By Michael Lello

Photos by Jim Gavenus

SCRANTON – One day after a good but not great set that took some time to get cooking, Bob Weir and Ratdog hit the stage on night three of the Peach Music Festival primed and hot, opening with a sinewy “Bird Song,” an emphatic “Jack Straw” and the hot funk of “West L.A. Fadeaway.”  By “West L.A.,” it was apparent that the band was dialed in and dealing.  Weir doubled the time between the lines in the verses, deepening the already cavernous pocket.

Lead guitarist Steve Kimock took a beautiful, lyrical solo, conjuring both Jerry Garcia and Mark Knopfler, before the band slipped into “Cassidy.”  Using amusing hand signals, the capri-pantsed Weir led Ratdog threw various chord changes, building tension, quieting down, re-entering the theme and melting into “Dark Star,” which was started Friday.  The band played through a verse instrumentally, before Weir sang the “Mirror shatters . . . ” verse.

weir band vertThe next two songs, “Even So” and “October Queen,” might’ve been a buzzkill for fans not familiar with Ratdog originals, but both were well-played and entertaining.  The latter, a jumpy tale of a preacher’s annual visit to a New Orleans hooker, would’ve benefited from horns; where is Kenny Brooks?

“October Queen” slid into a reggae-fied “The Other One,” with Ratdog still kicking around the “October Queen” melody.  Weir sang the first verse, still in reggae mode, then  moved to the front of the stage, chording with wide arm sweeps, blasting into a full-blown “The Other One,” drummer Jay Lane playing with reckless abandon.

The latter-day Garcia ballad “Days Between” was a revelation.  Slow and elegiac, Weir patiently built the song’s intensity, strumming harder, and invoking memories of past Garcia tearjerkers like “Stella Blue.”  Ratdog original, the playful “Two Djinn,” was up next, before a celebratory “Not Fade Away,” which drew the loudest singalong of the weekend thus far.  The band put down its instruments while the crowd continued to chant “You know our love will not fade away,” bowed, and left the stage.

The Allman Brothers Band’s Saturday night set was more experimental and interesting than Friday’s.  The band hit the stage with “You Don’t Love Me,” and a hard rocking cover of Dr. John’s “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” followed.  Haynes – who appears to be the ABB’s de factor leader – guided the band through a new song, “Dusk Til Dawn,” before Gregg Allman’s familiar rolling piano licks signaled the start of “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” which drew a hearty crowd response.  Radio hits “Blue Sky” and “Melissa” were also crowd favorites, the latter with Allman on acoustic guitar.

Kimock joined the ABB for “Dreams” and was given free rein to pick out leads, but never really pushed the envelope.  Derek Trucks and Haynes took over, trading leads and driving the song into higher territory.

With a psychedelic image of Jimi Hendrix on the screen behind them, the ABB took on his trippy “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be),” with Haynes on vocals, bassist Oteil Burbridge handling the spoken word portion, and Marc Quinones playing tympani rolls over meandering guitars, which led the band into “Mountain Jam.”  Haynes played a beautifully constructed guitar solo, leading the band back into “Mountain Jam,” which the ABB concluded the end the set proper.

allman vert2The Allmans wrapped up their two-night run with a fiery “Whipping Post” encore, Gregg giving the ending epic flair, singing “Good Lord, I feel like I’m dyin’” with extra passion.

The ABB and Ratdog were preceded by the indefatigable Haynes’ pride and joy, Gov’t Mule.  Mule started with the Southern Sabbath sounds of “Steppin’ Lightly,” before Haynes said, “I’m just gonna warn you right up front that anything can happen at Peach Fest.  It’s gonna get a little crazy.”  That would include, he said, songs from Mule’s upcoming album “Shout!”  Haynes and company fulfilled that promise with the country rock of the new “Scared To Live,” before he introduced the plaintive “Beautifully Broken” with Mule’s now-standard “Purple Rain” segment.  The lengthy instrumental “Kind Of Bird” featuring a quick “Happy Together” tease, was up next, before Haynes introduced another “Shout!’ track, “Captured.”  “Captured” is based on a Pink Floyd-esque tempo and featured some textured playing by Haynes before he unleashed one of his trademark solos.

Haynes then brought out what he called “the three tenors” – tenor saxophone players Karl Denson, Ron Holloway and Bill Evans – for an extended rendition of “The Devil Likes It Slow.”  Each player got a turn to solo, and while it was a fun moment, it wasn’t exactly a successful experiment.  An eerie, introspective cover of Bill Withers’ “Hope She’ll Be Happier” was up next, followed by a heavy “I’m  A Ram.”  Mule closed its set with a medley of “Thorazine Shuffle” and “Funny Little Tragedy,” also from “Shout!”

While the live show is the primary focus of the jam-band community, with Haynes having already conducted a “Prepare to Shout!” tour, inserting “Shout!” songs into the Peach setlist and bringing his Mule Van to the venue to promote the record, you get the impression that it’s a record he’s proud of and hopes fans take notice too.

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