Bob Weir & Phil Lesh Welcome Trey Anastasio At Radio City Music Hall – Review, Photos & Videos
Words by: Chad Berndtson
Images by: Bryan Lasky
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh :: 03.03.18
Radio City Music Hall :: New York City
Radio City Music Hall :: New York City
The Grateful Dead canon is among music’s most-visited forests, thousands of artists having picked up its hiking trails, walking well-cut lines or attempting to blaze new paths in the spirit of adventure and improvisation. That’s the point, really; new life is breathed into such classic and oft-heard songs because they’re malleable — sturdy enough that they bend and contort without breaking.
In this era of Dead & Company, Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band, Dark Star Orchestra, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Holly Bowling, and countless others, it’s easy to think you’ve heard everything that can be done with Dead music, especially now some 22 years after the last shows played by the original band. What a pleasure, then, to hear quiet surprise and, at times, fascinating interpretation from a perhaps unlikely source: Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, there since the very beginning in 1965, performing for the first time on tour as a duo and still, now having played some of these tunes for more than a half century, finding occasionally new things to do with them.
Over two nights at Radio City Music Hall — and with the help of percussionist Wally Ingram, who’ll end up the lesser-sung secret weapon of this tour, no doubt — Weir and Lesh dug in, spotty in their success but comfortable in their resolve. It’s easy to go the “I could have used more of…” route, and hey, I could have used a little more instrumentation, a little more oomph, and maybe a little bit more of a concept beyond play some songs, see what happens. But that too, I think, misses the point. Phil and Bob didn’t stray too far off the beaten path but still injected weirdness, combustibility, curiosity and humor into the proceedings. And hey, with Dead & Company and the Terrapin Family Band both falling into familiar patterns, it was nice as an audience member to just soak in, not to anticipate.
Of course, the hot buzz coming into the duo’s second night of two in New York was a rumored Trey Anastasio appearance, and Big Red didn’t disappoint, turning up for all of the second set to play with his one time Fare Thee Well bandmates. No doubt Boston and Chicago have tasty guests in store, as well. Trey ended up being the story of the night, but, interestingly, not for the assumed reasons of “HOLY SHIT, TREY’S HERE.” Starting acoustic and then moving into Languedoc-driven electric, he seemed to land on exactly the loose, somebody’s-house-party-that-might-go-serious-and-might-go-sloppy-hilarious-at-any-point vibe the headliners had created. He’s comfortable enough with this material and in decades-long relationships with both Phil and Bob that he didn’t need to be asked to pour it on or to refrain from taking over the show.
At several points — particularly “Jack Straw,” “St. Stephen” and a gnarly-but-could-always-be-gnarlier “Viola Lee Blues” sequence — Trey favored tones that were both unrefined and elegant, wanting to really relish this assignment and fit in to what Bob and Phil were doing in this setup. The rest of the night couldn’t help but pale in comparison, though several stand outs during the first set, including “Deep Elem Blues” and a mesmerizing “Cassidy > Touch of Grey > Cassidy” construction, brought smiles and a warm vibe. Every minute of the show had personality, from Bob and his soon-to-be-famous duck story (get a listen), to the swell of audience frissons when Set 2 began and it was clear Trey was going to be there.
Will this tour be legendary or a footnote? That’s not the way to think about it, Phil and Bob seem to be telling us, even with the acknowledged weight of the Grateful Dead thing sitting right there in the background. Check those expectations and just absorb. Me? I heard enough to savor a lot, and that I’ll come back if they want to do this again. There’s time, right?
Full Show Audio (Taped by Mr. Railing)
Setlist (via Terrapin Nation)
Set One: New Speedway Boogie*, West L.A Fadeaway^, Lazy River Road, Deep Elem Blues, Row Jimmy, Cassidy > Touch Of Grey* > Cassidy*
Set Two (w. Trey Anastasio): Playing In The Band*, The Wheel*, Dark Star*, Jack Straw*, Eyes Of The World*, Dark Star v2*, St. Stephen*, Viola Lee Blues* > Standing On The Moon* > Viola Lee Blues*
Encore (w. Trey Anastasio): Ripple
* – w/ Wally Ingram