Nowadays, if someone says “We’re going to see the Dead,” they are probably using shorthand to refer to a popular TV show. But there was a time when such a statement would have meant a trip to a place alive with the music of a rock band called the Grateful Dead.

With the death of bandleader Jerry Garcia in 1995, the Dead were gone … well, not entirely. Beside the seemingly endless supply of concert recordings being released over the years, surviving band members have kept the spirit of that seminal 1960s Summer of Love group vital by continuing to perform Dead material as well as their own.

The man who held center stage with the Grateful Dead and centered their music with his rhythm guitar playing returned to the State Theatre with his band RatDog on Wednesday night. Though he’s now 66, California native Bob Weir is still rocking, especially when his band takes off on one of those legendary jams.

The sextet led off with three Dead classics in a row, each taken musically out for a walk on improvisational paths along the way. “Bertha” and “Dire Wolf,” particularly, gave keyboard man Jeff Chimenti a workout, the former featuring soaring organ and the latter countrified piano. “Cold, Rain and Snow” was considerably slowed down from the original recording made nearly 50 years ago but retained its punch.

The multigenerational crowd knew the tunes well and sang along on the chorus of each. To paraphrase the old saying, this capacity audience was definitely “on the bus” in embracing this music.

The electric bass of Robin Sylvester and the upright bass of Rob Wasserman churned up a mighty bottom with drummer Jay Lane for “West L.A Fadeaway,” a tune that also featured some alternately barking and howling guitar work from Steve Kimock and Weir.

Songs took Latin and Middle Eastern tonalities at times, as a relatively minimal but effective light show illuminated the swaying, balloon-bouncing crowd. A mashup of “Silvio” and “Tequila” drew the loudest response as the music stretched out at times, only to return to form for a vocal line from Weir.

A newspaper deadline precluded coverage of the band’s second set but, based on the first, there’s reason to believe that the “long strange trip” that started many years ago in San Francisco continues.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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