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VISITING ACT ‌ They're Here with Weir

RatDog jams on a broad foundation of musical ideas and personalities

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RatDog 2006: Guitarist Mark Karan (far left) has been jamming on funky blues, Rock, and Jazz licks with former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir for years
  • RatDog 2006: Guitarist Mark Karan (far left) has been jamming on funky blues, Rock, and Jazz licks with former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir for years
Bob Weir & RatDog
Thurs. March 16
8 p.m.
$39.50, $26.50
The Plex
2390 W. Aviation Ave.
225-PLEX
www.theplexonline.com

"RatDog's sound is definitely guided by our own influences, as well as what we do together as a band," says longtime guitarist Mark Karan. "Little by little, the band has morphed its way from a band that did a lot of standards and covers and blues tunes and the occasionally obscure Bobby tune — and staying away from the whole Grateful Dead lexicon of material — it has evolved into a rock 'n' roll band with a lot of pretty strong jazz underpinnings."

Bob Weir & RatDog initially formed as the RatDog Revue in 1995 (just weeks before the passing of Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia) when Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Bob Weir and bass player Rob Wasserman — a veteran of Weir's occasional solo projects — hooked up with guitarist and harp player Matt Kelly (of Kingfish) and drummer Jay Lane (of Primus, Freaky Executives). Weir and Wasserman had been playing duo shows since the late '80s.

Shortly after their first U.S. tour, Weir added keyboard player Johnnie Johnson, saxophonist Dave Ellis, and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti.

Mark Karan stepped in as main guitarist in 1998, replacing Matt Kelly. A Northern California scene veteran, Karan had collaborated with Weir in The Other Ones (alongside other former Dead members) and previously played with Dave Mason, Paul Carrack, The Rembrandts, Huey Lewis, Jesse Colin Young, Alex Cal, and others. Karan's own band recently issued a funky blues-rock album titled Jemimah Puddleduck (Quacktone), available at www.markkaran.com.

In early 2003, Wasserman decided to concentrate on his own projects, so RatDog enlisted Bay Area veteran Robin Sylvester — a bassist with a long-time close association with the legendary saxophonist Steve Douglas.

"It's really not even remotely the same band as it was, say ten years ago, when Bobby, Jay and Rob started it," Karan says. "It was an acoustic-based combo that was very driven by a virtuoso bassist. Different people have come through. The sound really depends on who's out at the front. If I'm going out and leading the charge, I'm probably not drawing from a very deep bag of jazz because that's not really my history. Whereas, if Kenny or Jeff take it out, they might go to some Thelonius Monk or Oscar Peterson places, so it's all over the place."

Through the late-'90s and 2000s, Weir and the ever-revolving RatDog lineup toured regularly, playing and jamming from the broad repertoire of Weir compositions, bluesy classics, and fresh reworkings of Dead classics. Arista/Grateful Dead Records released the band's first studio album, Evening Moods, in 2000. The double live album Live at Roseland followed in 2001. Their latest release, Weir Here (Hybrid), is a double-disc retrospective of Weir's long winding musical career. Many in Weir's fanbase consider what the band has done in recent years the most sophisticated work Weir's done in a very long time.

"The audience is certainly different from gig to gig," says Karan. "The venue really determines that. Truthfully, I find jam band people to be pretty opinionated, pretty narrow in their opinions because of the stuff that they do reject. There's certain kinds of music that falls under the umbrella of being OK. There's a lot of it, and it's wonderful that it's such a broad swath of music being appreciated. But I'm a believer that good music is good music, whether it's country-western, or a '30s jazz standard, or be-bop, or hip-hop ... it doesn't matter."

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