“So we’ll do a walk in, in C, we’re going to start with no groove at all; you can come in…” Phil Lesh took the stage with his band, and gave these instructions. A member of the audience repeats, “No groove” to the laughter of the room, and then the band enters without hesitation into ethereal space.
Phil & Friends April 22, 2015 Set 1
<blockquote> Jam >
Here Comes Sunshine >
The Wheel >
Eyes Of The World >
Turn! Turn! Turn!
Cold Rain & Snow
Crazy Fingers >
Uncle John's Band
Phil & Friends April 22, 2015 Set 2
<blockquote> Jam >
Dark Star >
St. Stephen >
Millennium Jam >
Mountains Of The Moon >
Fire On The Mountain
Not Fade Away
Encore: When You Wish Upon A Star
Tonight is not an ordinary night with Phil Lesh and his friends. Tonight, Phil welcomes innovative jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and drummer Billy Martin into his circle. And they deliver a full three and a half hours of beautifully exploratory music, focusing on songs written by the dynamic song-writing duo of Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia. Only two songs this evening derive from alternate sources: Pete Seeger’s seminal anthem to hope: "Turn Turn Turn" and the Harline / Washington classic of Disney fame, "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Two other songs from the early Grateful Dead songbook make their appearance: "St. Stephen," penned by Garcia, Lesh and Robert Hunter, and "The Eleven," penned by Lesh and Hunter.
But this is a night about deep improvisation. The opening segment consists of four flawless performances, "Here Comes Sunshine" > "The Wheel" > "Eyes of the World" > "Turn Turn Turn," spanning a dynamically mellow 50 minutes. Bill Frisell holds mostly to the internal harmonies of the music here, ensuring that repeated listening will yield constant discovery. Both "Here Comes Sunshine" and "Eyes of the World" have Phil slowing down the band to ethereal space before the third and final verses.
As for the music that ensues between the songs, there is no shortage of off the cuff improvisation. Most guitar leads are held by Dan Lebowitz, of Animal Liberation Orchestra, although Frisell asserts himself with some twisted antics at the fifteenth minute of the first track. Rob Barraco plays capably in his own jazzy style here, bringing his own voice to the songbook, as does Lebowitz. The band is deeply intent on doing nothing even close to what the Grateful Dead might have. Bill Frisell stood confidently with a warm smile, playing with the respect of a visitor, adding his colors and counterpoints without ever stepping into a dominant role.
The band flies out of "The Wheel" with abandon, creating a rich web of interwoven lines without ever growing muddy or incoherent. Phil leads them from the fringe into a bluesy interlude, which is attacked with increasing vigor by the whole greater than the parts, until Lebo comes in and risks the hand he’s dealt, holding with restraint to context in a fiery solo that paves the way to an opening of the groove and a near stumble into a lilting "Eyes of the World." Phil sings his own melodic interpretation to the verses, the harmonies are beautifully nailed, thanks to Rob Barraco and guest backup vocalist, Alex Koford.
After bringing the band to a near stop, the finest moment of "Eyes" lasts a relative few seconds before the band launches into the third verse. Quality over quantity here.
The dreamy vibe continues, and Lebo moves over to a lap-steel type instrument (the one on a stand), placing Bill Frisell in the sole guitar position, carrying the proceedings with the fullness of a piano, the clarity of tone, outlining melody, chords, orchestral movement to his voicings, and compelling solos that float openly in the air. He seems to capture a balance of both the music present and the music implicit. During the second solo break, in a single solo verse, he works the music from three octaves, implementing chords, arpeggios, rolling lines, and impeccable timing to construct a solo that sounds deceptively simple, and yet is rich with layers of tonal extrapolation. That’s three solos worth of content in a single verse.
A competent "Cold Rain and Snow" with Phil’s lyrical modification follows ("Well, I married me a wife / and I love her like my life…"). Phil adds to this "Cold Rain and Snow" with a bonafide bass solo.
"Crazy Fingers" is the loose point of the entire evening, with Bill reading along carefully on a chart, Barraco offering the lyrics as well as I’ve heard them sung, great solos by Barraco, then Lebo, and a great out jam with the classic Phil Lesh triplet arpeggio figure, and a "Jessica" quote from Leboitz. A full-sounding "Uncle John’s Band" rounds out the set, with another great solo from Bill Frisell.
During set break, I took a walk around Terrapin Crossroads. Walking into the bar, Phil’s son, Graham Lesh, was playing with Jude Law and another great ensemble, playing tribute to the songbook of the Mother Hips (I do believe). At the bar, pizzas and other good foods accompany a great group of happy music-loving folks.
Heading back into the Grate Room, I was taken by the all wood floors, walls, ceiling, the trippy chandeliers, and the cool folks, musicians and fans, gathered together for the evening. The room’s acoustics are outstanding, never ear-splitting volumes; crystal clear and beautifully mixed.
The lights went down. The band takes the stage, and once again, a freeform space jam begins. And then something happens. Like the Grateful Dead on their most dangerous nights, they start playing the chromatic dissonances contained in the space. For five full minutes, they dwell in the abyss, dropping deeper and deeper like a stone to the bottom. And when sound meets sedimentary rock, Phil leads the band into "Dark Star." With all harmonic possibilities on the table, Frisell gets comfortable and, within a few minutes, has taken over the undercurrent of the groove into something wayward and funky, and the whole band goes along for the ride. 17 minutes later, Phil commands the band back into Dark Star and sings a single verse. In all, this track spans 29:29 in modern time, but it felt like no more than 15 or 20 minutes as the excitement went off the charts. This leads into an arpeggio-effects laden "Bird Song" that continues the exploration, and brings 41:00+ minutes of improvisation to a tender conclusion.
Stepping up the beat, Phil takes "St. Stephen" at an accelerated pace, and the band nails it. This leads into "The Eleven," and it’s a hell of a ride. The next 32 minutes brings a timely "Mountains of the Moon" with the lyrics “Hey! Tom Banjo! / It’s time to matter” never sounding more present, followed by a fantastic take on "Fire on the Mountain," played within Mickey Hart’s composed melodic-rhythmic figure more present than it has been in several years. A celebratory "Not Fade Away" extends well beyond its usual form and brings the set to a close.
Phil precedes the encore with his plea for his audience to offer their organs to save lives, should anything ever happen. Phil Lesh completed 2008 by receiving a liver transplant for Hepititus C, and thanks Cody for saving his, as well as 7 other lives by donating his organs when he met an untimely fate. Phil’s gratitude can surly be felt here, and the music that went down here deeply impressed him. As he said: “I have no words… Bill Frisell!”
For the encore, Bill took over, and lead the band through an instrumental take of Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” complemented by Lebo’s slide steel virtuosity. Although this song was attempted once or twice with Further, to less-than-competent results, it was fully realized here.
All in all, this was my favorite Grateful Dead-related event I’ve had the pleasure to attend since Jerry passed away. This was one tight band!
Now, one thing that’s awesome about Terrapin Crossroads is that, with regard to many of the Phil shows (with exception to some with guest artists), the show can be purchased a mere 15 or 20 minutes after the band leaves the stage, in a crystalline soundboard mix of 24-bit WAV files. And when you meet a rare evening like this, it’s great to know that you can take the results home for further exploration.
And although it was nearly 1 in the morning, Graham Lesh and friends were still blasting away in the bar. What better way to conclude the evening than listen to a few more tunes before heading out.