Phil Lesh & Friends :: 07.15.05 :: The Fillmore Auditorium :: Denver, CO
With only two shows slated for their summer tour, Phil & Friends guaranteed themselves a fair amount of hoopla for each night. The summer tour comes on the heels of Lesh's new book Searching for the Sound, and Ryan Adams was invited to join the party on guitar and vocals.
Phil & Friend (Adams, Sipe, Lesh) 07.15
The opening sonic cacophony yielded "Shakedown Street," which melted into Buddy Holly's classic "Not Fade Away." Other than lookin' sexy on paper, neither song proved to be that memorable. Ryan Adams first got a chance to stretch out on vocals with a solid rendition of "Dire Wolf," which turned more than a couple heads. Adams is shockingly talented on vocals and managed to strike a perfect balance of tenderness and power that suited the band perfectly. One random concertgoer remarked, "He's so dead-on with those vocals, it's scaaaaaary." Since suffering the onstage slip in Liverpool last January that nearly ended his guitar-playing days, Adams has emerged with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of purpose, which paid large dividends to the Denver crowd.
The first triumph of the evening came with the opening chords of "Eyes of the World." In the annals of the Dead, there are few versions that could compete with what Phil & Friends delivered to The Fillmore. The band was in perfect synch, the jam never grew dull, and the transition back to the "meat" of the song was absolutely seamless.
Phil Lesh 07.15
The first set finished with a formidable trifecta: "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot" > "Franklin's Tower." "Franklin's" was a rager, aided with some powerful drumming by Jeff Sipe to round out the set and to pique the crowd's curiosity for what was yet to come.
Setbreak. Despite a couple portions where the jams seemed to fizzle out and a couple soft spots, it was a solid set of music. Now a word about The Fillmore that night: it was damn near oversold, with people overflowing into the farthest reaches of the venue to catch a breath of fresh air. It was ridiculously hot as well - you could start to work up a sweat just standing still. The floor was reminiscent of so many movie theaters - sticky to no end, only this time with vestiges of knocked-over Fat Tires and random blotches of puke. Out of a few hundred shows, I can honestly say it was the least comfortable environment I remember being in - a surprise, given The Fillmore is usually a personal favorite.
The second half kicked off with a nice "He's Gone" to warm the crowd up again. The jam portion featured some nice interplay between Lesh and Adams, with the duo exchanging a number of licks back and forth. Though, the extended jams out of "He's Gone" and "The Wheel" left something to be desired. In person, they seemed to frazzle at the end, and the majority of the crowd began to lose interest. After getting a chance to give the show another listen, there wasn't anything wrong with either of the jams - the spacier portions just tend to sound better in the comfort of your living room instead of in the smelly sauna that was The Fillmore that evening.
Phil & Friend (Adams, Lesh, Herring) 07.15
"St. Stephen" brought the crowd back to life as the night wore on before giving way to "Birdsong." Fan-favorite "Truckin'" got a predictably warm reception from the audience, and the eventual set-closing segue back into "Not Fade Away" seemed to bring the evening full-circle.
Aside from Phil Lesh's masterful performance, the other band member that seemed to stick out the majority of the night was Rob Barraco. While this wasn't the first time I've caught the band, it was definitely the first time that Barraco made a lasting impression. His soloing was relatively sparse, but he always seemed to come up with the appropriate fills during the night.
Phil Lesh 07.15
The band came back out one last time to encore with "Ripple." Any questions about Adams's legitimacy were long since laid to rest, but his vocals were again hauntingly familiar and fitting.
A lot of times, audio recordings don't do the band justice. The classic story is "you haaaaaad to be there." This time around, the confines of The Fillmore nearly overpowered the beauty of the show. Nobody that I talked to at the show or after the show was blown away, but they weren't disappointed either. After giving it another listen, that sentiment can be chalked up to the environment.
Phil & Friends may not have converted any newcomers, but they didn't disappoint any hard-core fans either. The biggest winner of the evening may have been Ryan Adams, who is exposing himself to a completely different fanbase. But it didn't sound like Ryan Adams with Phil and Friends; it sounded like Phil & Friends, and you can't ask for too much more than that.
Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Tony Stack
JamBase | Denver
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