One of the more magical runs in the history of the jam scene took place between April 15 and 17 in 1999, when Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh teamed with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and keyboardist Page McConnell as well as drummer John Molo and guitarist Steve Kimock for three shows at The Warfield in San Francisco. While about 90 minutes worth of footage from opening night has circulated for years, recently a video of the entire April 15th show was posted on YouTube.
Phil & Phriends opened with a 34 minute “Viola Lee Blues” which came after Lesh teamed with sons Brian and Grahame as well as Kimock for Eric Clapton’s “Hello Old Friend.” The bassist had recently undergone liver transplant surgery and the Phil & Phriends performances marked his return to the stage after the scary ordeal. In a 1999 interview with Jambands.com Lesh revealed it was Anastasio’s idea to play “Viola Lee.” After the composed section of “Viola Lee,” Trey led the five-piece into the ether for a series of insane jams that covered plenty of terrain from spacey to rocking to pure bliss.
Lesh talked to Jambands.com about what happened after he heard a few Phish live recordings ahead of putting the run together, “It was absolutely entrancing, it was just gorgeous, and but I couldn’t hear the piano well on the live tapes, so I went back to the CD’s and started listening to Page and what he was doing, and so I said ‘Well…’ and my wife said ‘Come on, Come on, give them a call.’ Somehow I got their phone numbers, and I gave them both a call. We talked about it, and they said we’d love to do it, and so we set a date, and we started calling back and forth, and like I said earlier they brought in a dozen Grateful Dead tunes I never would have thought of doing, but they wanted to them. And we got together at rehearsal and the first thing we did together was ‘Viola Lee Blues,’ and from there on out it was like now let’s do this one, and let’s do this one. It was real rehearsal in the sense that the Grateful Dead rarely was. Grateful Dead rehearsals were kind of comical. We believed in public rehearsals.”
Besides the epic “Viola Lee,” the first set also featured a Trey-led “Big Railroad Blues,” a psychedelic “Cosmic Charlie,” a take on the Phish classic “Wolfman’s Brother” and more. The second set started with a series of Phil-sung songs in “Alabama Getaway,” “Sugaree” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” which eventually gave way to “I Know You Rider.” Anastasio had another turn up front on a beautiful “Row Jimmy” before another of the evening’s highlights – a well-jammed “Shakedown Street.” Kimock showed off his skills on a gorgeous “The Wheel,” while the set ended with a celebratory “Not Fade Away.” Lesh, McConnell, Anastasio, Kimock and Molo the came back out for a “Mr. Tambourine Man” encore. Watch how it all went down:
Set One: Viola Lee Blues, Big Railroad Blues, Jack-A-Roe, Cosmic Charlie, Wolfman’s Brother, Uncle John’s Band (01:41:37)
Set Two: Alabama Getaway, Sugaree, Like A Rolling Stone, I Know You Rider, Row Jimmy, Shakedown Street, The Wheel, Not Fade Away, Mr. Tambourine Man (01:58:20)[Hat Tip – @GratephuLSD)