Phil Lesh & Friends
The jury has reached their verdict. We have found Mr. Phil Lesh, formerly of the Grateful Dead, to be the new Godfather of rock and roll. Sorry, JB, but there’s a new Godfather in town and you’ll recognize him by his big brown bass.
Since the beginning of his solo career Phil has carefully chosen different musicians to join him on stage to be formally initiated into the “family”: Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, Ryan Adams, Joan Osbourne, Trey Anastasio, Chris Robinson, Rob Barraco and more; The list goes on and on. They’re musicians young and old, famous and obscure; they may sing or play the guitar or the piano. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that being chosen by Phil to play as one of his “friends” is baptism by fire. It’s an honor bestowed by the Godfather that says: “the time has come for you to take the torch and carry on our musical tradition.”
When the Fall ‘07 tour was first announced the line-up was not that surprising: the heart of the band, the rhythm section, remained the same, of course: Phil on bass and the incomparable John Molo (from Bruce Hornsby & the Range) on drums. Steve Molitz (from Particle) came back on keys and Larry Campbell (from Dylan’s tour band) was featured on lead guitar and string instruments. But there was one new addition: a kid named Jackie Greene – a complete unknown. Sure, we would’ve loved to get C-Rob back or Joan or Ryan. But as the saying goes (for good reason): In Phil We Trust.
Per tradition, pre-show festivities were held at Fajitas & Ritas. Over the years the quality of the food has really gone downhill but they still get the nod due to low prices and pitchers of Sierra Nevada and Coors Light on tap. All too soon, it was time for a quick trip through the West Street fadeaway to the historic Orpheum theatre.
Security at the Orpheum has reached epic police-state levels, with full searches and shakedowns. Not really much of an issue for me, but it’s amazing to think how much things have changed in just the last 10 years and how accepting of poor treatment we all are these days. At least you can’t beat the location or the acoustics.
Thankfully, the mail-order seats were brilliant – 5th row center right in front of Larry. Big thanks to Kenny B. (sorry you missed the show) and Ruby (now we’re even!)
On to the show:
Set 1: Cosmic Charlie, So Hard to Find My Way, Deal, Tell Me Mama Tell Me Right, Cold Rain and Snow, The Night They Drove ol’ Dixie Down, Alabama Getaway
“Cosmic Charlie” was a great opener. It’s a fun, weird song and they totally nailed the harmonies during the a capella finish. They moved into the first Jackie tune, “So Hard to Find My Way,” a straight blues number, and the kid showed his stuff. Next up was a nice “Deal” with Jackie displaying some solid harp work. Another blues tune “Tell Me Mama Tell Me Right” led into a “Cold, Rain & Snow”, which Larry completely owned. Now, I’ve never been completely sold on Larry as the lead guitarist for this band but this was the night that he totally won me over. Larry was nothing short of amazing and this show was his coming out party. At this point I heard (or imagined) a “Wheel” tease but no one else seemed to have heard it. An unexpected “The Night They Drove ol’ Dixie Down” followed and the first set closed with a decent-version-of-a-lame-tune “Alabama Getaway”.
Let’s just say that by the end of the first set there were no concerns about Jackie’s ability to sing, play guitar, piano or the harp. Jackie put on a very impressive performance, to say the least.
Set 2: Shakedown Street, Mississippi Half-Step, New Speedway Boogie, Loan Me a Dime, Other One, Down on the Valley Woe, St. Stephen, The Wheel, Sugar Magnolia/SSDD
After the break, the second set started out the way God intended it to – with Phil laying down a heavy bottom for “Shakedown Street”. Both Molitz and Jackie shined during Shakedown and you could just feel the positive energy on the stage, in the crowd, and all around. And it just got better and better – a fun “Half-Step” a great “Speedway Boogie” – what a beautiful run to get things started.
Next up was a little personal redemption. I’ve taken a lot of crap over the years for my undying love for Boz Scaggs, so imagine my reaction when Jackie busted into a solid version of “Loan Me a Dime” – Boz’s signature blues jam. Next up was an “Other One” where once again Jackie and Larry were all over the place. Another Jackie tune, “Down on the Valley Woe,” followed, and it was amazing how much energy the band put into playing the Jackie tunes. Then we got a stand-alone “St. Stephen”, a real “Wheel” materialized and the energy finally peaked with a “Sugar Mags/SSDD”. Phew! That was an incredible set.
E: “Brokedown Palace”
A great night was capped off with a perfect “Brokedown”. This band has it all: great vocals, amazing guitars and a surprising level of “group-think” for a band that’s only played together for a month or so. Jackie was a great fit for the 1968-ish vibe that Phil gets going.
Yup, Phil did it again. He managed to make something that sounded very old and very new at the same time. He discovered yet another diamond in the rough. He rewarded our faith and trust. He was, in every way, the Godfather. Thanks, Phil. Until next time…