Thursday, March 23, 2017

Brokedown Palace: The Capitol Theater and the Grateful Dead

The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY is the stuff of magic in the Grateful Dead creation myth. As you're getting more into the band you might end up with a copy of the 2/18/71 show, first of the famed Betty Boards (for more on Betty Cantor Jackson's famous recordings follow this link) and hear the famed "beautiful Jam" in the Wharf Rat>Dark Star segue. As you get a little deeper you might hear about ushers Ken and Judy Leigh's famed early audience recordings from the Balcony of the Cap. These recordings are precious documents of the cultural phenomenon of a Grateful Dead show in 1970.  You may also have turned up in your research of the famed venue, this intriguing quote from Jerry Garcia indicating even they knew how special this place was at the time:

"See, there's only two theaters, man that are set up pretty groovy all around for music and for smooth stage changes, good lighting and all that - the Fillmore and The Capitol Theatre. And those are the only two in the whole country."

Mike Dubois's excellent tribute to the dead shows at the Cap (available for sale here)


Joe Russo's Almost Dead 12/27/13
What is it about this place? When Pete Shapiro re-opened the Capitol Theater and started putting on rock shows, I knew I had to check it out. My first show there was the 12/27/13 performance of Joe Russo's Almost Dead. One of my favorite live bands of all time is Brothers Past. I saw them as much as I could in and after college, catching around 40 shows before they disbanded. An NYC Taper article and accompanying tape began circulating of a band called Joe Russo's Almost Dead. While I had seen and adored Joe Russo in a number of different projects, the real excitement for me was Tommy Hamilton playing Grateful Dead music. Playing Dead music exceptionally well with an unbelievable band. When they announced a second date, this time at the legendary Capitol Theater, I and a ton of friends all made the trip down. They played an incredible show and an informative one for me.

Long time co-conspirators Tom Hamilton and Joe Russo 12/27/13
My passion for the Grateful Dead really started to take off in 2011-12. I went from a casual listener to an attentive one, beginning to follow trails, study eras and sink deeper into the immensity of their legacy. For the JRAD show in 2013, I was about 100 shows deep into my  research. Imagine my surprise when they started the show with Cream Puff War, a tune I honestly wasn't too familiar with! I also heard the entire Terrapin Suite for the first time that night. I still had a lot to learn. Evidently primal and album Dead needed to be investigated! 


I’m truly grateful to have caught their second live performance. I continue to see them when I can, listen to the beautiful recordings being made and rock couch tour streams with friends.  They are among the most talented musicians in all of live music today. They pay homage to the legacy of the Grateful Dead in the most authentic of ways while reinventing improvisational music and whats possible with every single jam.


From left to right: Marco Benevento, Tom Hamilton, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz and Scott Metzger 12/27/13
Photos from Mark Dershowitz's excellent gallery on the Waster. Check out the rest here

When the Disco Biscuits announced their debut at the Capitol Theater, levels of excitement and anticipation set high for the JRAD show were beyond exceeded. The Disco Biscuits are my favorite live act of all time and following their music has shaped my adult life significantly. I was also over 2 years and several hundred shows deeper into my Grateful Dead obsession so the true import of the Capitol Theater in their mythos was much more fully revealed. I decided as a mental and spiritual preparation for the biscuits at the Cap, I was going to listen to all of the Dead shows they played there in 1970 and 1971.

March 1970
 3/21/70
3/22/70
The phenomenal dead essays blog has a fascinating piece on the integration of acoustic music into the Grateful Dead's performances from 1969-1970 (read it here). In the March shows at the Cap, we see a one of the steps in that evolution. They play an early electric show followed by a late show in which they go Electric>Acoustic>Electric. It must've been shocking for the audience to see the rippin', eardrum rattling psychedelic blues rock band they knew put on such a different face. The audience was extremely rowdy and the band threw it right back at em. I've linked many blogs posts on these shows at the end of this post which go into deep detail about some of the interactions back and forth but maybe listen for yourself first? There is a lot to discover and treasure. A wise deadhead heartily recommends the jam in Dancin' in the Streets on 3/21/70 as one of the finest moments of Grateful Dead improvisation ever.


The Grateful Dead had just recorded Workingman's Dead in February and would record American Beauty from August to October. The band, along with lyricist Robert Hunter, had entered one of their most prolific periods and the band was taking all of this material on the road. This new music was a new interpretation of  Americana. The writing style and studio work stripped down the ornate work on the last two albums and focused on the voice. Instrumentation was sparse and integrated acoustic instruments with the Dead's electric sound. I, like many Grateful Dead fans, was exposed to these two albums before any later or live material. Hearing the primitive versions of these songs taking shape in their performances at the Capitol Theater felt like a full circle moment in my listening journey.

6/24/70
Ken and Judy Leigh's Audience Recording

The Grateful Dead Return to the Capitol Theater in June. This time they bring along the New Riders of the Purple Sage and bill it as "An Evening With the Grateful Dead" which they had started touring in May. The Dead play acoustic, then the New Riders play (with Jerry Garcia on Pedal Steel guitar and Micky Hart on drums), followed by an extended electric Dead set. Workingman's Dead was released on June first. This performance finds the band straddling its late 60's sound and where Workingman's Dead and American Beauty would lead them in the early 70's. They were still playing blistering, monumental psychedelic jam music, most notably the Dark Star/ Attics sequence but are playing roots music like Candyman, Uncle John's Band and Friend of the Devil so very beautifully. This show is a delicate moment of flux and transition for the Grateful Dead and the brittle intimacy of Ken Leigh's recording is the perfect transportation device to take you there.



November 1970
11/5/70
11/6/70
11/7/70
11/8/70

 By the November Capitol Theater run the band has released Workingman's Dead, recorded American beauty and toured relentlessly besides. The band had retired the "evening with the Grateful Dead" show format but decided to bust it out one last time at the Capitol Theater, bringing the New Riders of the Purple Sage along for the ride again. I think that's a neat fact. As if the spring and summer shows at the Capitol Theater were so special, they wanted to capture that magic again? Capture it they did. Both the Dead listening and Dead Essay blogs do wonderful jobs writing up this run so I'll leave you to explore those links below on your own. Suffice it to say that the recordings, often a composite of the 3 taper’s yields that made the run, capture another dose of pure Capitol Theater/Grateful Dead Magic. 11/6 and 11/8 tend to get the most attention as they have the best sound quality but there is plenty of X factor throughout all four nights. There's something about listening to these nights in their entirety that's so satisfying and calming to me. First the acoustic Dead, transitioning perfectly into the New Riders set, followed by face-melting electric Dead. Of all the Capitol Theater Grateful Dead performances, this run is my favorite.

The recordings of the Capitol Theater performances in 1970 offer a potent historic sampling of the Grateful Dead at critical point in their career. The back to back release of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty mark the transition of the band from infamy to legitimate fame. The year of 1970 is an incredible one for them musically with countless performance highlights and the respective shows at the Cap manage to nicely sample each phase of the year.


February 1971
2/18/71
2/19/71
2/20/71
2/21/71
2/23/71
2/24/71
While only three months pass between the November 1970 and February 1971 runs, we have ourselves a very different band. On night one, they debut five new songs, all of which find their forever home in the Grateful Dead's sets. Bertha, Loser (my personal favorite dead song), Greatest Story Ever Told (which hadn't taken its final shape yet), Johhny B. Goode (RIP Check Berry) and Wharf Rat arrive and set the tone for how this band will continue to evolve in the coming years. While I've read about and listened to the "beautiful Jam" out of Wharf Rat and back into Dark Star several times, I wasn't prepared for my most recent listening experience in preparation to write this post. It moved me as deeply as any piece of Grateful Dead live performance I've listened to. It sent deep chills up and down my body and gave me that soaring feeling in my heart that only comes from true art's brush with the divine.Its amazing how you can listen to the same performance by the Grateful Dead many times and take away something new each time.


On night two, Deal and Birdsong which would find their way on to Jerry Garcia's first solo album in 1972 are debuted, but certainly the bigger news is the departure of drummer Mickey Hart. The details of this situation are written about quite well in the blogs I've linked below so I wont go too crazy into detail. Mickey's father had been managing the band and was caught stealing. When the jig was up, he cut himself a fat check in March of 1970 and ran off, leaving the Dead with almost nothing. Micky grew increasingly distraught over the course of 1970 and after the first night of the February Cap run, left the band. Thankfully he did return in October 1974. While Bill Kreutzmann does an incredible job during his time as the sole drummer, you get an almost palpable sense of loss and confusion from the playing on 2/19/71. Over the course of the remaining nights of the run, the band gets back on their feet and continue to dial in the new material which would be featured on the live album known to deadheads as Skull and Roses. The simplification of the sound down to one drummer, coupled with some new, rockin material, changed the sound of the Grateful Dead significantly from 1970-1971. The Psychedelic church music of 1970 was distilled down to rockin' honky tonk blues rock sound that still managed to wiggle quite a bit around the edges.


To me, the Grateful Dead's performances at the Capitol Theater  between 1970-71 offer a truly potent document of some of this band's best playing in a truly tumultuous era both for them and the world as a whole. While the hippie movement that the Grateful Dead had played such an important part in founding had been dissipating for many years, the tragedy at Altamont (around 3 months before the first Cap run) must've had a significant impact on the hearts and minds of the band. Considering both New Speedway Boogie and Mason's Children  deal with Altamont directly which the Dead weren't known for doing very often in their music, it must've weighed heavily on them. The Kent State shootings occurred between the March and June shows and was just another example to folks like the Grateful Dead and their fanbase that while they must've felt like their revolution was unstoppable a few years back, the forces of darkness still had tremendous power. The beauty of the music and society built around the Grateful Dead  though, was and is that you can seek refuge from the darkness. You can share in the light. If only for 3 or 4 hours at a time.


The Grateful Dead responded to the flux, change and tragedy in their family and the surrounding world by writing, recording and performing live, truly monumental music. Their music has to me always represented the battle and interrelationship between the forces of light and darkness. The battle was played out night after night in their improvisation and true light was shone on the world through the songs they wrote in this time period.

"One way or another, this darkness got to give."  
-Robert Hunter
 
 All photos from this section are from 11/6/70 taken by Marcia Cohen except the last which was taken by Stephen Gilbert at some point during that run. All borrowed from gdao.org

The Disco Biscuits 3/26/16

There is no doubt in my mind that the cosmic goo, the Dead smeared all over the Capitol Theater left a significant residue. J and I were beyond excited for our first show since our son Hunter was born in November of 2015. We had a babysitter and a hotel with all our friends! Stars seemed aligned early as one of my favorite modern music artists Mark Serlo had designed a stunning psychedelic poster and matching pin for the run. Our dear friends Jay and Cate went to both nights so I pleaded with them to grab me one of each for me on night one knowing they would definitely sell out. Also, Brandon Lawwill (Bee L. Designs) who I had met through the bisco pins group had designed a great pin with the venue and signature biscuits laser light show, so I got a ten pack of those to share with my friends and sell a couple as well.

My Serlo Capitol Theater poster
Mark Serlo and Brandon Lawwill's excellent commemorative pins


Well this old guy should've known I can't throw down like I used to haha. I slugged beers like a 25 year old beforehand and ended up in the 'too much too fast' club for the show. I had to sit for large portions. Luckily, we had invested in loge seats which are the front row of the balcony, considered by many (now including myself) as the best seats in that house. There in my seat I witnessed a truly spectacular Disco Biscuits performance I'll never forget. One that for me will likely live in my top 10 forever.


The first set was tremendous, with an extended intro jam to Bernstein and Chasnoff getting things started in a way to let you know that the Grateful Dead's legacy in this room was understood by this band. Every segue was creative and the peak in the inverted Shelby Rose was one of the most furious I've ever heard. They finished the first set by completing the B and C. It was at this point I realized they hadn't stopped once. This isn't entirely out of character for the Disco Biscuits but this set was particularly unrelenting and fluid.


While we tried to get our heads together after the biscuits had scrambled our brain waves for an hour and a half, no amount of recovery could prepare us for the second set. Hope is probably my favorite Disco Biscuits song and a message I take very seriously so starting the second set with it shook me deeply in the best way possible. The second set sequence of  Hope>(><) Above the Waves>Mr. Don>Home (LCD Soundsytem cover)>Helicopters was truly a triumphant performance for the ages. It delivered everything the potential of this band promises.  The standing ovation the band rightfully received will also be a moment I'll never forget. I've been in far bigger crowds and far louder crowds but I've never felt the energy of elation and gratitude that I felt from that roaring applause.

Saint Gutwillig
While I'm sure the soundboard recording of the show is great, I thought it right and proper in the tradition of the Cap to listen to one of the audience recordings to relive the experience. This recording is spectacular and transmits the energy exchange between the band and the fans admirably.

Addendum: Bobby's birthday party 10/16/16
I hope I'm never done seeing concerts at the Capitol Theater. When the tour was announced supporting Bob Weir's stunning Blue Mountain solo album, I was elated to see he would play at the Cap on his birthday. That excitement quickly dissolved when I struck out on the pre-sale as well as the regular sale. THe secondary market prices were instantly and consistently way out of my league so I made peace with not going though and life went on. The week of the show I saw a floor ticket offered up in a Grateful Dead marketplace on Facebook. I made inquiries and found out that the ticket was not only available but was being sold by a former co-worker! Smalbany, Weir everywhere etc. J was kind enough to encourage me to go and to assure me she'd be fine taking care of Hunter for the evening so a few days later I found myself cruising down the Taconic Parkway for a quick visit to the Cap.




I can't remember the last time I had gone solo to see a show but needless to say it had been a long time. There was a Peruvian Street fair going on right across the street so I'll always associate the smells of delicious food and the echoes of  Peruvian dance music bouncing down Westchester ave with my experience that night. I shared a moment with another fan, taking it all in and smiling. I wandered the theater a bit before making my way down to the floor. I thought about all those spectacular Dead shows. Then I thought about the spectacular music I had witnessed there myself. Then I grabbed a beer.


Remembering the JRAD show, I knew it was going to be close quarters if I wanted to get close but I decided to commit to it anyway. The way I figured it, I may never get a chance like this again to see anyone from the Grateful Dead so up close and personal. The artwork for the Blue Mountain album was shown on a large screen behind the stage, which was packed with instruments. The stark and monochromatic western landscapes were evocative of the albums music and struck a deep chord in my soul as a lover of nature. Bobby came out alone with his acoustic and played four songs. One More Saturday Night (snickering about missing it the night before, as it was Sunday), Peggy-O (which was breathtaking), When I Paint my Masterpiece (in Honor of Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize) and Blue Mountain (the title track of the new album).


Next he brought out the Campfire Tour band and played five songs off of Blue Mountain, with Dark Hollow (featuring the very talented Leslie Mendelson singing harmonies with Bobby) thrown in for good measure. A trio of vocalists known as the Bandana Splits thickened out the sound soulfully. I had decided to wait on listening to the album until I had heard it live so it was all new to me. After the original drummer of the Disco Biscuits, Sam Altman, left the band, I sort of fell out of listening to jam music and ended up discovering a lot of great indie/ college radio music that was happening at the time. Bands like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Cloud Cult, Iron and Wine and the National really struck a chord with me. When Bobby started collaborating with members of the National I was so excited to see what the merging of two of my favorite kinds of music would yield. The end result was truly spectacular. The songs were delicate, soulful and shimmered with energy. Accessing a type of emotional response I don't commonly associate with jambands. I stood rapt, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow music lovers for all the first set, forgetting about the empty plastic beer cup clutched in my hand.


I was still reeling from the music after the lights came up for set break. I decided to hang tight since I didn't really need a beer or a bathroom break. I wasn't alone. The crowd hardly budged over the course of the 40 minute set break, if anything getting thicker as set 2 approached. It was an exercise in musical devotion to stay on my feet haha. Since Hunter was born, I just can't keep up like I used to. I get sore and tired at shows. This was a worthy cause though and all my efforts paid off as the house lights went down and the walls of the Cap started crawling with writhing color. Leslie Mendelson came out once again to help out on Mamma Tried. West L.A. Fadeaway came sauntering up next along with the dawning realization that set 2 was likely going to be just jammed out Dead tunes. Joy! Ecstacy! Tired back be damned! Leslie M added the Donna parts beautifully to a melodic Eyes of the World which had me spacing nicely.


The Bandana Splits came back out for Uncle John's Band and with Leslie already on stage, it sounded like a massive (yet professional) campfire singalong. While I love the album version of UJB, I often find live versions (especially later ones) to be a bit of a train wreck. This was truly Uncle John's Band how it was meant to sound. It reverberated melodically around the hall with most of the crowd adding their voice to the mix.  Morning Dew was monumentally, ground shakingly awesome. Bobby really hits this one out of the park here and with Dead and Company. Not Fade Away wrapped up set 2 of Bobby's 69th birthday show perfectly with the entire room taking up the signature Not Fade Away chant for several minutes after the band had left the stage.


Bobby came out for the encore in a cowboy hat and before you knew it, Pete Shapiro and company were throwing hundreds of baby blue cowboy hats into the audience while presenting him with a cake. Everyone put their hats on for Ki Yi Bossie. The band came back out (also wearing the baby blue cowboy hats) and closed the night with a lovely and perfect Brokedown Palace which was met with a roaring ovation.



  I am deeply grateful for this (no longer) Brokedown Palace in Port Chester, New York. The Grateful Dead's groundbreaking and awe-inspiring performances there makes it, to me, one of the most important venues from their formative time.With modern acts from both inside and outside of the jam community playing there regularly, and with Bobby and Phil still playing there (a lot!), its one of the most important rooms to see live music today. Based on the quality of music the Grateful Dead played there in 1970 and 71 and my experiences these past few years, I have no doubt that there is magic in this stately old theater. Whether you want to call it the X factor, as the deadheads did or Bisco as Disco Biscuits fans call it. That special something where the walls between the audience and the band, between every soul in the room, between the plains of reality, all seem to dissolve seems to happen at the Capitol Theater. A lot.

Further Reading
http://www.deadlistening.com/2009/12/1970-march-21-capitol-theater.html
http://www.deadlistening.com/2008/04/1970-june-24-capitol-theatre.html
http://www.deadlistening.com/2009/03/1970-november-6-capitol-theatre.html
http://www.deadlistening.com/2008/02/1970-november-8-capitol-theater.html

http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2009/08/port-chester-november-1970.html

http://www.glidemagazine.com/95438/steel-cut-oats-10-back-to-the-cap-port-chester-70/
 http://www.darkstarpalace.com/2010/04/esp-and-dead.html
 https://dlr2008.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/grateful-dead-1971-capital-theater-1971-02-18/
 http://patch.com/new-york/portchester/legendary-port-chester-grateful-dead-feb-19-1971

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Disco Biscuits/ Ratdog/ Phil Lesh and Friends, SPAC 7/22/01

I came to Albany in Fall of 2000 to attend SUNY. I came up with a big group of my high school friends and we had a pretty memorable first year. I did not do well in school. My parents were less than pleased and offered me a couple of options to avoid murder. I chose what I considered the best one: take some summer courses and try my damnedest to turn around my academic career. My buddy Justin and I sublet an apartment on Washington Ave in the heart of the 'student ghetto' as its known and got jobs as mobile frozen dessert vendors as we liked to call it. We sold Italian ice, lemonade,  Ben and Jerry's bars and soft serve at craft fairs, Albany city events and the like. It was not a glamorous or well paying job.

tie dye I bought on lot, now part of a t shirt blanket courtesy of momma dukes
My stub. Funny story about the ripped corner I'll share at some point
Justin and I shared an appreciation for jambands with Phish being the main act we had in common. We both dug the dead though and with the SPAC show coming up, decided to go and hatched a scheme: we'd buy two jugs of Guido's (yes his name was actually Mark Guido) homemade Italian Ice and hustle it on lot. We made a crayon drawn sign advertising our wares and tried to figure out a good cooler situation. Business was initially slow. I wasn't the best hype man at the time and Italian ice isn't exactly a standard lot treat though we figured it was a decent bet on a hot summer day. As the afternoon progressed the ice started getting soft and more and more folks were heading in. I think we were definitely shy of breaking even at that point but weren't exactly stressing, we were doing it more for fun than to profit. So we decided to start giving it away so we could go into the show. A funny thing happened though which makes sense now that I understand human nature and deadhead nature better: once we had a crowd of folks taking free yums, someone in the group would invariably give us some money. It kept repeating and soon enough we had made about double the money we had made actually trying to sell the ices hahaha.


We made our way into the show during Ratdog's Friend of the Devil. We had missed the entirety of the Disco Biscuits set and 2 songs from the Ratdog set. Its amusing to me looking back that I missed the biscuits set. Less than 2 months later I'd see my first biscuits show at Saratoga Winners (9/7/01) which began a lifelong relationship/ obsession with a lil jamtronica band from Philadelphia.

The Disco Biscuits Set
Terrific Audience recording from  Tim Danielson 




 Aceetobee, Shelby Rose, Helicopters, Jigsaw Earth (1), Home Again 

(1) With 'The Tunnel' tease


My memories of the other two sets is spotty and sparse at best and noexistent for the biscuits set since I didn't make it inside so the review is coming from my 2017 listening experience. Much like the Grateful Dead, the Disco Biscuits often struggle to translate the full experience of one of their shows to a shorter festival style set. I wasn't expecting all that much out of this set so was pleasantly surprised to find it to be pretty awesome and a good representation of what the band was bringing to the table in 2001. They start with Aceetobee at a leisurely pace indicating a comfortable band. They shook of their warm up jitters through the composition and found a plaintive and ethereal space for the jam. I think it was a cool choice for them to start this set with an extended jam rather than trying to catch the audience with a quick standard composition. The jam was very representative of the 2001 sound and stretched this Aceetobee out to nearly 15 minutes.


 Shelby Rose comes down the pipe next. The tempo is relatively fast for the tune. I haven't listened to much 2001 biscuits lately so can't compare to other versions from the era. This song is one of the best examples of how this band plays with tension and release style jamming. The jam within is a dark minor key, often drum and bass style onslaught that peaks into a triumphant major key led by virtuoso guitarist Jon Gutwilig. He ultimately controls the peak and release of this element of the jam and I've heard versions where he dips back, tantalizes and nearly tortures the audience holding back that key change. It can create some furious, at times dissonant soul rattling improvisation. This version is much more concise and reigned in at a paltry 10 minutes yet still manages to convey what the song is capable of.


 Helicopters could be considered the definitive piece of music for the Disco Biscuits. It best exemplifies their sound and its mix of dark electronic music with classic jam improv. For me, begining my biscuits journey in 2000/01, versions from this time period very much remind me of my falling in love with this band. All songs were standalones from this show so they just launch right into helicopters. The jam out of the compositions is way darker, more aggressive and raging then I could've thought possible from the tight festival set format. They really rip it apart while keeping it to a tight 9 minute version.


Jigsaw Earth comes next and is the heaviest hitter of the night at 16 minutes. They start off with a Tunnel tease from Gutwilig during the opening instrumental. I love the format of Jigsaw with several jam segments that often expand out and accelerate way out of the original shuffling groove of the song  until it has to be reigned back in for the next verse. This track often goes very drum and bassy like Shelby, especially in this time period. Each jam takes the improv out a bit farther in this version and they manage to showcase their talents for the crowds filtering in for the dead guys. Before playing their last song bassist Marc Brownstein talks about seeing his first concert ever at SPAC (Men at Work haha) and thanking Phil and the rest for bringing them out on this tour as it was their last night.


They launch into the appropriate Home Again for their final track and gave me an incredible dose of nostalgia for my sophomore year of college. I did manage to turn my bad streak in school around that summer, doing well in a history and archaeology class. I especially enjoyed the archaeology class (after failing it that past spring haha) as my teacher was a grad student who was digging Maya sites in Mexico and got me really interested in Mesoamerican archaeology. Through 2001-2002 I took more archaeology classes and really enjoyed them. I had some direction! I also got more and more passionate about seeing jamband shows fueled by the fast internet speeds on our campus and the explosion of file sharing. All of a sudden we had access to tons of live music, including shows we'd just seen! Hearing this Home Again while walking into work brought me back to walking to class from Colonial Quad with my headphones on and spinning whatever  biscuits CD I had just burned. It was a truly inspiring and formative time for me. Here 15 years later I'm an archaeologist by trade whose passion for live music has only deepened.

Ratdog
Chris LaPorte's Nak300 Audience Recording 




 Blackbird, Me & My Uncle, Friend of the Devil, Bury me Standing >Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,  Playin in the Band > Uncle John's Band > October Queen > The Deep end >
Even So >He's gone > The Other One >Other One Jam >Sampson and Delilah, Terrapin>Uncle John's Band 


The jam into Blackbird is quite lovely to start out. Once again we have a wonderful, vibrant audience recording. I recently learned that some of the best audience recordings are from outdoor venues since there's no walls for the sound to bounce off of which was contrary to what I believed. So neat to keep learning. An excellent Me and My Uncle leads into Friend of the Devil which is where I entered the show all those years ago. This was a really cool moment for me. I grew up listening to American Beauty the most of all my dead stuff and those songs I tend to cherish especially so seeing one of these tunes as my first ever live dead experience was pretty special. Kenny Brooks on Sax and Jeff Chimenti on keys enter into the mix on FOTD. I didn't take note at the time of just how jazzy Ratdog is but listening now I really enjoy it and how different the sound is than many post-dead projects. I'm an unrepentant Dead and Company fan so its also cool to know I saw Jeff way back when. I absolutely adore his playing.


The Ratdog original Bury Me Standing comes next and I can definitely dig this tune. It's cool that Bobby was still interested in writing new music and wasn't just playing dead tunes. They segue into an uptempo and swinging Good Morning Little School that is a radical departure from the Pigpen led version I'm used to. The Bob Weir classic Playing in the Band comes up next and starts an extended block of segued tunes that sees the band stretching out and showing off their chops. Rob Wasserman is still playing double bass with a bow which gives this song a very unique feel compared to what I'm used to. They spiral fully into intense psychedelia before giving way into Uncle John's Band. Kenny Brook's leads on sax during the opening of UJB is quite lovely and manages to suite the song very well. During the between verse jamming, The Chimenti/ Brooks interplay shines again. On the segue out, Mark Karan contributes some tasty lead guitar as well which is a nice change as Brooks has been primarily holding down the lead lines.


October Queen with its musical homage and lyrical content really hitting that jazzy swing of New Orleans erupts from Uncle John's. Including in this segment is The Deep End instrumental which I'm not familiar enough with Ratdog material to really differentiate from the rest of the tune. The smoky Wasserman/ Weir track Even So segues very nicely out of October Queen. I'm very familiar with this tune after Dead and Company played it summer of 2016 as a tribute to Rab Wasserman shortly after his passing (check out the jambase article here). I get a definite feel for the Ratdog sound of this era during this jam segment. The jam takes a dark and spooky turn that segues very nicely into He's Gone. This band can definitely play really nice. The crowd was naturally very excited to hear to dead classic and they hit it at just the right funky pace for a summer sunny day.


The pace starts picking up out of the end of He's Gone and it becomes clear even without the Phil Bomb that we are heading into The Other One. Jay Lane plays expertly off of Brooks with Bobby organizing the charge. They only do the first verse before segueing into an 'Other One Jam' with Jeff getting weird on some synth effects followed by some sick Wasserman basslines. So interesting to hear classical bass wailing dead tunes! Out of the rumbling of Jay Lane's drums came the familiar pattern of Samson and Delilah. Such a natural segue I'm surprised it never occurred to the dead! Brooks switches up to alto sax which lends a much more rock and roll feel to the jam than the more jazz oriented baritone he uses for the majority of the show (note: I may have my sax names confused). I really enjoy his playing in this band. It reminds me a lot of what Leroi Moore added to the Dave Matthews Band.


The band next slowly noodles in to a reflective a lovely Terrapin Station. While other dead renditions from Ratdog are very different than what I'm used to hear with Dead and Company, this Terrapin could easily be confused with a Dead and Co version. The tempo rapidly accelerates as the band segues back into Uncle John's Band, a lovely way to close out a fun, well-played and diverse set.

Phil Lesh and Friends 
 Ben Ehrsam's Audience Source




SET 1
Jam >Shakedown Street ( with Wheel-ish Jam ), Music Never Stopped >Good Lovin, Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys >Tennessee Jed, Tons Of Steel
SET 2
Jam>Viola Lee Blues ( with Mt. Jam tease), Duprees Diamond Blues, Night Of 1000 Stars > Spacey Jam >Lucy In The Sky > Jam >Masons Children, The Wheel >The Other One >The Wheel >Sugaree, crowd / donor rap / band intro's
ENC:
Casey Jones 

It's pretty fascinating to have 3 different beautiful sources for the three different performances on this day. All of them are terrific and have slightly different flavors. I have slightly more vivid memories of moments from Phil compared to Ratdog but mores-so what songs they played as opposed to memories of the music. A nice patient jam in leads to rowdy Shakedown. Who doesn't love a shakedown opener? They get pretty deep into it including a wheel jam. Next up Bobby steps out and joins the friends for blistering Music Never stopped>Good Lovin'. I keep noticing just how much faster these tunes are played compared to Dead and Company. I shouldn't be so shocked considering this was 15 years earlier. Everyone is much older now. The jam in Good Lovin' gets especially fiery for Bobby's vocal improv at the end Warren is really shredding some lead lines as counterpoint. 


I'm unfamiliar with the traffic tune they play next but it has a nice slinky feel and some solid vocals from Warren. As the band departs into the jam Jimmy Herring and Warren Haynes expertly trade lead lines. Phil is really starting to stretch out here too with some very active lines. Baracco steps in with some choice key playing as well towards the end. The Here Comes Sunshine tease next has its intended effect of teasing me and leaving me wanting to hear that tune. I guess I'm not going to complain about a Tennessee Jed though.Rob Boracco sounds great on vocals not trying to impersonate Jerry but doing Jerry's version justice. They do some taffy pulling with the tempo of the jam which is pretty fun to listen to. There's no doubt this is a tight, professional band. To wrap up the first set, I love Brent. You can Tons of Steel me any day Warren. 


The second set gets started with a Jam> like the first set with nary a hint as to where its headed from the jump. Viola Lee opens with all the promise this beast can bring. Lesh is really strutting on the bass line and it is funky as all get out. Both guitarists get weird quick then commence to shreddin. It would be very challenging to track all of the meanderings in this 27 minute opus but suffice is to say they go many places, see many things and perhaps stop at a hot dog cart because Warren got hungry. There was a Mountain Jam tease. Dupree's is a tune that likely was not on my radar in 2001 but one that I enjoy very much these days. It's a well-played if all too brief version. In researching the next track Night of a Thousand Stars, I was excited to find out its a post-Jerry Robert Hunter piece! I adore Hunter's lyrics so its neat to have some I didn't know. The jam goes pretty far out, sheds the structure completely before easing into Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. This was a really fun moment for the audience. Definitely one of the energy highlights. On the re-listen even though I'm not really the biggest Beatles fan, I gotta say they nailed it. Next comes Mason's Children making for a one two punch of 60's flower power culture.


Mason's transitions in the loveliest of ways into The Wheel. One of the prettiest moments of the set. It's a brief visit, the wheel doesn't really intend to slow down and we hurtle on into The Other One. No question this time; Phil drops dem bombs. It's a whirlwind visit though. They song coming around a few times before scurrying back into the Wheel. They don't stay there too long either, its Sugaree time! Always a favorite of mine, I respect any version over 10 minutes. This version comes in around 11 minutes. Enough said. 


 After Phil's donor rap and band intros the friends rip through a nice Casey Jones encore before calling it a night. Looking back from the perspective of a 15-16 years spent since this night as a live music fan, I'm truly impressed with this night's line up and the stellar music played. Fans were treated to an up and coming jam band with a novel style showing folks what they could do, a unique take on the dead's music led by Bobby with a team of the bay area's best and Phil playing with some of the absolute top players in the game. Click here for the full gallery of images shot by Jonathan Rabhan I used for this post.