Phil Lesh & Friends | 05.16 & 05.18 | SF

By Team JamBase May 20, 2008 2:22 pm PDT

Words by: Ben Marks | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Phil Lesh & Friends :: 05.16.08 & 05.18.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA

Phil Lesh :: 05.16 :: The Warfield
Of the five night run by Phil Lesh & Friends commemorating the end of Bill Graham Presents reign over the beloved and historical Warfield, Friday was the quietest, which was not surprising since the material on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty includes many of the Grateful Dead’s loveliest, sweetest melodies and ballads. Now that the format of the shows was well understood by most, essentially a live attack on the band’s landmark albums starting at the beginning (see JamBase’s review of the first two performances for further details), the crowd expected the show to begin with the salving opening chords of “Uncle John’s Band,” and the Friends did not disappoint.

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.

David Nelson :: 05.16 :: The Warfield
Greene took over vocals on “Dire Wolf,” which was followed by lyricist Robert Hunter’s answer to the fiasco at Altamont, “New Speedway Boogie” (“Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack / If you’ve got nothing new to say”). That led into “Cumberland Blues,” with the transition between the two being one of the finest moments of the relatively short first set. “Black Peter” was played slow and soft, so much so that it was difficult to hear Lesh’s vocals (which were in fine form) over the endless chatter of the crowd. “Easy Wind” never quite jelled, although it was great to hear Nelson trading vocals with Greene. The set closed with a rousing “Casey Jones” with Greene leading the charge.

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.”

Jackie Greene :: 05.16 :: The Warfield
It was not for Greene’s lack of trying that “Candyman” felt like the only soft spot of the night. The order of albums, with certain songs closing out sides and others leading them off, obviously doesn’t always translate to the live setting, where the songs are played in order, straight through. To my ears, “Candyman” was always that gorgeous, sad tune that you’d play at the end of a long night to wind down. Let’s just say the crowd was not ready to wind down, which made the piece somewhat interminable. But, all was forgiven when Nelson came back for “Ripple,” another chestnut he performs regularly. Campbell on mandolin more than recreated the vibe of the original.

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

Weir & Lesh :: 05.18 :: The Warfield
By Sunday, anyone who had a mind to find out knew the album format had been at least partially violated on Saturday when the band opened with Skull & Roses in the first set and then jumped ahead to Dead Set, which was partially recorded at The Warfield, in the second. Lesh came out on Sunday night before the band took the stage to say they weren’t quite sure what they were going to do on this final night. As appealing as the album-per-set idea had been, this was actually more intriguing.

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.”

Phil & Friends with Karan :: 05.18 :: The Warfield
Sunday would give us three full sets, plus two mini-sets featuring Greene. For the first of these, Greene and Campbell performed a handful of traditional-sounding numbers, including Merle Haggard‘s “Sing Me Back Home,” Hank Thompson’s “Deep Elem Blues,” a tune called “Warfield Waltz” and folk standard “Goodnight Irene.” Alas, the crowd was so frickin’ noisy it was practically impossible to hear anything. There were a lot of folks from Bill Graham Presents in attendance, and, in a way, this was more of a party for them than a Phil Lesh concert. Despite my desire to hear the music, this made sense.

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.”

Phil & Friends :: 05.18 :: The Warfield
After another even-more-mini mini-set, this time with Greene and his Skinny Singers partner Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips) and Nicki Bluhm, and a painfully long break, the band ambled back out for one last set, which began with a balloon drop from The Warfield’s high ceiling and one of Bill Graham’s favorite songs, “Sugar Magnolia.” Greene owned it, and the energy reminded even the people who had come here just to party and reminisce with old friends why these guys were the only ones who could possibly do this goodbye party justice. Lesh took the mic for “Unbroken Chain” and stayed on vocals as the jam eased into “Mountains of the Moon.” That tune, so beautiful as a part of Aoxomoxoa on Wednesday, was dangerously sleepy as the clock moved well past the drinking hour, but the crowd was roused with “Inspiration” and the last part of “Terrapin Station,” which itself morphed into a monster “I Know You Rider” to end the set.

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 & Friends :: 05.18 :: The Warfield

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

Continue reading for more images of Phil & Friends at The Warfield…

Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Friday :: 05.16.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA

Saturday :: 05.17.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA

Sunday :: 05.18.08 :: Warfield Theatre :: San Francisco, CA

Check out coverage from the May 13 and 14 Warfield Phil & Friends shows here

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