Phil Lesh & Friends | 05.16 & 05.18 | SF
Phil Lesh & Friends :: 05.16.08 & 05.18.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA
Initially performing without guests, the core band – Lesh on bass, Steve Molitz on keys, Larry Campbell on anything with strings, John Molo on drums and Jackie Greene on guitar, keys, and harmonica – worked into Workingman’s Dead, though a guest’s guitar and amp were in plain view. A Telecaster? It had to be David Nelson, who’d played on the original recordings. Sure enough, at the conclusion of “UJB” the man in the headband ambled to his spot center stage to sing “High Time,” which was given a waltz-like arrangement that suited Nelson’s twanging lead and nasal voice. Nelson is not going to blow anyone off the stage with fierce, fiery leads that tear your head off for their speed. He’s more of a “searching for the sound” kind of guy, taking his time to find the right note, the right sound for that right note, and then the right sound for the one after that, and so on. In this way, and no doubt many others, he and Garcia are brothers.
Like many, I grew up with Workingman’s Dead, wearing out multiple copies of the vinyl on various turntables. I was also one of those dopes that thought American Beauty, Workingman’s follow-up, sounded too commercial when it came out. Yeah, we all make mistakes, and I’ve long since been set straight, but Friday’s second set was a revelation. Lesh singing “Box of Rain,” with Nelson picking out the lead, was a drunkard’s dream. Then the mic was turned over to Nelson to sing “Friend of the Devil,” which he performs frequently with his own band. Greene more than did justice to “Sugar Magnolia” before a bonafide rarity, Lesh singing Pigpen’s “Operator.”
Campbell switched to fiddle for “Brokedown Palace,” with Greene on lead vocals and the rest of the band contributing harmonies. Is that the most beautiful song ever written? It sure was on Friday night. Then, Teresa Williams, who had stolen our hearts on Wednesday, came back to sing “Til the Morning Comes” with her husband Campbell. After that, the band just sort of drifted off the stage. I think many of us assumed they would finish American Beauty before Lesh’s “donor rap” and an encore, but the last two songs on the album would have to do.
However, I didn’t hear any complaints. Williams, Campbell and Lesh sang “Attics of My Life” with no accompaniment except Campbell gently strumming an electric guitar in a performance even more beautiful than “Brokedown.” Then the band sent us on our way with “Truckin’.”
Sunday :: 05.18.08
The evening began, rather late, with a cover of “Come Together,” with Bob Weir back from Tuesday on vocals and guitar, Lesh on bass, and Molo behinds the traps. That’s it, a trio. Like Nelson, Weir is a deliberate player, picking out his rhythms and leads carefully and methodically, in no hurry to move from Point A to Point B, let alone C. Lesh seemed perfectly content to let it happen, alternately prodding his former bandmate and filling in behind him. The slow, dirge-like groove shuffled its way into a jam that led into a jazz-space version of “Dark Star.” If the lights had come up after that and everyone had been told it was time to go home, I swear I would have been a happy camper.
But, of course, the evening had just begun. After one more number by the trio (“Loose Lucy” with Weir on vocals), keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (RatDog) and Larry Campbell joined in for “West L.A. Fadeaway” before uncorking the really good stuff, “The Wheel” and “Not Fade Away.” Jackie Greene, who seemed anxious in the presence of Weir on Tuesday, was nowhere to be found. Good call. Before they left the stage, Lesh thanked Weir, calling him his “prodigal brother.”
The second set returned to the core Phil & Friends lineup. After opening with a blistering “Shakedown Street,” we were treated to our first Jackie Greene tune of the run, “Ball & Chain,” which had the crowd focused, dancing, and happy. Greene is a great songwriter, and this is one of his best. “Big River” with Campbell on lead vocals followed, then Mark Karan returned from Wednesday to finish out the set, which moved from Lesh singing “Mississippi Half-Step” to Greene on “Sugaree.” Karan seems to raise the level of everyone else’s art when he’s on stage, which meant Greene and Campbell played some of their best stuff of the night during this set. Along the way, the Friends performed a favorite later tune, “Althea,” Greene sang his own “Mexican Girl” (with great guitar work from all three gunslingers) and Campbell sat behind the pedal steel to lead a heartbreakingly sad instrumental version of “Stella Blue.”
After the donor rap (props to Lesh for refusing to trivialize this topic or ever forget to say thank you for the kindness that extended his own life), Phil & Friends did their best to muster the energy for another “Truckin'” followed by “And We Bid You Goodnight.” As we filed out of the building into the cool, 3:30 a.m., fog-scented air, the back of The Warfield marquee bore a final legend for those who had been inside: “Here Today Gone Tomorrow.”
As Lesh had remarked at one point during the evening, it was a “bittersweet” occasion that ended with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang. Those of us who honor The Warfield as hallowed ground (Garcia’s name has remained on a dressing room door downstairs, but who knows what the new management will think about that) had to wonder what the place would feel like when the posters and photos and shrines in the lobby are replaced by billboards for beer, cars, computers and online stock brokers. Will this grand old room become just one more corporate vessel for a product called music? Here’s hoping these fears prove unfounded.
Phil Lesh & Friends :: 05.16.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA
Set 1 Workingman’s Dead: Uncle John’s Band, *High Time, *Dire Wolf, *New Speedway Boogie, *Cumberland Blues, *Black Peter, *Easy Wind, Casey Jones
Set 2 American Beauty: *Box of Rain, *#Friend Of The Devil, Sugar Magnolia, Operator, Candyman, *%Ripple, $Brokedown Palace, +Til the Morning Comes
E: +@Attics Of My Life, *Truckin’
*w/ David Nelson, +w/ Teresa Williams
#w/LC on fiddle and pedal steel, %, w/LC on mandolin,
$w/LC on fiddle, @w/LC on guitar and no other instruments
Phil Lesh & Friends :: 05.17.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA
Set 1 Skull and Roses: Bertha, Mama Tried, Big Railroad Blues, Playing In The Band, The Other One, Me & My Uncle, Big Boss Man, Me & Bobby McGee, Johnny B. Goode Wharf Rat, Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
Set 2 Dead Set: Samson and Delilah, Friend Of The Devil, New Minglewood Blues, Deal, Candyman, Little Red Rooster, Loser, Passenger, Feel Like A Stranger, Franklin’s Tower
E: *Rhythm Devils, *Fire On The Mountain, Greatest Story Ever Told, Brokedown Palace
Encore with Henry Kaiser on guitar
*with Sikiru Adepoju on talking drum, started as a duet with Molo then eventually became the full band
Phil Lesh & Friends :: 05.18.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA
Set 1 (with Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, & John Molo): Come Together > Dark Star > Loose Lucy, West L.A. Fadeaway*, The Wheel* > Not Fade Away*
* with Jeff Chimenti from RatDog and Larry Campbell
Set 2 (acoustic set w/ Larry Campbell & Jackie Green): Maureen, Sing Me Back Home Deep Elem Blues, Instrumental, The Warfield Waltz, Love Please Come Home, Goodnight Irene
Set 3 (Phil Lesh & Friends): Shakedown Street > Like a Ball & Chain, Big River, Mississippi Half-Step^ > Althea^, Mexican Girl^, Stella Blue (Instrumental)^ > Sugaree^
^ with Jeff Chimenti from RatDog and Larry Campbell
Set 4 (Skinny Singers with Jackie Green & Tim Bluhm): The Ballad of Spider John, Where The Rain Don’t Go, Squeeky Wheel*
* with Nicki Bluhm on backing vocals
Set 5 (Phil Lesh & Friends): Sugar Magnolia, Unbroken Chain > Mountains of the Moon > Inspiration > I Know You Rider
E: Jam* > Truckin’* > And We Bid You Goodnight*
* with Mark Karan from RatDog
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Check out coverage from the May 13 and 14 Warfield Phil & Friends shows here…
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