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Words by Brian Bavosa
Phil Lesh & Friends :: 02.12.06 :: Beacon Theatre :: New York, NY
Sometimes, "One man gathers what another man spills." With the passing of Jerry Garcia in 1995, bands like Phish were forever vaulted to superstar status, perhaps sooner than expected — or perhaps, at exactly the right moment. Trey Anastasio was born on September 30th, 1964, while Phil Lesh performed his first gig with the Warlocks, who would become the Grateful Dead a mere year and a half later. And while Anastasio was still in diapers, Lesh began to solidify his status as one of the most influential counterculture icons in history. Sunday witnessed a creative collaboration of two generations, two different mindsets, two different schools — with a hell of a result.
As if Saturday night's show at The Beacon wasn't enough incentive to brave the elements and make Sunday night's show, then certainly the free hot chocolate promised upon arrival was. There has been a lot of speculation concerning special guests this run, and everyone who actually made it to 74th and Broadway knew something of a reward was in order. The emergence of former Phish front man, Trey Anastasio, made the roughly 80% filled Beacon erupt. Trey replaced Barry Sless, and was joined by Phil Lesh (bass), Larry Campbell (guitar, mandolin, etc.), Jeff Sipe (drums), Rob Barraco (keyboards), and Joan Osborne (vocals).
P. Lesh :: The Beacon by R. Chapman
Is there any better way to OPEN a show than with "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Franklin's Tower?" Ever since my first Grateful Dead show in 1994, I have enamored this trio, and "Franklin's Tower" is my favorite tune in the world. (Heck, it's even engraved on the back of my iPod... "If you get confused, just listen to the music play!") Jesus had the three kings; I've got this holy triumvirate. Seeing my favorite guitarist sing and play my favorite song was a truly memorable moment, and there was fierce playing by all to kick off the night.
Trey sang "Up On Cripple Creek," and during this tune the entire venue came to understand that there would be some extremely creative collaborations throughout the night. It really seemed as if Trey was having a good time. His solo was typical Big Red: high-flying. The dueling guitars at the end was fiery too, with Barraco adding just the right amount of rainbow sprinkles to this ice cream-coned treat.
Trey Anastasio by Adam George
A smooth segue into "They Love Each Other" started out soft and slow, with a unique touch and Phil on lead vocals. The song took an interesting turn, picking up speed like a snowball. The end seemed to be exceptionally fast-paced, and Trey was shredding. I remember thinking that one of the most delicate tunes was now being torn apart by the man who wrote "Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars." Got to love that irony. They managed to strip it down and take it in a completely new direction. The jam was fire-breathing hot and would have melted the snow outside. It led smoothly into a prominent four or five minute jam of "Cold Rain and Snow." This was the obvious call for the night, and as I looked around, I saw lots of smiling faces realizing the vindication of a long trek in horrific weather is a dish (or in this case, a cup) best served hot (chocolate).
Luckily, "Loose Lucy" was started, and Barraco gave every ounce of energy he had to the lead vocals. This is a really groovy tune and had the entire audience shouting the chorus in unison, "Thank you for a real good time!"
J. Osborne :: The Beacon by R. Chapman
"Buckets of Rain," a Bob Dylan cover, slowed the pace and featured a delicately beautiful vocal exchange between Trey and Joan Osborne. The chemistry between these two was obvious and seemed to reach a climax here. Picture Trey singing "Dirt" or "Driver" with a soulful, sexy singer adding a little hot sauce to the mix. After seeing Osborne with Phil about ten times now, it is clear that she is gaining more confidence with each and every show. After the song, the two embraced and marked another memorable collaboration that many would have laughed at ten years ago.
The set-closer was another Dylan tune, "All Along the Watchtower." I have not seen Trey play this song since 10.22.96 with Merle Saunders and Buddy Miles. He took a fierce solo and interacted with Barraco nicely, as they seemed to do all night. But Joan and Larry stole this one. In fact, Campbell (an ex-Dylan band mate) ripped a great solo and really seemed to take off from there. This was a great way to close an unbelievable first set.
Set II was just a monster. Buckle your seatbelt, clear your calendar, and prepare to ride Space Mountain; we might not be back for a while.
"St. Stephen" opened the set, and it looked like Trey had waited a very long time to get the chance to play this (again). He definitely soared in all of "St. Stephen's" triumphant glory, playing heavy solos that had me picturing a dog chasing his tail until it fell down, defeated.
Phil Lesh & Friends :: The Beacon by R. Chapman
"What Sin" (Ryan Adams) saw Campbell take the lead, and he was solid. This led into the first of many exploratory jams that just seemed to take off in a direction completely unknown. It was bluesy, and (d)evolved, with Barraco and Campbell leading the way, eventually landing in a Phil-driven "Cryptical Envelopment."
The "Cryptical Envelopment" > "Jam" featured Phil dropping his signature bass-bombs and Trey again soloing like he had been part of this lineup for years. It included many peaks and valleys, but it still allowed room to maneuver. Things really progressed towards a dirty guitar duel, with Barraco playing over the top and Lesh and Sipe holding down the bottom. This jam truly was a locomotive barreling down the line at full steam. Then, like a snake, things turned dark fast and morphed dangerously into "Dark Star."
"Dark Star (1st verse)" > "Jam" was spacey and intense, featured Campbell on violin, and had Trey playing loops that were eerily similar to "What's The Use." This led to a "Truckin'" tease before slamming into "The Other One." This is also the first time in ten years that I realized Jeff Sipe (a.k.a. Apt. Q258) was more filling on the skins than bread pudding. The "Jam" featured some more space, tinkling, and violin, with Phil steering this intergalactic starship back into "Dark Star." This led into another monster jam, which left me completely and utterly exhausted from about an hour-long, mind-melting journey.
Trey Anastasio by Adam George
After the second jam, the band finally landed on somewhat solid footing and went into my second-favorite Dead tune, "Eyes of the World." This song, like "Franklin's," holds special significance to me as I often drew inspiration from it during my formative years. With Trey singing the lead, I could not help but smile and think about the manner in which life comes full circle: my favorite current guitar player ripping one of my favorite songs of the past.
One final segue landed in "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." Another catchy song, it was marred by guitar problems for Trey that left him looking somewhat naked and awkward as he harmonized the end. I thought that was the set-closer, but an absolute rocker was still in store. The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" just floored the crowd. It was an all-out firestorm full of electric energy.
After Barraco gave the donor rap, because Phil had lost his voice, came another unexpected highlight: "Wolfman's Brother." For the first time in a year and a half, my body involuntarily seemed to perform my patented "Wolfman's Hop."
Hello, old friend.
No big jam ensued, but I was now watching the man who wrote "Box of Rain" play one of my favorite Phish songs, again pulling a complete 360. Truly all boundaries had come crashing down. If that wasn't enough, Trey then introduced long-time photographer Danny Clinch and thanked Phil. I had heard Clinch at the Coventry sound check with Phish and knew he could play a mean harmonica. "Midnight Hour" saw him do just that. Joan asked him to play some more, and the latest incarnation of "Phil's Friends" made the transition back out into the cold New York night just a little bit easier.
Osborne & Lesh :: The Beacon by R. Chapman
This show marked so much more than just amazing jamming. It truly was a legendary collaboration. I realized last night just why I continue to go to shows, why I try to spread the knowledge I have attained from them, and why I truly am the way that I am. I watched a grandfather of the scene steer a ship that included a Bob Dylan guitarist, a confident leading lady, a madman who calls himself Apt. Q258, and the prince of Jambands, and he still, somehow, pieced it all together into a night of magical, exploratory music.
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