Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday at the Greek Theatre; Grace Potter and the Nocturnals Open for Phil Lesh & Friends

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

Right after the Langerado music festival, I bought a ticket to Phil Lesh and Friends' concert at the Greek Theatre in LA. I thought Phil Lesh's latest lineup was the best that he had in years and they were one of the many highlights of Langerado. When I scanned their tourdates, I jumped at the chance to see them at the Greek.

I found out several weeks later that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were opening up for Phil Lesh, which is sort of big because Phil usually doesn't have an opening act. It was great news because both Nicky and I have been on a huge Grace Potter kick over the last couple of weeks.

The Greek Theatre is nestled in the hills of Los Feliz. I had only been there once before for a Trey Anastasio Band concert in the summer of 2001. Since they had an early curfew of 11pm the door opened at 4:30pm and Grace Potter was scheduled for a 5:30 start time.

Nicky woke up early to take her mother out to brunch. I stayed in and worked on a deadline. We left before 4pm and got up to the venue around 4:30pm. The Greek has stacked parking for $15 which means once you get into the parking lot... you're stuck until everyone in front of you leaves.

We hung out for a bit in the lot. I have never seen the Grateful Dead in California, although I caught a couple of Phil & Friends shows, it's not quite the same. Sure, there are Deadheads all over the globe, but the hard core ones live and still live in California. I was quickly reminded of that after being in the lot for a few minutes. When I used to follow the Dead in the early 1990s, I was part of the Gen-X crew of Deadheads which meant that my hippie counterparts were two decades older. That still held true at Phil and Friends. It was kinda cool to be around real hippies, the originals and the ones who started it all. A couple of them saw the Dead as far back as the Acid Tests in the early 1960s.

We didn't hang out for too long in the lot because we really wanted to catch Grace Potter's set. We motivated shortly after 5pm and stopped at a bathroom in the parking lot on our way over to the venue. It was a tiny bathroom with three urinals. I stood in line at the doorway. An older Deadhead (a dead-ringer for Richard Dreyfuss) wearing a tie-dyed shirt rushed past me. We had to tell him that the line started behind me. He apologized and I noticed right away that he was far gone.

"We're in California, right?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Los Angeles to be exact," I assured him.

"Right on."

I pissed in the far urinal and the hippie guy took the one next to me. There was a window where you could see out into the parking lot. He commented on the big old school bus that had a cut out of a VW bus on top of the roof.

"It's the bus," he said. "Here, have these."

He held out his fist. I finished up my urination and zipped up before I unfurled my hand. He dropped tiny two cubensis mushrooms in my palm. By the looks of him, he must have ingested a fair amount.

I usually turn down drugs from strangers especially psychedelics. I made an exception. Buy a ticket and take the ride. The mundane always becomes extraordinary when you involve mushrooms.

Nicky and I made our way into the venue and there was no pat down by security. We bought $10 beers and found our seats towards the back of Section B. There's no really bad seat the Greek and we were almost aligned with center stage. The walk in music was bluegrass covers of Phish... Rift and Cavern.

Grace Potter came on at 5:30pm. She played for less than 45 minutes.
5.11.08, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

Set 1: Ain't No Time, Treat Me Right, Stop the Bus, Nothing But the Water > Drums Jam > Nothing But the Water, Apologies > Mastermind, The Big White Gate
Grace is the obvious shining star with a sultry voice that reminds me a bit like Edie Brickell mixed with a tinge of Janis Joplin. Grace also plays piano and guitar. Depending on the song, she'll even play both.

I recognized every song they played and Nicky wrote down the setlist since she knew the title to every song. The highlights for me were Stop the Bus and the Nothing But Water sandwich which included a drum jam where everyone in the band got up on the drummer's riser and beat some sort of percussion.

At one point, Grace mentioned, "I love hearing all the random shit that you guys yell. Keep it up, because we'll actually answer you."

One guy from the back screamed, "Show me your tits!"

The shrooms weren't extremely strong, but they definitely kicked in towards the end of Grace's set.

It would be almost an hour before Phil Lesh took the stage. In the meantime, I drank a couple of more $10 beers as the venue eventually filled up. I dunno if it was sold out but there were plenty of open spots. I'd say it was 85-90% full by the time Phil's set began.

Two older hippie guys sat in the row in front of us. Next to them were two hipster chicks sipping white wine. There was also a family of four nearby. I forgot that Deadheads often brought their kids to the show. The old guys befriended the hipster chicks. One of them pulled out a tiny prison joint and they smoked up only to be caught by a security guard since our section was not filled up by that point. The guard didn't throw them out and only said, "You can't do that here."
Set 1: Shakedown Street, Friend of the Devil, Bertha, Ball and Chain, Beat It On Down the Line, Cummberland Blues, Sugaree
Phil Lesh took the stage around 7:15pm. The tuned up for about five minutes before they busted out a crowd pleasing and blustery version of Shakedown Street. The gang jumped into a jam right away and didn't wait to get heated up. Right off the bat, it was obviously that it was Larry Campbell's night to shine. He and Phil ripped it up during Shakedown. There was one section where Phil soloed a few notes and then Steve Molitz on keys replicated them before they transitioned out of the jam and back into Shakedown Street. I thought they were going to segue into The Wheel, but they abruptly stopped. Jackie picked up an acoustic guitar and Larry went for a fiddle as they played Friend of the Devil. It's one of those songs that make me miss Jerry whenever I hear it.

Bertha was high energy and Larry continued to lead the way. The great thing about bands with accomplished musicians is that on any given night, someone steps up and is the MVP of the show. Jackie took those honors at Langerado. Even though it was still the first set, Larry's stellar playing early on set the tone.

I thought the flow of the set was disrupted by Ball and Chain (not exactly what I wanted to hear) and BIODTL (a sloppy version). The shrooms started to fade away and smoked heavily during those tunes while the hipster girls in front of us hit their peaked wastedness.

They saved the set with Cummberland Blues. That song was one of the highlights of Langerado and they did not disappoint with their version at the Greek. They closed the first set with a mellow yet powerful version of Sugaree, although I expected Jerry to materialize on stage and finish it off properly.

I drank a couple of more beers during setbreak. Those 24 oz. Coronas for $12 pack a punch.
Set 2: New Speedway Boogie, Devil Take Your Mind, Jack Straw, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Unbroken Chain > The Wheel > Franklins Tower

E: Box Of Rain
I always have this weird theory that if you listen to music in the car on the way to a concert and happen to be listening to the same band you are about to see, inevitably, that band will play at least one song that you heard on the drive to the show. Phish used to do it all the time and it was always cool when it was an obscure song or a serious bust out.

This instance we listened to New Speedway Boogie on the way to the Greek. I mentioned it to Nicky that I hoped they played it and sure enough, they opened up the second set with a resounding version. Devil Take Your Mind was a classic Pauly Takes a Piss song. The trio of Jack Straw followed up by China > Rider was the highlight of the second set. Jackie stepped it up but Larry continued to plug away.

The second set ended with a three tune sandwich of Unbroken Chain > The Wheel > Franklin's Tower. It was a unique choice of songs to segue into each other. I kept hearing them tease The Wheel since the start of the show and it magically appeared. Franklin's came out of nowhere for me. Never expected that! Stellar version.

The encore included the standard donor rap where Phil expressed his gratitude for the kid who died and donated his organs which Phil desperately needed after decades of damage. That was followed up by Box of Rain.

Overall, it was an above average show highlighted by Larry Campbell's guitar playing. I thought some of the song selection was blah, but they managed to do a solid job with the songs that I didn't want to hear. The crowd was friendly but my section was super mellow.

I had high expectations for Phil and Friends after Langerado and they didn't quite meet that high standard which I set. In Langerado, my expectations for Phil and Friends were low because historically speaking, festival sets rarely stand out. Phil kicked everyone's ass to close out Langerado and that's why I expected them to do the same at the Greek.

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