Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens & Chad Berndtson
Photos By: Dino Perrucci & Marc Millman
reCAP :: Phil Lesh & Friends :: 2015.11.06 & 2015.11.07
Nov 08 / Sunday
For those in the know, The Capitol Theatre might as well be called Grateful Dead Headquarters. With bands like JRAD, DSO, Billy and the Kids and Phil Lesh and Friends, the venue consistently offers the best Grateful Dead cover bands in the land. During the first week of November, Phish Lesh and his friends played a run of shows at the capital to a fervent sold-out crowd and the reviews to both Friday and Saturday night’s experience are below.
Friday, November 6
There's a Grateful Dead show from December 1971 at Felt Forum that includes a marvelous passage through "Dark Star > Me and My Uncle > Dark Star > Sittin' On Top of the World." There are better versions of all those songs from that same year, but the progression among them pinpoints a psychedelic Americana sound that held sway over the Dead through so much of that era, and that was foundational to New Riders of the Purple Sage and bands like them.
Almost 44 years later, that sound is still thrilling, and when Phil Lesh & Friends includes that most reliable of psychedelic cowboys, David Nelson, and a supporting cast exceptionally well-versed in the sonic territory in which spacey rock 'n' roll, country, blues and roots gel enough to erase their supposed borders…well, there's a darn good chance of pie-eyed, spur-stepped magic.
Nelson, who was in the Dead orbit 50-plus years ago before there even was such a thing as a Dead orbit, is as much key to the personality of this group as Phil himself. But this show, much like the 2/19/71 recreation the night before, drew a little something from all of its players: John Molo, Jason Crosby, Scott Law and the indefatigable Barry Sless. They returned to that psychedelic cowboy sound often, whether in the Nelson/Hunter composition "John Hardy's Wedding," or in a slow, pedal steel-dappled version of "The Weight," or a rambling "Panama Red" to close set one, or a gnarly "Uncle John's Band" jam.
Adding Graham Lesh and Elliott Peck to help close things out added to the familial, hootenanny vibe. And you have to underline any show with a rare John Molo vocal. "White Lightning," Mr. Molo. It was a hoot.
: Deep Elem Blues, John Hardy's Wedding, The Weight, Tennessee Jed, White Lightning, Pride of Cucamonga, Panama Red
Set II: Shakedown Street > New Speedway Boogie, This Wheel's On Fire, Lady With a Fan > Terrapin Station, Uncle John's Band, Jack Straw*, Lovelight*# > Not Fade Away*#
Encore: Box of Rain
*w/Graham Lesh, guitar and vocals
#w/ Elliott Peck, vocals
Saturday, November 7
From the opening notes Saturday a fan could notice that they were playing with more energy than Friday night. They were just trying to feel it out during an uneven “Minglewood Blues “but managed to pull it together for a raucous “Loose Lucy.” The crowd loudly sang in uniform, as if a message to the band with the “Thank you for a real good time” line. People were dancing with purpose as Crosby shared meticulous piano fill during an extended spacy jam. Other highlights included a bouncy and familiar “Dire Wolf, Phil played 33 shows at the Cap in 2014 and clearly he feels very comfortable. Similar to most jam bands, the vocals are not the strong suit here but Lesh demonstrated he can still bring it by delivering a pinpoint vocal to the somewhat obsure “Operator.” His voice is in a similar low register as Pigpen’s was on the record Phil sings best on his own material and the crowd favorite, “Unbroken Chain” was buoyed by his youthful like exuberance, particular once the song transitions from its mellow beginning to an up-tempo jam. There were no song segues in the first set. The psychedelic projections, including the skull and roses, adorned the Cap walls throughout and were a stellar visual addition to the proceeding.
After a lengthy one hour set break, the professional musicians delved through “Mason’s Children” before attacking the barn burner which is “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin Band.” The band was peaking as its members took turns with mesmerizing solos. The song was pure raw energy and the fans were engrossed in the adulation. Then the familiar opening chords of “Cold Rain and Snow” lured the fans closer, although the nuance of Jerry Garcia’s vocals are desperately missed. The highlight of the night was the “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain” which was buoyed by Phil dropping mini bombs throughout and the popular song duo created a danceathon throughout throughout the entire venue.
There are 324 Grateful Dead cover bands in the United States according to GratefulDeadTributebands.com. Even at 75 and recently diagnosed with bladder Cancer, it’s safe to say that Phil Lesh, and his rotating cast of characters who join him, belong at the top of the list. The quality of the music means that as long as Phil still wants to do it, loyal fans will keep buying tickets in droves.
Set I: (Original) Minglewood Blues, Loose Lucy, Garden of Eden, Dire Wolf, Operator, Wicked Messenger, Unbroken Chain
Set II: Mason's Children, GDTRFB, Cold Rain and Snow, Mountains of the Moon, Scarlet Begonias-> Fire on the Mountain,The Wheel, Viola Lee Blues
Encore: Big Railroad Blues
The Capitol Theatre Photo Gallery
Photos by: Dino Perrucci & Marc Millman
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