Sunday, April 3, 2016

Phil Lesh's 76th Birthday Night Two

As you may recall my parents and I went down to the Capitol Theater to catch two of Phil Lesh's birthday concerts. You can view the previous night's blog here if you want to refresh your memory before diving into the second night.

Night Two (2016-03-18)
    We woke up a little sore the next day from all the dancing, hung around the hotel for a while, and then headed out to Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut before making the trek back into Port Chester for more of the same.  This time we hit up Shakedown Corner (not exactly a street) before getting food and heading into the venue.  We didn't end up getting anything at Shakedown, but we did get a nice poster from the official merchandise table inside.  Our seats were much farther back in the balcony this time, which was a bit of a shame as far as sight lines  and crowd noise go. The sound quality and volume were still fantastic though, and we enjoyed the Capitol’s light show even more than before.  We also had four seats for just the three of us, and I was at the end of the row, so there was plenty of room in the aisle for optimum dancing!  Soon the lights went down, the crowd cheered, and the band came on stage for another epic night.

And here's the link to the
pictures my mom took of both nights
First Set

Dark Star (All) > Again and Again (Haynes & Barraco), New Speedway Boogie (Haynes), Sunshine of Your Love (Haynes) > Broken Arrow (Lesh), End of the Line (Haynes) > Dark Star (All) > I Know You Rider (All)

    “Dark Star,” they opened with “Dark Star”!!  It wasn’t apparent at first, and you could probably call it “Jam > Dark Star” if you were so inclined, but that jam crystallized into “Dark Star” so flawlessly and seamlessly that there’s no way it was anything else from the very start.  The moment Phil signalled that familiar call the whole theater just opened up and people lost their minds, never to regain them -- I’m still recovering.  Phil, Barraco, and Haynes, respectively, took turns singing the first verses in the same way Furthur used to do, with the whole band (and theater) singing the chorus, then we were back into the thick of it.  Like with the previous night’s “The Other One,” the band took their time and stretched their wings into all possible corners of the song, flirting with the theme of the song before soaring into another dimension, just to return again with a new perspective.  My dad and I always half-joked about them opening with “Dark Star” and then just playing it for the whole night, and for a while that reality was almost ours!  Eventually though, the band drifted out of the cosmos and into what sounded like a song, though not one we recognized.

    “Again and Again” is another song from There and Back Again, and it features overlapping vocal parts from Haynes and Barraco.  The whole song feels like separate parts that are constantly folding over each other, finding common patterns and then drifting back into their own parts again.  The lyrics were a little hard to distinguish from where we were, but the song was a true example of the whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts.  They closed the song with some soulful licks from Haynes on the slide guitar.  We thought they’d go right back into “Dark Star,”  but instead the song came to a close and everyone looked around as we tried to catch our breaths and figure out where we were again.

    We didn’t have much time to relax before it was time to dance again!  “New Speedway Boogie” was next up, and it was time for Haynes to really showcase his vocal chops.  He exudes such an authentic feeling when it comes to songs like this that you forget he’s singing a Grateful Dead song and instead it feels as old as the blues themselves (even when he forgets some of the lyrics).  The band had the whole place reeling and rocking during this one, and all of the players’ parts built the others’ higher and higher into the stratosphere.  It’s another great example of Phil’s ability to stretch the boundaries of a song so far that it goes from swamp rock, to outer space, to hard rock, and back again in the blink of an eye.  The band scorched its way back into the lyrics, brought it down, and led the crowd in closing lines:

One way or another, one way or another, one way or another, this darkness got to give

    Here again the band took a small break, and then broke out into something really unexpected--the Cream classic, “Sunshine of Your Love”!  Phil played this with Haynes in the past, but I never saw it coming, and what a spectacular surprise.  I’ve never seen Clapton or Cream live, so this is a totally unfounded claim, but I bet they never thought the song could be played in this way.  Molo really led the band, and Haynes was just killing the vocals.  Phil once again seemed to revel in playing someone else’s song.  After the traditional vocal part of the song, the jam took us into totally unexplored space, and it wasn’t clear if we were going into another song or just off into infinity.  Eventually Haynes came to the mic and reminded us what song we were in.  He brought the band back into the closing of the song, and instead of coming to a finish they just rocketed back into full drive.  During the whole set we couldn’t forget that they had opened with “Dark Star,” but only done the first verse, and this was one of many times we thought the band was heading back into it, but all of a sudden the music coalesced around a familiar theme: “Cumberland”!  But Phil, that Prankster, was just teasing us, and they left that behind to land on something a little different.

    I have to admit, not only did I never expect this next song, but I also actively said I didn’t want to hear it.  Much like the last time I felt this way about a song, “Throwing Stones,” I soon realized how wrong all my previous judgements were.  “Broken Arrow” is a song written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson that the Dead started to do in the 90’s, and I was just never a fan.  Looking back, maybe it was Jerry’s deteriorating health and playing that soured me on it, but I just never felt that it fit in with the Grateful Dead sound.  This version totally turned my whole world around, and now I can’t wait to hear another version with a fresh outlook!  A huge part of my enjoyment came from the harmonies the band was hitting all night, and the way each part fit perfectly with one another.  The jam in the middle of the song was incredible too, and Phil just seemed so happy singing that I couldn’t believe it was the same song I had bad-mouthed for so long!  After a beautiful jam out of the song with some more “Dark Star” hints, they laid the song to rest and took their final breather of the set.

    They launched into a hard-rockin’ time with The Allman Brothers’ “End of the Line,” another song that Warren Haynes seemed so at home with.  I wasn’t too familiar with this one, but they killed it, and I was dancing at the top of the Capitol stairs.  Just when it started to feel like the set-closer, they changed gears and slipped right back into “Dark Star” like nothing had changed from the beginning of the set!  They could have wrapped it up neatly in just three short minutes, but Phil was having too good of a time and took them for another go round or two before they came back into the lyrics.  They jammed out of the song with a definite theme in mind, which my dad really liked the sound of, and the band launched into “I Know You Rider.”

    This could have been longer, in my opinion, but we certainly weren’t going to complain to the band that just opened a show with “Dark Star.”  Despite not being the longest version ever, it was still a crisp and precise version of the song that had everyone singing and dancing along.  My dad called this earlier in the day, saying they had to do this and “Franklin’s Tower” since they had done those two songs’ traditional companions in the nights before, and he sure was right (on both counts).  They brought the song to a triumphant close and left the stage to thunderous applause, while we all tried to figure out what to do with ourselves during Intermission.

Second Set

Unbroken Chain (Lesh) > The Wheel (All) > Cumberland Blues (All), Uncle John’s Band (All) > No More Do I (Haynes & Barraco) > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (Haynes) > Franklin’s Tower (Lesh)

    Leading up to these shows my Dad and I were pretty sure that we’d get both “Unbroken Chain” and “Box of Rain,” arguably Phil’s best contributions to the Dead repertoire, so we were glad to have our predictions confirmed when they opened the second set.  We didn’t get “Box of Rain” this time, but what a great version of “Unbroken Chain”!  It was hard to tell who was having more fun, Barraco or Phil.  Rob Barraco is a huge jazz-head, and a pretty nerdy one at that, so this kind of song is right up his alley with all of its key and time changes; this is some heady stuff.  They wound their way through the middle of the song, interchanging leads and rhythms across the shifting soundscape, eleven and fifteen beats at a time, until Phil brought them back into the vocals.  This wasn’t his best singing of the night, but it’s always such a treat to hear him sing this song that he so clearly loves.  Haynes led the way on the jam out of the song from the familiar outro into new territory.

    It really wasn’t clear what song we were going into until we were already apparently two verses in, and I think there was some miscommunication in the band somewhere, but all of a sudden we went from a jam in a minor key kind of like “Mountains of the Moon” straight into “The Wheel.”  I, of course, was thrilled to get this song, especially after I thought they were going to do it the night before; it was just so weird to have it come so out of the blue, but oh well!  The rest of the song went off without a hitch and was everything I hoped it would be.  It seems like such a simple song at first, but then it quickly becomes clear there are many levels all working together to create a beautiful unity.  Everyone creates their own wheels of music within the song, and as long as they stay revolving at the same rate, it all comes around together.  Phil really likes to stretch this one out with multiple jam sections between the verses, unlike the way the Dead would; they would only really have a couple shorter jam sections before the end and all the verses would come together.  We rolled our way out of the into something we left behind during the first set.

    Like with “The Wheel,” “Cumberland Blues” has really grown from its original incarnations into a cosmic-jam-grass-rocker.  Molo really came alive for this one, and the band, to me at least, took on a very Furthur-like sound.  A good thing in my book!  Herring’s guitar especially took on a tone that sounded a lot like the one John Kadlecik uses.  The intro jam felt longer than most early versions of the entire song, with teases of other songs sprinkled in until Phil led the way into the opening vocals.   At this point in the show everyone had been dancing for a long while, with some taking their seats during “Wheel,” but we all got  up to dance our asses off for this one.  Now I’m a very Phil-centric guy, if that isn’t obvious, and I loved both of these shows, but around this point I was kind of missing Bobby.  These guys were all so serious about the music and it was producing stellar results, but sometimes you just need a good “yee-haw!”, or “wooow!”, or even a good Bobby vamping (“little bit, little bit, harder, haiya!”) to really let loose.  Barraco gave a couple of these with varying results (does he really mean that scream?), and as I mentioned before Haynes just oozes authenticity when he sings, but who doesn’t love a 17-year-old kid in a 68-year-old man’s body having a good time?  We were having a good time too though, and the show wasn’t over yet.

    The band took a minute to tune up and stretch out while we wondered what was coming next, trying to think of what songs they hadn’t played, and what unexpected songs they might surprise us with.  “Uncle John’s Band” wasn’t much of a surprise, but I was hoping to hear these guys have a go at.  I liked that they took a faster tempo to it than other times I’ve heard it, and they really jazzed it up.  Songs like this, “Touch of Grey,” and “Truckin’” are of course ones that even non-Dead Heads know some/most of the lyrics to, so the sing-along factor was at a high, which can be a good or bad thing.  Being so far back made the band’s vocals a little less distinct, but it’s not like we weren’t singing too!  I think this song tricks people who aren’t familiar with it, because if you only know the album version then it’s a sweet camp-fire sing-along with a cute little instrumental bit at the end, but in reality it’s a total jam vehicle with some real teeth at the end.  It starts out lilting and carefree with a great jam that has a light theme, but when performed live that jam can go some pretty far out places.  And the jam at the end in 7/4 time gives songs like “Playing in the Band” a run for their money when it comes to ferocity and weird time signatures.  This is a song that really shows how much control a band has, and these guys passed the test with flying colors.  Normally Phil will omit the second 7/4 section and actually do the closing “dah dah dee dah dee dah” bit that’s on the album, but in this case the band actually leaped back onto the jam and took it into the next song.

   “No More Do I” is another from Phil’s album.  I have recordings of Furthur doing this song that interested me in the past, and I was glad to see it live.  Maybe not as good as “Night of a Thousand Stars” from the night before, but they really made this shine.  It allowed for more mellow dancing, which was appreciated as we were all getting pretty tired at this point.  They played their way through the song into a spacey, soft jam that eventually took us into a Haynes tour-de-force, Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.”  I knew this one was likely as Phil’s played it with Haynes in the past with great success.  Phil was really letting loose on the syncopated section, and the band twisted their way through the song with precision.  The song fit the mood perfectly: a dark, smoky room with a mystical undercurrent slowly drifting along until it suddenly builds up and brings everything together with an unexpected power, only to melt away like patterns in the smoke spontaneously forming and dissipating.

    Phil took the lead back from uncharted territory towards civilization, making some exploratory detours along the way, until it became apparent where we were headed, and my dad’s suspicions were once again vindicated.  On Phil’s birthday they did “Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Just a Little Light,” which of course left out the finale of the triumvirate, “Franklin’s Tower,” which my dad was waiting for all night.  It wasn’t as long as I expected and hoped, but still there was nothing to complain about.  The song was filled with flowing leads and flourishes, and every hoarse voice in the crowd was singing along once again.  Unlike “The Wheel,” this one is actually about as simple as it appears, but its simplicity makes it possible to build more complicated structures on top of it without losing the basic core of the song.  I thought it must have been liberating for the musicians who had been playing in fluctuating time signatures all night to let the music play even more easily.  It was certainly a lot easier for us to dance to without tumbling down the stairs!  They closed the song off with the “Slipknot!” ending, once again looked around with that shellshocked “woah” look on their faces, and left the stage.

Donor Rap/Encore
Patchwork Quilt (Haynes)

    Once again we couldn’t hear much of the Donor Rap, but upon listening to the soundboard he told a heartwarming story about a woman named Ali, who gave a kidney to her father, instead of the usual Cody-talk.  The band then came back onstage to play one last song.  It wasn’t “Box of Rain” like we were hoping for, but “Patchwork Quilt” was still a great end to the show.  It continued in the vein of ending these shows with more mellow songs. This was no easygoing affair though; it built to some real heights.  This song is on Phil’s album, but Haynes actually wrote it, and it’s  beautifully crafted.  It’s kind of a retrospective on a mysterious, yet beloved, figure with a wistful, fare-thee-well feeling to it, and it was a sweet note to leave on.  Phil once again came to the mic and introduced the band while we cheered with what was left of our voices for more, but alas they were only giving us the one encore.  We took our time heading out, figuring we would be the last ones out anyway, but ended up getting outside before most people somehow.  We made it back to the hotel and got some well-deserved rest after two successful concerts.

    Well, that’s my tale folks!   I’m not sure what my next post will be, but it will definitely be something a bit shorter, and as always feel free to suggest something!

1 comment:

  1. Just watched the webcast from the show and saw that during the second set Phil was wearing a wristband that says "Ali"! Very cool.