Hey everybody, sorry I haven't posted in a while, but hopefully this post will make up for it! As you may recall, I went to see Phil Lesh and Friends again at the Capitol Theater, down in Port Chester, NY this past weekend. They were doing a 4-night run and my parents and I saw the last two shows on Friday and Saturday nights, and it was an unforgettable experience. Phil was playing with John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti, Joe Russo (all three of Furthur fame, of course), Larry Campbell, and Teresa Williams. They also had Boyd Tinsley, the fiddler from the Dave Matthews Band, about whom we weren't as thrilled to see on the bill, but were still intrigued and excited to see how he played with the band. This line-up, excluding Mr. Tinsley (who despite my hesitation tore down the house several times and was a great addition), is the line-up to see in my opinion. It's all of the instrumental brilliance that I love from Furthur (of course lacking our good friend Bobby), but with the powerhouse couple of Larry and Teresa that has graced the presence of Levon Helm, Jorma and Jack, and just about anyone else who likes to play good music. But that's enough prelude, let's dive into the first night!
Ok, a little more prelude. Faithful readers will recall I had some (overly) hopeful setlist predictions posted on here about a month back, thinking that this tour would have a similar theme to the last one, namely covering an album or particular artist each show. However, if there was any underlying theme to this run at the Capitol Theater, it was kick-ass jams and balls-out rock! They did some unusual covers and unfamiliar songs, but mainly stuck to the Dead repertoire with some really incredible jams in and out of almost all of them. On the official setlists many of these jams were named, and almost all of them were from song lyrics, although the jam itself wasn't necessarily related to the song the lyric was from...odd.
So Friday night we ate at the same Mexican restaurant (Kiosko) in Port Chester that we went to back in November. In fact, we went there both of these nights and both times it was equally as amazing! We then got in line to get in, didn't get to the very front of the stage, but were only in the second row for the whole show. My uncle and aunt were in the balcony for the first half, but met us down on the floor for the second set. We spent some time admiring the theater and chatting with the ever-friendly Capitol Staff, and then the lights went down and the show went on! While I had been in the front row for the last Phil show, being this close for this lineup was even more of a treat. I've gone on before about how Furthur is the Dead for my generation, so seeing the backbone of the band up-close-and-personal was really an awesome experience, let alone being that close to Larry and Teresa!
Alabama Getaway (JK), Friend of the Devil (PL) > Jam* > Little Sparrow* (TW), Just a Little Light* (JK), Just Another Whistle Stop (LC & TW), Lazy River Road* (JK & PL), Big River* (LC & TW)
China Cat Sunflower (JK) > Bird Song* (TW) > I Know You Rider* (All), Midnight Highway* > (LC & TW) Jam > Mason's Children (All) > Dark Star* (PL) > River Deep, Mountain High* (TW) > Dark Sta*r > Not Fade Away* (All)
Encore: Tennessee Jed (LC& TW)
*w/ Boyd Tinsley
Alabama Getaway has been moving its way up my list of have-to-get Dead songs, and even though I confused it with Hell in a Bucket when they started (nobody's perfect!) I was glad to get it. In a way it set the tone for the rest of the show; great leads from John, Larry, and Jeff, with Joe synching up perfectly with Jeff whenever the latter took a lead. The jam before the final lyric definitely left the musical realm of the song to venture a little far out, but only to come slamming back into the final verse with an astronomical amount of energy. They toned things down a bit on Friend of the Devil, which featured Larry on fiddle (why not Boyd?). Phil sang the alternate final lyric, "you can borrow from the Devil, you can borrow from your friend. Devil got a twenty dollar bill but your friend only got ten. Set out running...", etc.
This launched into the first real Jam of the night, interestingly named the Irony and Spite Jam, which is a line from Just a Little Light, although there was no similarity to that particular song. Larry switched to his mandolin for this one, and was the premier of Boyd for the night. The interplay between the whole band was incredibly intricate, and the acoustic instruments really gave it a beauty and simplicity that put smile son all of the faces. John even used a particular filter on his guitar that I've heard described as his banjo sound, and it fit in very nicely. At the climax of the jam Larry and Boyd were right up in each other's faces caught on the thread of the music, but Boyd got a little too into it and for the first time that night his fiddle bow went flying out of his hands! He recovered quickly though, and the jam went rolling along until it gently fizzled out and reformed as Little Sparrow, a Dolly Parton song I was unfamiliar with. This was Teresa's first song in the spotlight and she absolutely killed it. Her voice can range from unstoppable powerhouse to hauntingly delicate, and this song required almost the whole spectrum.
Before moving on in the setlist, I want to go back to the Irony and Spite Jam to point out something that happened all throughout both nights. Phil would step to the mic and whisper something to the band that only they could hear, and it always preceded a thematic change in a jam, or a uniform change in direction back towards a song. I heard many voicing the opinion that this was killing the improvisational spirit of the Dead, but I think rather it was Phil playing conductor and musician at the same time. While it maybe kept the band from finding their own direction spontaneously, it also kept them from noodling aimlessly, and they seemed like simple directions. I didn't get the impression that Phil would say, "Ok, boys, let's do Jam 3 that we worked out," but instead would just suggest a chord progression or style for them to switch to. Sometimes you could see an underlying theme that may have been rehearsed, but every jam still had that magic X-Factor that only comes from group improvisation.
Just a Little Light may have been the low point for the show, but only because there was some communication problems in the outro jam where John (and formerly Brent) would riff on the the "just a little sweetness [jam for 'x' amount of time], just a little light" motif. But it really was well done for the rest of the song, and this has been a favorite of mine since I saw Furthur kill it in Boston almost exactly two years before these shows (04-06-12). John's voice, while lacking in grit, is great for a lot of Brent songs, and even some Pig Pen songs, not just Jerry facsimiles. This song also leads me to another tangent that can be found in both nights we saw: Larry Campbell as a guitar god.
I've seen and heard Larry play with Phil before, as well as Levon and Hot Tuna, but it wasn't until these nights that I realized that he is not only a multi-instrumentalist, but a guitar-shredding-monster! He reminds me of Garcia in a few ways that John never brought to mind for me, most importantly his "paragraph playing." I'm not sure how else to describe it, it's no that he thinks of a particular line or snippet to play, but he has an array of related lines that he already compiled into one paragraph to play before he even hits the first note of the first line. On every lead he took for both nights I was captivated and awe-struck by his musical genius, and the multi-dimensionality of his playing.
But back to Friday night, with a song by the Band that I knew, but was unfamiliar with, Just Another Whistle Stop. My dad recognized it immediately and was all grins while they played it. No fireworks here, but still some great music on all parts. The same can be said for Lazy River Road, the next song on the list. While familiar with this one, I hadn't heard it enough to be prepared for its distinct beauty. While unmistakeably a Hunter/Garcia tune, it has a few different sides to it apart from its main motif, and featured some great ensemble singing on the choruses. They then closed the set with a slightly different Big River then it would have been with Bobby at the helm, but this ship rolled down the river just fine and with some real rock 'n roll leads!
The band left the stage, we got some breathing room and were met by my aunt and uncle while we patiently awaited the next set. There were some obnoxious drunk people trying to step on everyone's toes and squash us up against the people in front of us, but this was gently dealt with my the shear rationality of less-drunk Dead Heads. We noticed during the break, while the lights were still dark on-stage, that Phil had a new bass that was all black, with countless nobs on the bottom, and a red dragon on the fret board. To top it all off, the fret indicators and the nobs all glowed red, and the dragon reflected all of the stage lights! Soon enough the lights went down, the band came back on, and it was time to dance again!
To my great joy, they opened the set with China Cat, a long-time must-have for me! This version wasn't exactly perfect if it you hold it up next to Dead and Furthur versions, but it was still really damn good! I was totally expecting a China > Rider, but the Bird Song in the middle was a real treat, especially with Teresa's beautiful singing. I had hoped for Phil to sing at least one line of it, because he normally sings "something like a bird within him sang" nowadays as an allude to Jerry that I think is really nice, but there can be no complaints about Teresa's singing. The jam from China Cat to Bird Song had a lot of momentum going in and the tempo would mellow down for a bit only for them to bring it back up, with John and Larry trading licks freely and Jeff at the piano filling the gaps between those two and Phil on the grand piano. It eventually reached a swinging, jazzy plateau, with Bird Song teases coming from all around and Phil coming to the fore-front of the jam.
Bird Song itself was, to be honest, shorter than I would have liked (~10 minutes), seeing as P&F and Furthur can both go on for 17+ minutes, but I'll admit I'm being greedy. And it's not as if this version was short or poorly played in any manner! As I mentioned before, Teresa's singing was so beautiful on this piece, and the whole band really locked into the music and each other's playing (except one vocal flub by Larry). Even Boyd, who at other times in these shows could seem a little lost or unsure of changes (like many guests of the Dead have in the past), was totally in-synch on Bird Song.
The outro jam eventually reached a point where it was obvious to many that they were going to complete the China > Rider segue, but the first lead of the song still elicited many surprised 'woo's and cheers. This was definitely a highlight of the night, with all lead players playing for keeps. Joe and Jeff were at it again breaking rhythms down into syncopated fills that didn't lose the rest of the band for even a second. They finished this up and took a pause for everyone to catch their breath, and calmed the room down with a serene Midnight Highway. I don't know much about the song, and a cursory google search didn't bring up much, but it seems like an old country song and it was very nicely done, with some minor iffy moments from Boyd. They jammed out of this nicely, and the real meat of the show started to emerge from the jam.
They rocketed into Mason's Children, a song that almost made it onto Workingman's Dead but faded out of Dead repertoire until after Jerry died. It's another song that Furthur does that sounds like it could have been written for them, and that translated completely to this iteration of Phil and Friends. It's a great opportunity for Joe to go absolutely ape shit, which is a damn good thing if you ask me! Everyone was playing to the limit and everyone in the theater was either dancing madly, standing awe-struck with their mouths hanging open, or some odd combination of the two (me). This song transitions so nicely from balls-to-the-wall rock n' roll to outer space jams and back that it's a wonder the Dead never brought it back into the rotation; imagine a '77 or '78 Mason's! This one rolled back and forth between its extremes until finally ending up in a crawling, creeping, space filled with organ swirls from Jeff, all of it pointing towards one goal where they inevitably ended up, just like they did at that same Boston show in 2012, in Dark Star!
Phil picks up the speed once they get through the intro riff, and the jam focuses around the main theme for a bit before Phil steps up to the mic to sing the first verse. Surprisingly, the vocals didn't transition from one person to another like Furthur does it, and Phil sang all the verses, with everyone (especially the crowd) joining in for the "shall we go" lines. What followed was an incredible adventure in musical improvisation. With the help of Boyd, without whom it would not have been the same, they drifted through different levels of dissonance, consonance, and rhythmic variations, finally ending up in a delicately balanced space, where eerie things were happening just around the corner....but never fully manifested. This melted down into silence, from which emerged an unfamiliar riff and Teresa stepping to the mic.
River Deep, Mountain High is a Tina Turner song that I'd never heard before this night, and it was one hell of a transition from that Dark Star we had been in the middle of! Real funky, syncopated riffs and upbeat tempo with Teresa doing her biggest voice and persona right in front of us; wow! Everyone was shaking off the psychedelic cobwebs that has accumulated while we were transfixed just minutes before and dancing their asses off, and Boyd even stuck on stage to help build up the frenzy. They were closing this up and you could tell everyone was wondering if they were going to continue the Dark Star or jam into something else, but it was soon apparent that they still had unfinished business in outer space with a certain celestial object.
With Teresa's final "huh!' in River Deep, the music unfolded in its different directions and the weirdness was back! Boyd was giving us some kind of dematerialized classical motif while on either side of him the dragons and aliens were clearly scheming to get him, but he didn't seem to mind. Phil was right up against his amp, simultaneously creating feedback and drinking from his cup; being a dragon is clearly thirsty work. They emerged from the nebula into a tight, harsh jam with the Furthur vets all putting something into the mix and Larry and Boyd stepping back a little, although they were by no means free from the responsibility of creating the jam that landed them back in the orbit of the Dark Star. During the final verses the band wasn't just vamping on the main theme, but going in some slightly different directions all at the same time while still keeping the rhythm right for Phil to sing. The outro didn't mellow out or drift away, but instead kept pumping until the familiar Buddy Holly beat materialized.
Not Fade Away is yet another song that was knocked off the list of must-haves this night, and it did not disappoint! Larry once again proved himself to be a truly gifted master of the guitar, but John was not to be outdone. John had caught fire at the beginning of the set, and that fire not only burned throughout this night, but got bigger and bigger until Saturday's final note (but more on that later). They didn't go on for too long with this one (~8 minutes), but what they did play they played perfectly. They finished the song by vamping on the chorus for a bit, but instead of leaving the crowd clapping and singing before the encore, they closed it off with the signature starting riff and left the stage.
Phil came out for the donor rap after just a little bit, and then they closed the night with a great Tennessee Jed. Not a typical encore, but yet another song I was glad to finally hear live. They did a slightly different intro to it that Larry and Teresa had done with Levon Helm, and they had different harmonies than the Dead had ever had for it, and they were all spot on. Larry was playing a real lively slide guitar for most of it, and the country spirit was alive and well. They finished this up in a big way, leaving everyone cheering while Phil introduced the band and they all hugged. We got back to the car before the rain really started coming down, had some much-needed snacks at the hotel the whole family when we got back, and called it a night.
The next day we ate at a diner right across the right that I can confidently describes as an above-average diner that has incredibly fast service and the best diner coffee you can imagine. They also had mini juke boxes at every booth, but we figured that they were probably just used for profiling purposes. We left there and went to a big old mansion and grounds called Lyndhurst Estates, where some rich family had a drafty bowling alley and an unprecedented view of train tracks and the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was pretty nice, but even on a sunny spring day the wind was freezing. We agreed that if they set up a stage in front of the bowling alley that the rest of the property would make a passable amphitheater for a concert, but there were no rich people near-by for us to convince of such things. My Aunt and Uncle left for the day, having tickets only to Friday's show, and we headed back to the restaurant to eat before the show. After seeing the rowdy crowd on Friday we decided that this night would be less rowdy, and that we wouldn't get quite drunk ourselves to skimp on bathroom trips (it's hard getting to the front once the show starts!), to have less cups to hold, and to avoid attracting more drunk people to us. We got in line earlier than the night before and were able to be in the very front right in front of Jeff's organ; the view we had of his shins was, like the view from Lyndhurst of the bridge, unprecedented! We made friends with a Finance professor from UMass Lowell and more of the Capitol staff until the lights went down, and the band came back out!
Mississippi Half-Step (PL), Peggy-O (PL, LC, & TW) > Jam > Crazy Fingers* (JK), When the Stars Go Blue (PL & TW), Cosmic Charlie (PL & JK), Operator (PL), Bertha (JK)
Passenger (LC & TW > Jam > Shakedown Street (JK), Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning (TW) > Jam > Mountains of the Moon* (TW) > Jam > Fire on the Mountain (JK) > Scarlet Begonias Jam > Eyes of the World* (JK) > Unbroken Chain (PL, duh), Uncle John's Band* (All)
Encore: Morning Dew (JK), Box of Rain* (PL, duh, again)
I know I keep saying this, but right off the bat I got another song crossed off my must-have list. Mississippi Half-Step has always been a long time favorite of mine, and this one lived up to all my expectations. P&F and Furthur both add an answering verse to the "Half-Step, Mississippi Uptown" lines, which I think is kind of cool, and it didn't even really screw them up this time! I mentioned before that John caught fire on Friday night, and from his first lead it was clear that he didn't want to be in Larry's shadow at all this night! He played with a confidence and precision that I've never seen in him before and it was honestly inspiring. They finished that song up nicely, and Larry picked up his bouzouki for the next song, a lively, folky Peggy-O that featured Phil and Larry doing the male lines and Teresa doing the Peggy lines. Avid readers may recall me rhapsodizing over the Peggy-O we saw Phil sing in November, but this one is worlds apart. The three of them were all singing with incredible passion, and the interplay between Larry's bouzouki, John's "banjo" filter, and Jeff's grand piano was stunningly beautiful, and even Joe the Beast found ways to be at once quiet and dominating. We were having some trouble hearing Jeff at times in the first set, but it would disappear over the set break.
Coming out of Peggy-O is the questionably named Twenty Degrees of Solitude Jam; I challenge you to find any hint of Mountains of the Moon in this jam! What you will find, instead, is something even more beautiful than the first set jam from Friday, something I wasn't sure was possible until this night. It actually reminded me in the beginning of the old Mind Left Body Jam, but then it takes a turn down a vaguely Eastern alley with Larry leading the way with his incredible bouzouki playing.
This ended up with Phil throwing them into Crazy Fingers, Larry still on the bouzouki and Boyd coming out with his fiddle, giving it a very medieval feel; a classical version of the song, if you will. In fact, if John had busted out some classical guitar playing we probably would have shifted back in time, or at least to a near-by renaissance fair. As it was, though, we all remained right there in the Capitol listening to John singing this Blues For Allah gem. Boyd sometimes made a wrong step, but his playing overall, for that whole night actually, was spot-on. He seems to have found a room for his voice much better than in the previous shows, and has a better sense of where the music is going. This is another Furthur specialty, so it was no surprise that this was a very well done song. The outro jam especially went some really cool places, until it ended up transitioning into what must be a Larry and Teresa number...no wait, it's Phil and Teresa!
When the Stars Go Blue is a Ryan Adams country tune that I'd never heard of, but was still an excellent song. Phil and Teresa were singing really well together with some great harmonies and individual lines. The chorus harmonies could get a little stressed, but there was never a sour moment the whole song. Larry stayed on his bouzouki and Boyd went away for a while, and they finished the song up nicely with leads from John, Jeff, and Larry right before the end. After this Larry switched to his electric guitar again an they all tuned up, drank some water, and scratched their asses.
Cosmic Charlie was next, with them rolling the intro up until it burst into the the song itself. Normally for Furthur a Bobby and Phil effort, John provided just as good of a companion for Phil. I've always felt a special relationship to this song after Furthur played it in the second set of my first show (3/29/11), so it was really a trip to be seeing the same guys doing this song right in front of me! Every time they did the intro roll it built the whole place into a frenzy, and Larry took that frenzy and stirred it up even more when he took his first slide lead. After the last lyrics the jam was mellowing out a bit, but Larry and his slide once again came in and got everyone dancing with Jeff bubbling behind him. John and Phil brought it back down once again, reminding us that our mothers were calling us; well my mother was busy swaying to the music in front of me, but I'll always remember it as a powerful sentiment on that cold March night in Binghampton...
Anyway, back to 2014! Up next was Operator, with Phil singing a song for his old friend Pig Pen. Larry was on the mandolin for this one (shades of David Grissman) and the rest of the band bouncing along to the tune. Larry proved once again that no matter what instrument it was, no matter what time of day, he can kick some serious musical ass! Jeff and John more than held their own with their own leads, but Larry had all eyes on him whenever Phil wasn't at the mic. Another break for Larry to switch to his electric guitar, and it was time for some serious goddam rock n' roll!
Just like that night in Binghampton, they close the set with Bertha, and they mean serious business. John, who has been killing it all night, keeps the band pumping along, and even though both Larry and Jeff take their own solos the the edge, John wants everyone to remember why he's there. The jam really kicks into high gear with sparks flying everywhere. Kadlecik never gets greedy on stage either, and soon he, Larry, and Jeff are throwing the lead across the stage like it's a hot potato until it explodes all over the place! They come back into the lyrics with all the control of a shuttle pilot coming in for a landing, only to take off again into the stratosphere, with Phil dropping bombs everywhere! They build up the end of the song until the only people in the house not dancing were either dead, or too awe-struck to move at all. They left the stage to the sound of raucous applause and a fanfare of cheers. The intermission passed as expected, but with a lot less rowdy or obnoxious people; in fact, there was no one that night who was anything other than pleasant that I can recall. After a bit, the lights of course went back down and we got read for whatever dragons they were gonna let loose in the next set!
They opened the set with Larry and Teresa doing their best Bob and Donna for Passenger. Between John being even more on fire, Jeff killing it on organ, and Larry on slide guitar, there was nothing but serious rock n' roll going on, and everyone was dancing to the music. You'll notice I don't usually mention Phil when I'm dealing out superlatives, but that's because it should go without saying he was standing out in his own band. But for this set it is well worth mentioning he was playing at the top of his game for every song. Not only did he lead the directions the jams would go in, but he would leave enough room for everyone to have their leads, without stepping all over them when he had a new direction to go in. The jam after Passenger, for example, Phil is clearly leading the way out of it, but everyone is still equally important in the journey as a whole. Eventually they find themselves getting pretty funky, with Larry really going at it, and we end up in yet another song I've been waiting on, Shakedown Street.
Holy damn. The whole band is going crazy and I can't stop dancing! Larry and Teresa continue their Bob and Donna impressions backing up John on vocals making sure we know that we can never tell. The lead section is where we really hear from Larry about just how little is shaking on Shakedown Street. It's like he's playing to a disco in the stars that needs just a little more rock to get the place dancing. That paragraph playing I was talking about earlier really comes into play here, with him not batting an eye or missing a single note as the song goes on. Jeff ain't gonna be shown up now, though, and he recruits Joe to help him tear the house down a little bit; as if he needed any help! Being that close to them you could see the glances and interactions between those two as if it was a thread connecting them. But here comes John to get himself a piece of the funk, and with Larry laying down the rhythm guitar the two of them really show us what guitars are for. During the closing lyrics it becomes clear the John has been infected with the disease that makes Bobby make weird noises on stage, but it's really not a bad thing. For a bit he sings the notes he's playing, but you could see him lose it on stage, and he laughingly accepts his mistake and passes the lead to Larry to recollect himself. They keep the jam alive for a while, drifting away to and from the Shakedown neighborhood. They eventually let the song simmer down to nothing, until Larry signals the next song.
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning is a Rev. Garry Davis blues number popularized by Hot Tuna. Furthur did this with Larry and Teresa the night before 11/11/11 at Madison Square Garden in fact, that night they did 7 of this night's songs on that night as well. This is another opportunity for Teresa to just belt it out, and that she did with the band playing this snake of a blues song. It's got a kind of hazy feel to it, and while it's not much of a jammer, the solo section leaves plenty of room for the guys to do their work. This transitioned into the Dancing Out on 7th Street Jam, the name being derived from a lyric in When the Stars Go Blue, and this one is actually aptly named, as well as beautifully performed. They leave the Stars theme and start drifting into more far out reaches of space while Larry switches to his bouzouki again. Soon enough the approaching song is clear through the mist, as Mountains of the Moon.
Much like Furthur does it, this version is very stretched out and goes to places it never went to in'69. Teresa steps to the mic again for this one with Larry singing back-up, and the song becomes like an age-old lullaby; never has it been so sweet of a song. Boyd comes back onto the stage and adds graceful sweeps of his bow before the first verses. Larry's bouzouki is slightly reminiscent of a harpsichord, which is of course the classic instrument of this song. The acoustic interplay between him and Boyd puts this song even further back into medieval times, while John keeps it clear that they are also very close to space. Larry really catches fire in the jam before the final verse, with the others just fueling the flame. Who ever said the bouzouki wasn't a psychedelic instrument? They finish the lyrics and go into the outro jam that, if anything should have been named, should have been called Lunar Sunrise Jam, but as it is it gets no official name. The name occurred to me instantly during the show listening to John playing over all the others on the way down out of the mountains, it was like coming around the bend in a mountain range and suddenly there's the sun shining in your face, but on the moon!
This name became even more appropriate when they turned the corner into Fire On the Mountain! I was surprised by this song because they had done a jam on this song in an earlier show (well worth listening to as well, it's shifted into some kin of minor key), but I was by no means disappointed. John sang the lyrics a little looser than normal, but it still all held together, and everyone got a chance to shine in the spotlight. The band at this point was in full telepathic hyperdrive, and every solo really featured the whole band, from the inception to the resolution of the solo, with Larry murdering the first one, so it was excusable when he came in for the chorus a little early. John took the next one and gave it a good thrashing; it was hard to tell where the fire from the mountain ended and the fire from John began! While he doesn't seem to think in the musical paragraphs that Larry can create, he is a master of linking distinct statements to create a panorama of sound. Coming back into the lyrics always showed the audience how in-control this band was; they could drop the beat and let just one person (usually Phil or Joe) just do their thing for a measure or two and the rest of the band would snap back into it as without a single slip up. They finish this up, and go into a Scarlet Begonias Jam, making us think they were maybe doing the classic duo in reverse order (a cool thought!), but it was just a tease/launching pad into Eyes of the World!
If there's one song that all Dead Heads can agree on and dance to, I think it has to be Eyes. Certainly the whole Capitol Theater felt like it was floating from all the bodies rising falling. Boyd came on stage with a purpose to kick some ass, and kick ass he did! After John sang the first verse (and the whole place sang the chorus) he stepped to the front and gave his fiddle hell. After that it was Jeff's turn, and he and Joe turned the stage into a jazz monster right before our eyes. John, not only a great lead player, is an excellent rhythm guitarist, and was filling the spaces between Jeff and Joe perfectly, leading the jam in alternative directions while also following Jeff. Phil thunders across them all, they close the first jam with Furthur's signature close to it, and John launches into the next verse, with the band shrinking and swelling behind him. Next comes the guitar solos, which I expected to be the same as the first solo section, one player at a time. But instead John ropes Larry into perhaps the hottest point of both nights, a beautiful guitar conversation about Eyes of the World that got each player to walk across the stage to each other and just stared at each other. Phil was all smiles during this, and I couldn't even dance, I could only stare at the sight immediately in front of us. John signals the end of the jam, and they come into the final verse amidst so many cheers you could barely hear the band for a moment. They jam out of the final verse, but stay along the basic Eyes theme for a while, then stray, at Phil's whispered cue, into a slightly different theme for a while. During this interlude Larry again proved himself to be guitar royalty, with Boyd and the others answering his calls, then it resolves into a more delicate, wandering space.
This formed into one of Phil's big songs, and another one I've been hoping to get for a while, Unbroken Chain. He sang the whole song beautifully, and John and Larry's telepathic interplay was still completely intact from Eyes of the World. Larry proved as well that not only can he rock out and play blistering leads in regular rock songs, but he can play just as well in odd time signatures! The jam in Unbroken Chain switches from 11/4 to 15/4 time, and it repeats with the multiple takes the do for the different leads. I didn't doubt Larry going into it, but he really showed that it's going to take a lot more than fast, polyrhythmic jams to throw him off the scent of the music! They build the jam up into frenzies and bring it back to a simmer, and then they build it right back up, eventually coming back into the main part of the song and the final lyrics. The final jam slowly built up with Larry at leading the band onwards into the western wind. After thrashing the song about for a bit they finally let it down and took a small breather while Larry picked up his mandolin.
They closed the set with something we heard them doing in the sound check, Uncle John's Band, yet another must-have off the list! Everyone in the theater was looking a little worn out from all the dancing, but this song let them sway pleasantly while singing to a song so good even your non-Dead Head friends like it! Boyd was back with some excellent fiddle work, and Larry's mandolin brought images of the riverside where Uncle John's Band was playing. The first jam went nicely along with John and Larry taking solos. The big jam in 7/4 came up and got as weird as you could expect, but didn't quite break into another dimension, but none of us minded, it was late in the set! They closed it up beautifully and left the stage for a bit. Before the Donor Rap Phil took a moment to really thank the Capitol Staff for letting us have such a great show there.
When they were getting ready for the encore, my Dad and I were joking about what they'd do for an encore, and we actually predicted what was coming, Morning Dew followed by Box of Rain; no big deal. John, after playing so hot all night, was singing this song so beautifully, and his playing still not subsided. We were hoping that they would do it like Peggy-O, with Teresa doing one half of the conversation in the lyrics, but John did a great job on his own. The song really started to build, as it should, after the first two lines, and John's soulful singing started to crescendo. They launched right into the jam with any wrong steps on the way up, and Phil dropping bombs at our feet. John took this whole lead to himself and were we ever glad that he had. They let the song drift back down to its lower level and it stayed there for a while as John finished up the lyrics. From here it was Larry's turn, and he brought the song from a mellow, post-apocalyptic desert into crashing waves and falling mountains. He of course had help from Jeff and John, both of whom were integral in the journey. And let us not forget about Joe, who had linked with Larry much like he would with Jeff, and soon the whole band was playing as one, again with Larry as the captain, and Phil propelling the ship with his bass. John let loose a fan flurry and the band danced around him while Joe pounded his drums until the whole thing finally exploded and the ended the song. Holy shit!!
But it wasn't over, they fulfilled our expectation and did Phil's numero uno song, Box of Rain. We had seen both of these last two songs at that Boston show in 2012, but these two versions swept the others away. Boyd came back out for Box of Rain, and during the solo section Phil let him just go crazy! They stuck to the intro riff while he brought the crowd into a frenzy. It doesn't come through as well on the soundboard we have of the show, but he had everyone in the theater practically levitating. Phil comes back into the lyrics, and then lets Larry do the same thing before singing the final line! The amount of catharsis and joy in the theater when Phil finished that song still brings a tear to my eye to think of. As we had suspected from the first notes of Mississippi Half-Step, this was one of the Great Shows. This was the lineup to see, on the right nights to see them, and we had witnessed a show that I can only sum up in one word as legendary. Of course I'm hyperbolizing and throwing around superlatives like they're banana peels because I was there and it's recent in my memory, but this truly was a show that everyone should hear, and we were so lucky to have been there.
After we got back to the hotel, the adventure continued! We needed plastic-ware to finish our Mexican leftovers, and more cups and coffee pods for the morning, so I volunteered to go to the Front Desk to get them, since I work in a hotel and have some idea of how things work at other hotels. However, to get there I had to walk past some super religious birthday party where the absolute worst karaoke was coming from, and then through a wedding party at the bar that had regular pop music playing and a bunch of fancy drunk people in fancy suits and dresses. Normally this would be ok, but in my...delicate state and tye-die, it felt pretty surreal. They ended up only having decaf there, and the plastic utensils were on the other side of a crowd of drunk people that I didn't want to brave, so I ducked into the dining area, nabbed some silverware, and made my way back to the room, where my dad had already downloaded the soundboard of the show online and was playing it on his laptop.
So that's that! I know it's long, but there's a lot I had to say, so be thankful it's not any longer! Normally I post links to the shows I'm talking about, but as the soundboard costs money, and I haven't listened to any audience recordings, I'm not sure which archive.org links are best. So I'll put the link to the site where you can buy them, and then the various options for audience recordings. As always, post suggestions, comments, concerns, or dire warnings in the comments section, and I'll try to post sooner and in a more concise manner next time!
Friday, April 4
Saturday, April 5