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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeWith guitarist Mark Karan back in the lineup following a successful bout with cancer, RatDog was a lean, mean jam machine at the Riverside with Bob Weir comfortably at the helm. With only one break between songs during both sets, RatDog flexed their muscle on their own tunes, gave credence to the beauty of some Grateful Dead classics and stirred up some interesting takes on cover songs in satisfying a throng of fans both old and young.
With an open jam to get their motors running at the start of the show, Weir and company were off and running by the time the played "Little Red Rooster," and Karan proved he's not only back in the band, he's back in good form-- laying down some serious guitar chops. A reggae version of "All Along the Watchtower" received much applause from the audience and moved many a dancing feet. Following it up with "Dire Wolf," RatDog would head to set break with the crowd abuzz.
The second set started with Hank Williams' "You Win Again," and the song break before "Catfish John," a tune penned by Jerry Garcia and not often played by RatDog, would be the only clear break between songs the entire night. A cover of "Come Together" into a reprise of "Birdsong," which ended the first set, woke the crowd up a bit as the second set wore on, and a rocking "One More Saturday Night" had the crowd amped late in the night to end their second set.
No longer considered a supporting cast, the talent Weir has surrounded himself with has created a band that is both synonymous with the Grateful Dead, yet a distinct creative force all their own. The adept changes in musical framework by bassist Robin Sylvester and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti melded seamlessly with Weir and Karan, and when combining the multiple talents of drummer Jay Lane, who also provided some vocals, and saxophonist Kenny Brooks, who delivered some blood vessel-popping solos, the band is free to explore just about any sound. Capping off the evening, a gentle "Ripple" sent fans home with thoughts of a band that has come together in a spectacular fashion and still has much to offer.
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