The grandiose gift that is the Grateful Dead is alive and well on the Phil Lesh and Friends 2001:A Summer Odyssey Tour, evidenced by the two positively explosive events this weekend. After wallowing in a sea of post-Dead incarnations and a fog of “what now” philosophizing, the road is again golden and the devotion unlimited for Phil Lesh and Friendsand Ratdog. In this new dawn of a burgeoning wide open jam scene, of progressive bands and countless opportunities to see live music, of festivals and gatherings, it was sobering and reassuring to ascend to that special place. On the backs of song, godfathers and where it all began, elevation and elation spread like disease throughout the weekend.
The Further Tours and Other Ones and early Ratdog performances were plagued by a Rolling Stones-esque dinosaur factor that was beginning to threaten the incredible Dead legacy. This premonition was nearing a fear with some of the meandering, unsure Phil and Friends shows last summer. With this I mean that it was not progressive, more like just playing our old favorites in the right spirit, but not breaking much new ground sonically nor emotionally, and other bands and experiences were replacing Dead related events in priority and relevance. That brief trepidation can be squashed after the whirlwind gigs Friday July 20 at the Tweeter Center (Great Woods) in Mansfield, Mass, and Meadows in Hartford on Saturday. Apparently stemming from the Rabbit Crusader Stealth Band show, the vibes are again flowing in the Dead camp. This is cause for extreme joy and celebration.
Friday 07.20.01 | Tweeter Center at Great Woods| Mansfield, MA
Bob Weir and Ratdog hit the stage about 5pm with an “El Paso.” Ratdog is better than ever, but still pale in comparison to Phil’s monster band. A energetic “Music Never Stopped” and a aggressive “New Speedway Boogie” highlighted his ninety minute set, flowering with a serene “Weather Report Suite” complete with a screaming “Let it Grow.” He finished with a crowd fave “Not Fade Away” and the vibe was set for a great evening of music and energy. Jay Lane’s drumming was hard and heavy, and Jeff Chimenti of Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade has added a choice Fender Rhodes to his keyboard arsenal, still lacking a Leslie speaker, however.
When Phil hit the stage, the sun was still up and shone brightly through the pavilion as they tuned and jammed, and before we knew it “Here Comes Sunshine” emerged, with keyboardist Rob Barraco doing a great Garcia vocal. Immediately, Warren Haynes established himself from the get-go with a wonderfully raw Gibson SG tone and frequent manipulation of this Leslie pedal ala Charlie Hunter. Soon, Weir emerged and a “Friend of the Devil” featured a joyful time onstage with Phil and Bobby enjoying the vocal exchanges with beaming smiles. I was lucky enough to be in the 10th row of the Warren zone so I had a keen view of all the communication and expression between band members all evening. A classic “Watchtower,” with the typical Bobby jumbled lyrics brought Jimmy Herring’s frenetic Strat-work to the forefront, but at times throughout the first set, Warren drowned Jimmy out. From “Watchtower” they segued back into “Friend” before Bobby exited the stage to a raucous ovation that exploded when Phil and Bobby met in a heartfelt hug. “Celebration,” an upbeat number I wasn’t familiar with, jammed into a raucous “Cumberland Blues” to close a great first set.
The second set of the Great Woods show was on of the most incredible music experiences I have had in quite a long time, and I will never forget it, and its invigorating energies catapulted the audience to a righteous elevation we all hope to realize every time we enter a venue. Thank you, Phil.
“Sun Jam” opened the set, continuing on a theme of the evening, the jam being methodic and driving at times, and serenely pretty at others. Warren then shone brightly during his “Lay of the Sunflower,” on which he played excruciatingly sweet southern slide guitar, as Herring played away high on the fretboard and Barraco added tasty major piano complements, all underwritten with authority by the Lesh/John Molo rhythm tandem. This was a setup for a vicious “Sunshine of Your Love” where Haynes positively took names with his SG ripping scream and powerful aggression, the bottom end bellowing hot, hard and heavy. Next came the bombshell, a riveting, brilliant rendition of what holds the title as my favorite Dead song, “Unbroken Chain.” The emotion behind Phil’s vocal was complemented beyond description by his band, channeling into ferocity as they reached the middle rolling jam, with Molo assaulting his kit with reckless abandon and Warren soaring above with dreamy melodies and guttural ripping chords. After a moving would-be ending, the band entered a transcending place with the three chord jam coda from Unbroken, with each soloist (Barraco, Herring, Haynes) upping the ante with their inspired playing.
I was dealing with the emotions filling my mind, leaving my body when I heard the familiar C-major keyboard roll that is the “Terrapin” lick emanating from Barraco’s pianos. I excitedly babbled this to my new friend Sarah G. that was seeing her first show of any kind since 97, and about two minutes later, a beautiful “Lady With a Fan” arrived, with another emotional Phil vocal performance. They made it until just before the “Terrapin Station” part before they jammed with a sweet Herring solo and faded lower and lower. The spotlight again turned to Haynes, and he delivered a mesmerizing “Stella Blue” with more slide prowess and a fulfilling vocal that left us both reveling in his rendition and mourning Garcia at once. The jam came to a crescendo and seamlessly rocked into “Terrapin Station,” with Phil’s overt body language cueing both the band and audience in to join him with “Inspiration, move me brightly!” This Terrapin was performed in a different arrangement, with Molo and Lesh reworking it double time and much more aggressively. This served to only make the song more progressive, powerful, amazing and suprising the masses. Just when you thought the set was over, they jammed into “Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion” with a crowd singalong that made the bliss inescapable. This brought to an end a serious excursion into new worlds discovered of the greatest song and energy catalogue of all time.
Phil emerged for the encore, thanked the crowd, introduced the band, made his remarks about donating blood and organs, and broke into a standard “Lovelight” to send us home singing like Pig and skanking our feet.
Saturday 07.21.01 | Meadows Music Center | Hartford, CT
Ratdog dropped some choice songs into their set, including a bouncing “Shakedown Street” and a surprise in “Mission in the Rain” the beautiful Robert Hunter ballad longing for the old neighborhood. A funky “West LA Fadeaway” continued the California dreaming, and the charging “China/Rider” closed out the Ratdog set.
Phil hit the stage a little after 8pm with a short jam that made its way into an average, but fun “Cosmic Charlie.” Bobby hurried onto the stage to another roar, and led the band into a pretty ordinary “Truckin’” before they began to hit on all cylinders with a riveting “Cassidy.” Herring’s fast fretwork and smart melodies accentuated Bobby’s inspired vocal performance and better than expected guitar solo. An unfamiliar Warren sung tune “Beautifully Broken” came next, and it was short but still delivered with an intensity that rages throughout Phil and his band no matter what the type of number being performed. Soon came the treat that was “King Solomon’s Marbles/Stronger than Dirt.” I always loved the Blues for Allah compositions though they seldom see a live light of day, yet the tenacity and boom behind these Middle Eastern jams were the perfect catalyst for the notion of how progressive, relevant, exciting and unpredictable this band is. These ideas were further cemented with the inclusion of the 60’s gem “Doin’ That Rag” to conclude the first set.
A wandering jam to open the second set evolved into a empowering “Dear Mr. Fantasy” delivered by Warren, and accentuated by his deep well of slide guitar tactics and shrieking Hammond B3 work by Barraco. The crowd and band erupted simultaneously with a huge “St. Stephen” where Warren again established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the six string terror machine as he torched his Gibson SG, the very same guitar Garcia ripped this tune with in its raging late 60’s inception. The adulation of the crowd was uninhibited as Herring and Lesh led the jam into an “Eyes of the World.” The audience singing was deafening, and again I found myself ensconced in the dreamlike state realized amidst ten thousand people vibing off this timeless jewel of a song. This time it was Herring who blew minds with delicious clean soloing and choice chord voice. His playing borrowed from Garcia and Pat Martino at once, with quick picking and jazzy descending licks complemented tastefully by Barraco’s bright piano.
Just when it couldn’t get any hotter, the molten lava overflowed in the bombastic sonic booming form of “Help on the Way,” electrifying and energizing the crowd after chilling out on the searing jam out of Eyes. “Slipknot” gave Molo and Lesh the floor to shake and they connected in rhythmic terror as heads bobbed like emergency brakes until Phil and his Friends realized “The Eleven” with its royal vocal harmonies and stomp along bottom end. Enter Warren Haynes, weapon of choice again, Red and Black Gibson SG. Think again Garcia ’68 meets Slash/Angus Young, again manipulating that Leslie effect giving it the Charlie Hunter Factor. The coda of Slip bridged to a rollicking “Franklin’s Tower” where every body took slaying solos and we all sang gloriously, particularly the line “Listen to the music play!” The set ended and everybody stopped to catch their breath as they hadn’t stopped for a moment since the end of Fantasy. Whew!
Phil came out again, and before his standard statement, he expressed to the crowd how incredible he thought the last two nights were in terms of band/audience exchange and communication, and them using that energy to take the music to new places, or destinies unbound, to borrow a phrase. They encored with a touching “Built to Last,” not my favorite tune, but it was all good, sung by the new outlaw in town, Warren Haynes, certified American Baddass.
Thank you Phil and Friends, and Ratdog, for putting together two magical nights of music and celebration with the greatest family in the land, the place and face of where it all began.
Long Live The Grateful Dead,
[Published on: 7/24/01]
- Burlington VT- DISCOVER JAZZ Festival PREVIEW 2001 (B.Getz on JamBase)
- PHIL LESH AND FRIENDS – MA & CT Summer 2001 (B.Getz on JamBase)