Phil Lesh and Friends Friday, May 9, 2008 Fillmore Auditorium Better Than: Crying into your beer at Sancho’s Broken Arrow next door because you couldn’t find a ticket.
Walking into the sold-out Lesh show was interesting; there was an ice-cream truck parked out front, people selling various psychedelic paraphernalia and I couldn’t guess the age of the average crowd member. I saw people barely old enough to get in and people old enough to be my grandparents. The energy and excitement in the vast room was palpable before the band even took the stage; personally, I was struck by the sheer amount and variety of equipment, instruments, wires and machines crowding the sizable stage.
Lesh and the rest of his lineup -- Jackie Greene (guitar, harmonica and lead vocals, and who, by the way, looks way too young to be playing with someone as legendary as Lesh), Larry Campbell (guitar, violin, backup vocals), John Molo (drums) and Steve Molitz (the “Doctor Evil” as Lesh put it, of the group, on keyboard, synthesizer and other out-there sounds) -- came out at about 7:50 to kick off the first set. They started immediately with a jam, leading into “Brown-Eyed Women,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” “Alligator,” “Gone Wandering,” “Bird Song,” “High Time” and “Casey Jones.”
The band broke around 8:45 for intermission and then came back on at 9:30 to take the stage for another ninety minutes, playing “Feel Like a Stranger,” “Sitting On Top of the World,” “Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind” and “Playing in the Band,” followed by a long jam session that led into “Dark Star,” followed by “New Potato Caboose,” then back into “Dark Star,” “The Golden Road,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Sugar Magnolia.” When they were called back for an encore, Lesh said, “It was a pleasure to make music for people who appreciate it,” gave out a “donor rap” -- a short speech about the importance of organ donation, urging the crowd to become donors; Lesh himself received a liver transplant in 1998 -- and they played “Dire Wolf.”
You couldn’t fault anyone’s technique; after all, Lesh was only the Grateful Dead bassist for umpteen years, Greene is extremely talented and everyone else in the band manages to hold their own against these two -- no small feat. And personally, I’m not all that into jam bands; although I can appreciate the style, I find myself getting bored in the middle of a not-quite-cohesive-enough session. It’s easy for my mind to wander away from the music. So the fact that Lesh and his cohorts managed to keep my attention for as long as they did is a compliment.
Lesh stepped in on vocals during “Alligator,” “Gone Wanderin’” and “Dark Star.” Greene really shone as the lead singer and guitarist, which is a testament to how well the group works together, that everyone was able to gracefully fade back and allow each other to take the spotlight throughout the show. They created a trainlike sound, increasing in speed, toward the end of Casey Jones, which the crowd loved. My personal favorites were the folksy, country numbers: I really enjoyed “Mama Tried” and “Uncle John’s Band.” The security guards at the front of the stage were both singing along with “Sugar Magnolia.”
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Overall, it was an enjoyable show -- but then again, you should expect nothing less from such solid musicians. Personally, I felt the mood in the room was electric; the Fillmore was packed to the gills with wall-to-wall people, and I felt like they could have kicked the energy up a notch and had every single person in the room truly rockin’ out, if they’d been a little more in tune with that energy.
-- Amber Taufen
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: The only jam band I can honestly say I like is the Grateful Dead. So for the true fans in the room, this show could have been a ten out of ten, but for me it only reached about a seven. Random Detail: There was a Jerry Garcia doll sitting up on the stage by the water bottles, his face obscured by a mop of gray yarn; Jackie Greene rubbed Jerry’s hair when he came on stage. By the Way: I think it’s cute that Lesh hugged Greene at the end of the show. Those guys enjoy each other, you can tell.