in a tasty performance of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” They managed to make it powerful and delicate simultaneously, which is a remarkable feat... at that point in the show, it was my personal highlight of the evening.

What made the Denver show special was the set-closing “Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower.” Jamming for a solid fifteen minutes, Weir was as excited as he’s been in quite some time. So excited that he spaced out on a verse, and the band took it around one more time before he belted out the appropriate lyrics: “If you get confused, listen to the music play!” Rather than degrading the song, it gave it a bit of wabi sabi, as the band recovered magnificently to produce its finest jam of the evening. In what might have been its last visit to Colorado, Ratdog left the stage in top form, proving that a band in flux can often produce some of its best work. “In another time’s forgotten space,” Ratdog’s performance in Denver, will go down as a gem among gems on one of their best tours in recent memory.

Hey kids, here’s a setlist for those of you keeping score at home courtesy of the kind folks at www.ratdog.org.

5.13.2003 | Paramount Theatre | Denver, CO

I: Me and Bobby McGee*, The Winners*> Victim Or the Crime*> Jam > Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Youngblood > Loose Lucy > She Says > It's All Over Now > Liberty

II: Jam > New Speedway Boogie > Wrong Way Feelin > I Need a Miracle > Wang Dang Doodle > Lady With a Fan > Terrapin > Space > Knockin on Heaven's Door* > Two Djinn > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower

E: At a Siding > Terrapin Flyer

^First set without Kenny Brooks

Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Tony Stack
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[Published on: 5/28/03]

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