Sunday, February 12, 2006

Phil Lesh and Friends 2.11.06 Review

I can't recall the last time I saw Phil and Friends. Over the past few years I came to the conclusion that in the era after Jerry Garcia's death that we call Post Jerry, that the best shows were from Phil and Friends over any other variation of the Grateful Dead with either The Dead or Ratdog or whatever was put out there. And without a doubt, some of the best Phil and Friends shows featured Warren Haynes on guitar.

Almost seven years ago, I caught one of the best concerts of my life. Senor and his brother all flew out to San Francisco to catch one Phil and Friends show at the Warfield Theatre. It was my first time at the Warfield and the show was special because Phil had just gotten healthy after a liver transplant he played a three show run that featured Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell. Yes, as Senor explained, "It's my favorite members of Phish playing Dead songs in San Francisco!"

That was the first time I ever caught Phil and Friends and although Page and Trey had not played with him since, I've still seen Phil Lesh the most out of any Grateful Dead incarnation. I think I just don't like Bob Weir and the element that he brings to the lineup. Phil Lesh is and always was the backbone and glue of The Grateful Dead. Once Pigpen died, the focus was on Jerry Garcia. Mickey Hart was with the Dead on and off during the early 1970s and the keyboard player was always revolving gig, which meant the core of the band was Jerry, Phil, Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzman. The Phil and Bill combo was a killer, especially during that Europe '72 run.

The last time Bruce saw Phil and Friends was a couple of Decembers ago on New York City when Bob weir showed up. Even Bruce isn't fond of Bob Weir and scorned his playing for the duration of the concert.

Anyway, Phil Lesh had a brand new lineup and it was going to be interesting to see how everyone played together. One of the older guys I met before the show told me that one of the guitar player's played in Bob Dylan's band.

I met Bruce at Gray's Papaya as the first traces of the blizzard starting coming down. Bruce had an unusual request. he wanted to hit up a bodega for a beer. That never happens. Bruce is not much of a drinker. I rarely saw him drink more than a few beers in one night. Regardless, Bruce wanted a beer even though he knew I still offered to buy him one once we got inside. We found a bodega on Amsterdam near P & G and Bruce scored a Corona, which he sipped out of a brown paper bag. We walked in the snow towards Broadway and I spaced out for a second and forgot Bruce was still drinking a beer. I made a beeline for the Beacon Theatre. When I realized that he was still drinking, I decided to turn around and head down a side street. At that moment, a heard some guy ask, "What do you got in the bag buddy?"

It was a NYPD sergeant who smoked a cigar and you could see his bulletproof vest on over his uniform. He busted Bruce for an open container and drinking in public. Bruce started mouthing off to the cop. In most normal circumstances, the cop tells you to pour it out and that's that. But this time, Bruce was a victim of a ticket blitz. He got a summons because the city needed to generate income so they decided to bust hippies smoking weed and drinking in front of the Beacon. Anyway, Bruce was pretty ticked off. He has an issue with authority types in general and hates cops out right. I started to get worried because we were both holding some nugs and if the cops wanted to fuck with us, they could have decided to search us and sent us to lock up for the night.

"Be cool. Just keep your mouth shut," I warned Bruce.

There was an outside chance they'd send me to the clink, but if Bruce started mouthing off any more and got all worked up like he does, he was gonna say the wrong thing and piss off the cops. They were cold as is and didn't want lip from someone who was obviously breaking the law. I told Bruce that he was lucky he was some crusty kid or a minority, otherwise he'd be in the back of the squad car after being busted for possession of marijuana.

Moving on...

Bruce got his summons and I froze my ass off waiting for the cop to write up his ticket. We finally headed inside and I love the Beacon Theatre because of their laid back security. I grabbed a Bud for $6.50 and sat down. We had lower balcony seats and ended up in the second row on the left hand side which gave me a great view of the stage. Bruce was still steaming after getting busted by the cop and he eventually got in a much better head space by the time the show started. It was not sold out and we could have gotten walk up tickets in the top of the balcony if we wanted. The crowd was much more older than me and laid back. There were not that many hot chicks around, at least in my section. Nothing like at a Phish show or the motherload of quality talent at a DMB show.
Set 1: Jam > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Scarlet Begonias > Jam > The Wheel > Let It Ride, Cumberland Blues, Uncle John's Band
Phil came on at 8:20 and they opened up with a jam that went into China Cat Sunflower. Bruce is a drummer and right away he noted that Jeff Sipe was pretty good. He exceeded my expectations and was the best of the three new guys. Also with Phil was Rob Barraco who've I've seen with both The Dead and Philand Friends. I saw Barry Sless play with Phil and Friends at Vegoose and thought he was good. Larry Campbell was Dylan's guy who also played the fiddle/mandolin.

Joan Osbourne sang backup vocals. She came out for I Know You Rider. The sound was a little muddy and the got off to a good start. The late arriving crowd was into it while Bruce and I started our smokefest up in the lower balcony. One of my favorite Grateful Dead tunes is Scarlet Begonias and it's always bittersweet to hear it without Jerry. Alas, Joan harmonized effectively and they didn't segue into Fire on the Mountain. Instead they opted to go into The Wheel, which was where they finally picked up the pace. At that point, it had been just Barraco and Phil Lesh holding the band together. Both Sless and Campbell finally got their act together and started playing some decent solos.

Then they killed the energy of the set with a Ryan Admas tune. I headed for the bathroom. Let It Ride was the Pauly's Gonna Take a Piss Song of the show. Judging by the line in the men's room, everyone else had a similar reaction. I bumped into a friend of a friend in the hallway and made an empty promise to give her a call if I'm ever in Eugene, Oregon. She remembered my name and I forgot hers. I think I kept calling her Marcia when her name was Marcie or something like that.

Cummberland Blues was the highlight of the set for me because I never expected it and I never saw the Dead perform it at any of the shows I saw. I judged the quality of the songs by the audience's reaction. In the balcony you can determine that from how much the balcony shook during songs. The hardest it shook during the first set was during Cummberland. Phil ended the set with Uncle John's Band and Bruce commented how he liked the jamming parts instead of the lyrical parts. It's hard to hear without Jerry's voice. Larry Campbell played the mandolin on UJB and that gave it a distinct sound. Dave Grisman played it on the original recording.

They played for over an hour and twenty minutes and when they came back on again at 10:30, they played for almost another two and a half hours. You definitely got your money's worth as far as the length of the show.
Set 2: (With Warren Haynes) Shakedown Street > Jam > Viola Lee Blues > Hard To Handle > Jam > Viola Lee Blues > Bertha > Jam > Viola, Gypsy Woman Jam/Bartering Lines > Feedback > Caution > Feedback > Fire On The Mountain, Not Fade Away

Encore: Strawberry Fields > Comes A Time > Golden Road
The second set had lots of peaks and valleys. The jams were hit or miss and I wasn't into the Caution > Feedback jam as much as Bruce. However, the addition of Warren Haynes into the set was the difference between smoking ditch weed and the highest grade marijuana. Warren Haynes is that amazing of a musician that he raises the level of intensity of the show with everyone else playing better around him. The last time I noticed something like that was when Trey Anastasio showed up and sat in for two songs with Widespread Panic at Vegoose. If you get a chance listen to those two songs... Thin Air and Slippin' Into Darkness from Vegoose... some sick ass jamming from Trey and Panic if you ask me.

Anyway, the crowd loved every second of Shakedown Street. It brought a smile to my face for sure and that was the hardest that the balcony rocked all night. And yes, Warren ripped the shit out of it. They segued into a tight Viola Lee Blues which they interwove for the remainder of the second set. Warren Haynes sang the first verse of Hard to Handle and it's sad that most hipsters only know the version from the Black Crowes, because Pig Pen's versions fuckin' smoked. Take a peek at this fatty version from 1971. Joan took over the second verse and came out to sing to the crowd. They segued back into Viola and into Bertha for a bit then back into Viola Lee Blues.

I lost interest during the half hour or so when they played Gypsy Woman Jam/Bartering Lines > Feedback > Caution > Feedback. Bruce was into it, but I felt they could of used that time better especially with Warren there. I was hoping for some random Jerry tunes with Warren on vocals. I sat and smoked for most of that time and got back up again for Fire On the Mountain and Not Fade Away. I was pleased to see the Beatles cover of Strawberry Fields that featured Barry Sless on steel pedal. They ended the show with Comes A Time (and Warren Haynes on vocals) and Golden Road.

Overall it was a decent show. Not the best I saw, but there were plenty of individual highlights. The drummer Jeff Sipes impressed me the most and it will be interesting to see if he can keep up all that energy for the duration of their tour. Warren Haynes was the most valuable player and was the star of the second set despite that half hour lull where they lost me. It happens. Barraco is always going to play solid along with Phil Lesh. Larry Campbell had a great moment during Uncle John's. Based on the setlist from Friday night, I was hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed so I went in with low expectations and walked away pretty content.

I paid $50 for the ticket. The concert was probably worth $39 considering they lost me for a while. I had a ticket for next week's show at Hammerstein, but I'll be in Los Angeles for work for two weeks and have to skip it. Galactic was in LA this past weekend, and they'll be gone just as I arrive.

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