Fans of Weir’s Ratdog can opt for an instant replay

As of last week, devotees of the Grateful Dead have their choice of 36 historic concerts, reissued on CD as part of the psychedelic pioneers’ Dick’s Picks series. That’s a lot of listening—but not as much as former Dead guitarist Bob Weir has made available to fans of his latter-day Ratdog project. Visit that band’s Web site (www.ratdog.org/?) and you’ll find a link to a total of 188 live recordings—available in triple-CD, MP3, or FLAC formats—documenting every concert the Bay Area–based sextet has played since October 11, 2003.

And those who are truly dedicated to reliving the Ratdog experience have an additional option: if you visit the group’s merch table during one of its marathon live shows, you can preorder a recording of that night’s music and it will be waiting for you within minutes of the concert’s end. New advances in CD-recording and -mastering technology have turned the Ratdog tour bus into a miniature pressing plant, and Weir reports that the band’s fans are increasingly taking advantage of this instant-replay option.

“I’d say about one in 10 end up buying a recording, so it’s working out real well for us,” he says via cellphone, while navigating the clogged streets of rush-hour San Francisco.

Going over past set lists, it’s easy to see why listeners might want to collect multiple Ratdog live recordings: the band’s signature mix of Grateful Dead tunes, Americana standards, R?&?B covers, and Weir originals changes radically from night to night. Staples include the singer-guitarist’s enduring, anthemic “Playing in the Band”, Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, and the jug-band classic “Minglewood Blues”, but on this tour Weir plans to switch things up by featuring some new compositions.

Maybe it’s the traffic or the less-than-perfect cellphone reception, but this never-prolific songwriter is reluctant to disclose too many details about Ratdog’s new songs. But he does let slip some of the topics they cover, before signing off to attend to the road.

“Oh, you know, we’re going through a romance in one tune,” he says, laughing. “We’re going for sort of a take-the-money-and-run story in another one, and there’s one about a dragonfly tattoo. We’re trying to hit all the bases we can.”

Ratdog plays the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (February 18).

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