Jan. 25, 2012
Tamalpais Research Institute
Better than: The Internet sensations of today.
Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir put the finishing touches on his live HD webcasting venue and studio, San Rafael's Tamalpais Research Institute (TRI) in March of 2011. Last night, a little less than a year later, he reunited there with his post-Dead band, RatDog, for an invite-only performance that was broadcast to over 100,000 viewers on the studio's website.
The band sounded incredible. And that's coming from someone who couldn't necessarily name more than a few Grateful Dead songs or pick any of the key players out of a lineup, save perhaps Jerry Garcia (and that might only be recognition from a certain ice cream carton). But judging from the audience's ubiquitous head-bobbing dance moves and lyric-mouthing, it was easy to pick out the RatDog favorites like "Money for Gasoline," and Grateful Dead mainstays like "Eyes of the World" and "The Music Never Stopped." Last night's was a mixed crowd, with a surprising number of younger folks milling about and, impressively, singing along.
In typical Dead fashion, it was hard to know where one nine-minute song ended and the next began. But one thing was obvious: Split between the performance studio and the lounge, where the broadcast was being aired on the highest-definition screen I've ever seen, the 100 people in the audience were enjoying themselves immensely. And not just because the event was catered with gourmet finger food and Lagunitas IPA on tap. RatDog truly put on a flawless show.
You go to a rock concert and sure, you get to see and hear your favorite band. But often the sound is less than stellar, your view is obscured by the tall guy in front of you, and you can't see the drummer. Which is why multiple-camera live in-studio videos have become the rage. La Blogothèque may have taken it to the streets, but high-quality, professionally mixed videos by tastemakers like Yours Truly have given you a behind-the-scenes view. TRI Studios offers a similar experience, but in real time and on steroids -- imagine Yours Truly with Birkenstocks and a trust fund.
Over a long career in one of the most famous bands in history, Weir acquired the resources to make TRI a very impressive sound studio. Along with massive bandwidth capabilities, high-speed streaming servers, fancy cameras, consoles, and monitors, TRI is furnished with a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound Constellation system, which allows the acoustic properties of the room to be altered with the touch of a button. (To the layman -- me -- this means that, whether you want the room to sound like a cathedral or a basement, it can do it.)
Last night was the first RatDog reunion in two years. It also marked the first time this particular lineup of eight incredible musicians shared the stage. The group included Weir, fellow Grateful Dead bassist Rob Wasserman, Kenny Brooks, Jeff Chimenti, Mark Karan, Steve Kimock, Jay Lane, and Robin Sylvester. The show started at 5 p.m., likely because it allowed East Coasters to enjoy the show at a reasonable hour, but possibly because the days of playing until 5 a.m. are behind these veteran rockers.
RatDog plays again tonight, Jan. 26, at the re-opening of Marin's Sweetwater Music Hall. The Mill Valley venue closed its doors in 2007, after 30 years of attracting legendary musicians like Jerry Garcia, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, and Bonnie Raitt. Thanks to Weir, who is one of the main investors, the local landmark is opening its doors once again.
With TRI Studios launching a new, technologically advanced performance space, and the Sweetwater back in the mix, Bob Weir is emerging as the man who, paradoxically, could bring Marin County back into the modern music scene. It might be time to dust off your Grateful Dead records, or, as probably the case for many Bay Area diehards, pluck one from your most-recently-listened-to pile. And Weir hopes to get the attention of a younger generation with his live studio broadcasts, so bands might want to set their sights on TRI Studios as a space to watch, or, possibly, a studio to work in.