He was recently highlighted on an episode of "CBS Sunday Morning" for his recent work with Internet streaming live music from his state-of-the-art TRI Studios in San Rafael, Calif., and a documentary about his life, and work titled "The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir" is set to debut at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April.
On top of that, he's in the midst of touring with his band RatDog, including Monday night's sold-out stop at the Pageant, as well as dates at numerous spring and summer music festivals, proving that, nearly 20 years later, there is still life after the Dead. Since the untimely death of Grateful Dead "leader" and icon Jerry Garcia, and the subsequent dissolution of the band in 1995, Weir has played and toured with various incarnations featuring other Dead veterans Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, among other like-minded musicians, including the Dead, the Other Ones and in recent years, Furthur. But RatDog has been a constant in his life since early '95, when the group officially formed as a vehicle for Weir and longtime collaborator, bassist Rob Wasserman.
Like most of Weir's post-Dead projects, RatDog has evolved throughout the years with a changing lineup of talented musicians revolving around his lead vocals, rhythm guitar and the songs of the Grateful Dead, as well as original Weir tunes and covers. Although they have mostly been on hiatus since 2010, RatDog reformed this year, featuring Weir, Wasserman, drummer Jay Lane, bassist Robin Sylvester, keyboardist/organist Jeff Chimenti and longtime Dead collaborator Steve Kimock on lead guitar.
The Pageant was packed from the dance floor to the balcony as RatDog took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. With little more than a nod, they launched into "Hell in a Bucket," a tune aging Deadheads can appreciate more and more as time marches on. Though Weir makes his bandleader status clear, Kimock immediately proved himself a perfect fit as the two riffed off each other. He stole the show more than once throughout the night with his lilting guitar solos, a sound influenced by, but without being a copycat of, the late Jerry Garcia.
Tearing into "New Minglewood Blues," Weir proved his voice hasn't wavered much, as he growled powerfully, "I was born in a desert, raised in a lion's den," to fans' delight. With a few exceptions, RatDog kept things fairly mellow. The haunting "Lost Sailor" had Weir working his falsetto before giving way to the more upbeat "Saint of Circumstance," lit up by Chimenti's keys, to close the first set.
The second set began with Weir playing acoustic guitar and Kimock playing an acoustic hollow body for a slowed-down, plucky version of "Me and My Uncle," followed by Weir's lovely signature cover of "Me and Bobby McGee."
As seems to be the tradition in most Dead-related tour stops in our fair city, RatDog played two classics that mention St. Louis specifically: Johnny Cash's "Big River" and an exquisite version of the Dead classic "Black Throated Wind," as well as an obligatory Chuck Berry tune, the predictable "Around and Around" as a second set closer.
When blues legend Johnnie Johnson was still alive, it was also tradition that he'd sit in with the Grateful Dead and all of its later incarnations on their St. Louis stops. It was therefore fitting that local trumpeter Jim Rosse and saxophonist Stuart Williams (known as The Sliders), who toured with Johnson's band, joined RatDog in the middle of the second set. Their horns gave "Eyes of the World" a jazzy element, complemented by the rich, double bass sound of Wasserman's stand-up and Sylvester's electric.
The energy in the room reached its climax during "Turn on Your Lovelight," with Chimenti churching it up on the organ as Weir preached, "Let it shine on me!" and the floor turned into an all-out dance frenzy. Weir then left the stage for a brief break, turning the spotlight over to Rosse and Williams, who led the band through a super-funky horn-driven jam.
When Weir returned, he "paid respect" to his former band-mate and dear old friend Garcia with a quintessential vintage Jerry tune, "Black Peter." Weir, along with everyone else in the room, seemed to truly miss Jerry, and though beautifully executed, it proved a bittersweet moment.
After the high of "Love Light," the melancholy encore of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was somewhat of a letdown. Though well performed, it's always been one of my least favorite Dead encore songs and I'm a firm believer in ending things on a high note. But, after all, Weir is 66 and it was nearly midnight, so perhaps he was just tired.
When it comes to seeing aging rock stars, I always try to keep my expectations in check. No, Weir doesn't look or sound quite the same as he did 20 or 30 years ago. Does anyone? No, it wasn't perfect. Then again, the Grateful Dead's beauty often stemmed from its imperfection. And although he now has more than just a "Touch of Grey," Weir and RatDog are still performing high quality shows that ultimately capture the music and, most importantly, the spirit of the Dead, and for that, fans, including this one, are still Grateful.
Hell in a Bucket
New Minglewood Blues
Jus' Like Mama Said
Saint of Circumstance
Me and My Uncle
Me and Bobby McGee
Eyes of the World*
Turn On Your Lovelight*
Around and Around*
Knockin on Heaven's Door
*With Jim Rosse (Trumpet) and Stuart Williams (Saxophone)