Words by Nick Hutchinson :: Images by Tony Stack
SCI, Ratdog, Taj Mahal :: 07.02.06 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO
Under nice weather (some cooling cloud-cover but no rain) I stepped into the second of two days of the "CheeseDog" tour at Red Rocks. Following what, from all reports, were great performances by the bands on Saturday (when Keller Williams opened), Sunday featured the venerable blues and folk pioneer Taj Mahal kicking off the predominantly jam-oriented mini fest. Taj is always a welcome presence; who better to start off a day of roots music at Red Rocks?!
07.02 - Red Rocks
Offering his soulful brand of world-influenced blues, Taj pleased the gathering crowd with tunes including "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" and "The Blues Are Alright." He was as vibrant as ever, and his long-standing talent was greatly appreciated by the audience. It was refreshing to hear a group whittled down to its essence - just good old drums, bass, and guitar. Taj even swapped out his regular axe to do a little banjo plucking, reminding the audience of his early roots in southern American acoustic music. Taj is always a treat.
Bob Weir and Ratdog took the stage to much hooting, hollering, and anticipation. The band's last pass through Denver was on a snowy night back in December at Denver's Fillmore, so it was a nice change to catch them in the balmy month of July at a beautiful outdoor setting. From the early sparks of its warm-up jam, the group headed into the lilting notes of "Playin' in the Band," a classic that felt just right. The Dog proceeded to lay down spirited and soulful versions of many classics, including "New Speedway Boogie," "Big Boss Man," "Tennessee Jed" (Mark Karan clearly has this one dialed), "The Wheel" (a huge sing-along favorite and well played), "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (heavy, with the recent losses of Vince Welnick and Ramrod), and then a well-appreciated dive back into "Playin' in the Band" that pleased the crowd to no end.
Bob Weir - Ratdog :: 07.02 - Red Rocks
If that wasn't enough to fire up the many old Deadheads in attendance, Weir, armed with only a tambourine (to begin with) took the crowd to church with a white-hot version of "Samson and Delilah." The old scriptures-based rocker eventually saw him strapping on Lightning Bolt, his blue hollow-body, and engaging with Karan in some fierce guitar interplay that was reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. It was as if a window was opened to the past and Bob was back on stage in a summer long ago, flicking and whopping his axe like a man possessed. "I would tear this whole building down!"
Taj Mahal with SCI :: 07.02 - Red Rocks
Sit-ins by members of SCI, most notably Michael Travis and Jason Hann for a lively percussion segment during "Stuff," spiced up what was already a tasty offering.
After a short pause, the band returned and closed the set with an awe-inspiring a cappella version of "Attics of My Life." Talk about nailing it. The impact of this Hunter-Garcia collaboration, as it was lifted by the "greatest and oldest of instruments" (the human voice), elicited a reverent silence and pushed many close to tears. No exaggeration, it was powerful stuff, and it was a cogent reminder of the deep spirit that still exists in the music of the Grateful Dead. Weir and Ratdog continue to develop as a viable post-Garcia outfit, and this show was just further proof of the group's ongoing progress.
In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me
The String Cheese Incident continues to be a hometown favorite on the Front Range, and they tend to bring their "A Game" when playing at Red Rocks. Launching into a tight version of "Outside Inside" (the title track from their 2001 release of the same name), the band tapped into its strength and didn't let up all night. The Cheese sets featured musical assistance from the Pangea Horns (sax and trumpet) as well as sit-ins by Ratdog and Taj Mahal.
SCI :: 07.02 - Red Rocks
The crowd embraced the local boys whole-heartedly. The band's music came alive in some nice extended jam segments ("Goin' Down the Road" was a fine example of the collaborative, jammy spirit of the event) and both songwriting and improvisation came to light on "Sometimes A River" from last year's One Step Closer and the final encore, "Black Clouds" from the band's classic 1996 release Born on the Wrong Planet.
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