Hear The Phil Lesh Quintet Explore The Universe With Summer 2001 ‘Planet Jams’
Listen to the five-piece perform a series of Lesh-penned instrumentals.
By Scott Bernstein Mar 15, 2023 • 11:14 am PDT
Legendary Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh was born in Berkeley, California on this date in 1940. The 83-year-old musician has devoted the bulk of his post-GD career to performing with various Phil Lesh & Friends lineups. One of the most beloved and longest-running iterations of the project, known as the “Phil Lesh Quintet” or “The Q” for short, saw Lesh joined by guitarists Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring, drummer John Molo and keyboardist Rob Barraco.
To celebrate Phil’s birthday, we’re looking back at a series of instrumentals Lesh wrote — each named for a planet — that The Q performed during their 2001 Summer Tour. Phil Lesh discussed the “Planet Jams” concept with Relix in 2002.
“We tried to do a thing last summer where, over 30 shows, at seven of them we played music sequenced to describe the teaching of the soul’s ascent through the planetary spheres after death,” Lesh explained.
“There’s music for the moon, sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, the seven planets that were known to the ancients,” Lesh told Jambands.com’s Dean Budnick the following November. “We played this music as instrumental introductions to the second set in some cases and in some cases as interludes in the second set of the shows.”
Phil didn’t announce what was happening or clue the crowd in by introducing any of the compositions.
“We wanted it to be subliminal,” the bassist added in his chat with Budnick. “There are seven tarot trumps which relate directly to those spheres. Our light show had a circular projection surface and at each of the shows when were playing this music we had a version of the tarot trump appear in the circular frame. That was the only clue, really. That and the music itself being more or less clearly not improvised.”
Rob Barraco was a huge fan of the compositions. The keyboardist shared the following in a 2004 interview for PhilZone.com:
“Phil wrote a whole slew of music to do this huge celebration of the ancient planets. Phil wrote a theme for each of the planets and the sun and the moon. We rehearsed them before that tour extensively because it was intricate music and it was more open ended than you would think. There were no real melodies per say; there were keys but the rest was just left up to chance.
“Some of them were just phenomenal. I know Jimmy was a real big fan and he keeps asking when we’re going to the jams again. Phil says we’re going to do them again one of these days. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if Phil would do a record based on that stuff some time in the future and maybe work them so that they were real melodies and maybe Hunter could write lyrics. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. But I don’t know what Phil has up his sleeve.”
The moon was celebrated with the “Luna” piece after an introduction known as the “Intrada Jam” at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on June 30, 2001. Fans at Colorado’s Red Rocks were treated to “Mercury” a week later on July 6, while “Venus” was played on July 17 at Pine Knob outside Detroit. Next up was the “Sun” at Tweeter Center, aka Great Woods, in Mansfield, Massachusetts on July 20. Then, “Mars” was played within “Viola Lee Blues” at SPAC in Saratoga Springs, New York on July 22.
Phil Lesh & Friends unveiled “Jupiter” to start their second set on July 26 at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York. Finally, the “Intrada Jam” was back to preface “Saturn” on July 28 in Camden, New Jersey. Fans are still waiting for the return of any of “The Planet Jams,” which for now remain one-offs.
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John Hilgart curated and created a mix of “The Planet Jams” for his Save Your Face website.
“The objective for this mix was to extract these pieces as cleanly as possible from the music that directly flowed into and out of them,” Hilgart wrote about the compilation. “They were almost all tightly sandwiched – one of them in the middle of ‘Viola Lee Blues.’ So, I found the best starting place I could for each and faded all of them.”
Stream the 73-minute compilation below or download the MP3 mix here:
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The Planet Jams Tracks
- Intrada > (7/28)
- Saturn (7/28)
- Luna (6/30)
- Mars (7/22)
- Comes a Time jam > Venus (7/17)
- Sun (7/20)
- Jupiter (7/26)
- Mercury (7/6)