PLQ, Part I
Quick Picks From the Disc Changer:
AGP, 10/22/04- Fame > Doin It > Nuggets the Shaker
Garaj Mahal, 7/24/04- A long, long late night set- Guitar Slut & Mercy, Mercy Me
SKB, 11/14/04- 27 minute Samba
SKB, 12/29/04- Crazy 45 minute Coles > Tangled Hangers & Favorite Things > Stella Blue
Sam Kininger, 2/6/04- Sam kills
Discman: STS9, 1/7/05- Jam Cruise opener
_Phil and Friends has recently been added to the Live Music Archive, and I m suddenly again aware that the PLQ was/is the greatest band ever. This month we’ll start a look at some fantastic non-Official Release shows. Two of the reviews are reprints of original show reviews, but each show has been chosen because a superior quality recording is available at the LMA. _
PLQ, 5/31/02, The Greek, Set I
A lively, loose shimmy jam, fun and groovy, that settles softly by four or five minutes- and we’re off. The jam mills around and starts to brood with wavering notes from Jimmy- the music prowls around a still central spot and finally rises up to a wonderfully placed Acadian Driftwood. The vocal back and forth between Rob and Warren on The Band’s classic always was one of the most satisfying moments for the Q.
At about ten minutes, the song falls away and the group sallies right into GDTRFB- this opening suite is notable because it really should be a closing suite. By the middle of the ramble, we are distinctly deep in the show, even though barely thirty minutes have passed. The Bid You jam is short and quickly paired with Angel Band, and the earthiness of the suite is pounded home- as down home, country road, Big Pink as it gets. As is the case with 2002 gigs, this show must been interpreted in suites and passages, and this one is worth the show.
This gig is also loaded with "Let Jimmy Sing" chants, chicken noises and Jimmy says, "You’ll be sorry."
Check out the amazing, absolutely amazing Box of Rain-so much more than it should be, with a jammed intro (three minutes!), and chills down the spine. As soon as Phil belts out the last "To be," the group lurches into a heady, jazzy jam. Eventually Wharf Rat materialized, a monster version that explodes well beyond its normal boundaries, over twenty minutes in length, complete with a lashing Watchtower jam. It peaks and dies and roars into a cataclysmic Viola Lee Blues- aggressive and wildly blazing; a song fully realized. There are brief pit-stops for verses, but this is nothing but an extended meltdown freak out. At thirteen minutes there is a slick stride, Phil easing the movement and stretching out with long loping strides, although Rob still seems set on dislodging any cohesion. The resulting counterpoint leads to a nice return to the third verse. But suddenly a final, harrowing surge rises and the third verse is repeated to close the set. And what a set!
PLQ, 7/18/02, Hartford, CT
It is easy to forget that the Quintet is a very young band still in the early stages of its evolution. With a line-up that includes some of the very best consummate musicians in the world of rock n roll, with the vast musical mileage covered in each show, not to mention each tour, with a songbook that contains many, many songs with 30 year or longer histories, it really is easy to forget that this band played for the first time in the fall of 2000. (Excepting, of course the April 2000 show at the Beacon, when Warren’s guest appearance brought all the members of the current line-up, plus Pevar, together for the first time.) Over the course of 2001, the band matured and each member began to truly fashion a space of his own in the soupy psychedelic brew that is the band’s sound- Jimmy and Warren separated from each other, forming foils instead of a single four armed guitar god pulled from some South East Asian hallucination. Molo began to stretch out, relying more on tight to ms, bells and blocks for percussion, and Rob found a fine balance between playing lead and joining with Molo to paint with percussive piano- watch even now as both Molo and Jimmy look constantly to Baracco show after show. With 2002, Phil s already buoyant bass has a new vitality, a refreshed presence in the mix, still commanding the musical expeditions, but also joining the fray in a more egalitarian way- it s dynamic and explosive.
This year has also seen the band testing new ideas. The release of _There and Back Again _ (the subtitle of Tolkien’s The Hobbit) put much of the new material in greater rotation, and the songs are finding their places. Energetic numbers like Night of a Thousand Stars and Celebration are frequent openers and closers; Again and Again is unique in its weirdness and as such often offers a nice reprieve from the chaos of the most harried jams; No More Do I and Welcome to the Underground fill that need for slick aggression, working well with tunes like Just a Little Light or Low Spark. But aside from the altered song rotation, there seems to be a new playfulness in the jams. Things are a bit cartoonier than before; everything is not so dramatic. But as with Phil’s own bass playing, the effect is dynamic- now sounds are screwy and strange, now utterly transcendent, now gritty, now crazed, now clean.
The summer tour, thus far, has been filled with experiments in approach and technique, some more successful than others. The show in Holmdel, New Jersey on July 13th is a prime example. While both Derek Trucks and Jorma Kaukonen played exhilarating sets to open the show, Derek being joined by Jimmy for a monster Favorite Things during which both students of Col. Bruce simultaneously detuned their guitars in mid-jam, and Jorma starting his set early to squeeze in as much music as possible, including a run of Death Don’t, Living in the Moment > Embryonic Journey, and Good Shepard (that was a show in itself!), the Quintet played two drastically different sets. Set I was very laid back, a summer time set speckled with few moments of brilliance (although I m not sure we should always by striving for brilliance). There was a short jamlet, possibly a minute or two in length, just after Rob declared Bertha, but before the tune began, that was simply gorgeous- forcefu l and gentle, like a cool brook. The jam out of Midnight Train and into Broken Arrow also sent shivers down my spine, but the opening Jam > Alligator was messy, even frayed, and the Rider was, well, calm. Again, that’s not necessarily bad; the ability to play more relaxed material, with a more relaxed attitude, without being too delicate, might really benefit this band, they just haven’t developed that ability yet.
Set II, however, was an entirely different beast. The Jam > Night of a Thousand Stars that opened the set could be easily overlooked on paper, but a recording would show that it walked a dusky jungle path, eyes always focused on the darkness ahead, though the lush foliage tried time and again to block the way, or at least unnerve the spirit. And that was before Derek joined for Blue Sky, and two suites of the baddest material the Quintet plays. Such a range of sound, such a multitude of jamlets and themes and teases perforated the movements that I d be hard pressed to retrace their courses. At times the band epitomized cool, and at times the pandemonium they produced was almost too much to bear, but throughout there was a sense of style and purpose. Based on the Gathering of the Vibes sets, it seems that a sense of purpose is all this band needs to realize its potential. That doesn t mean they have to be firing all eight cylinders at once to excel; the purpose may be to find the darkest place possible, or to follow a single lazy river road through a suite or a set, or it may even be to simply find a new sound, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there is a focus in some direction- these guys are just too wild, too spacey, too good to do without one.
The focus of the first set in Hartford was on individual songs, not the Phil Lesh Quintet’s strength. That being said, it was one of those sets that just felt right. The band slammed into King Solomon s Marbles right out of the gate, cutting around the sharp turns and dropping into Stronger Than Dirt clothed in a shower of notes from Jimmy. The band made quick work of the composition, and Herring shot out on an amazing solo, flying through the molten canyons of the sun. Staying with precise compositions, the group played another in a string of strong Night of a Thousand Stars before slinking into a slightly slowed, very slick Mason s Children. Warren oozed over the intro, beads of his lush guitar dripping down its frame. Jimmy capitalized on the inherit energy of the first verses by leading the jam with a tight solo that eventually unhinged and crumbled to piano noodles and hot rhythm bursts from Warren. The music drifted but was not too long gone before stumbling back to final verses. An intentionally disjointed exiting jam opened on a plain with gusts of guitar and piano, vague Dark Star hints and full Other One teases, and eventually landed in a mean, mean Welcome to the Underground.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Grateful Dead recently and been enthralled with their compositions all over again, and as such, the song oriented set was right on the mark. But the highlight of the set was unquestionably the Eyes > Wharf Rat, each tune clocking in at fifteen minutes. Again, nice, tight playing was the order of the day as the Quintet rolled blissfully through Eyes, Rob and Warren sharing leads on the first jam, and Jimmy spilling over the surface of the second. Molo was locked into the perfect groove, sounding like a drummer and a half, and guiding the course of the whole song- a great version to get lost in. The music floated effortlessly, naturally, into a gorgeous, majestic Wharf Rat. Warren grew to gigantic proportions and towered over the crowd, feeding off his own guitar and vocals.
If the first set felt right, the second set was just about perfect- a journey through some tie-dyed image of a 1968 that never existed. Jimmy kicked back and gave a huge grin as he cut into the psychedelic pop of Til the Morning Comes, although it was a fantastic solo from Warren that brought the tune to fruition. The exiting jam was immediately a mass of gears and wheels all spinning and grinding in some strange rhythmic pattern- actually it sounded like a Ratdog jam- before it sighed and settled into a spacey interlude of military rolls and single bloated notes from Warren. More vague Dark Star hints gave way to the celestial dawn of New Potato Caboose. The song is a masterpiece of 60s composition and content- a really unique song that climbs a tenuous stairway to the heavens. The last verse pushed the instrumentation off the precipice and it floated down so slowly, swaying from side to side like a feather. Suddenly caught in an updraft and carried in Molo’s arms, the ja m rested momentarily in a pretty place before Phil sounded in and pushed the movement in a variety of directions. An Other One tease led to a swirling column of intense music, an energetic jamlet that won loud cheers when it dispersed again into the hazy summer night. By this point the jam was breathing on its own; with each inhalation, a new theme, be it Dark Star, or Truckin’, or a scary, alien soundscape; with each exhalation, a return to space.
A powerful St. Stephen grounded the band and the audience once. Like so much of the show, it was none too long, but focused and energetic, with Warren’s mid song solo flying up and up and up, and a gloriously rendered return to the final verse from the whole band. A brief moment of ease separated the song from an anthemic (seems that most Beatles covers are anthemic) I Am the Walrus, complete with a Molo fueled all out rock n roll jam at the end. The movement switched gears and Phil’s bouncy bass line initiated another groove jamlet that collapsed and reformed as a full Dark Star jam and finally rode into The Eleven, thoughts jewels polished and gleaming.
The suite ended with a nice Uncle John’s Band, one of the smoothest transitions in a night of smooth transitions. The first jam was a great example of the Herring/Barraco connection, Rob attacking the piano as fast as Jimmy’s million notes, then Jimmy attacking his guitar, as fast as Rob’s million notes. The final jam shone with tongues of fire lapping at its sides- it could’ve ended the show, but instead the band tore down the house with another in a string of interesting and enthralling Lovelights. This tune epitomizes PLQ’s sound and approach right now. It remains true to the song, but also wanders far astray in short time, playing in recessed caverns before returning just as quickly to the vocal beds. Warren was shaking and snapping his fingers as he sang the second verse- just electric. And he stretched out the third over bar after bar with insane soul power. If you haven’t heard a 2002 Lovelight, do yourself a favor and get one as soon as possible.
PLQ, 7/6/02, Gathering of the Vibes:
During the day, Phil was out walking around the scene by himself, and spent some time signing organ donor cards as a witness, and before doing band intros he commented that the Vibes had the best energy of any festival he has ever played. He was certainly tapped into the mood, as was the whole band, and that fact really came out in the odd, playful nature of the whole set. Tempo changes and split second shifts in tone and approach marked the post-Celebration and Uncle John s Band jams, although nothing really came of either- just a lot of toying around. There was a gorgeous passage before Cumberland. All light and airy and utterly pleasing, it was somewhat cartoony with puckish piano and short guitar licks. The place was so fine that the band lingered there for some time before teasing Cumberland and Smokestack, and deciding on the former. Between the second and third verse the tempo and style shifts returned; the music was up, down, inside and out, and finally could do little else than surrender to a minor meltdown.
Fire on the Mountain was also filled with a wealth of textures: forests and waterfalls and fields, all glanced from a bird’s eye view as the Latin-influenced version rolled on and on. Personally, I favor clean GD versions of both Fire and Uncle John’s Band to the Quintet’s arrangements. That being said, Phil played the bridges all alone, the band only helping on the one, and it sounded great. No More Do I offered a stylish close to the set, similar to that of Just a Little Light the previous night. Straight, focused guitar from Jimmy, rising bass lines, piano slides and excellent cymbal crashes all added to the song, but the whole set, interesting as it was, lacked seriousness.
The second set was a different story. While still flexible and imaginative, there was more passion and electricity in both suites. Actually it made a perfect bookend to complement Friday’s first set. The opening jam was very short, but lively and distinct and slammed into Shakedown with colossal bass and swollen drums. While placing layer upon layer of vocals during the poke around, Jimmy stuck to his rhythm work, then initiated a roaming jam. He and Warren traded squirming squiggles, playing with the elastic space and creating room for the rolling energy of Uncle John’s Band and Fire on the Mountain to return. Again, temporal and tonal shifts shuddered through the progression, spacey and sharpened and furious in turns, and finally gave way to Leave Me Out of This.
Phil and Rob played a fun Happy Trails tuning before the group set its sights on Terrapin Station. Phil’s vocals were strong, although he mistakenly repeated, "strategy was his strength, not disaster," when he meant to sing, "his job is to shed light, not to master," laughing as he did so. Warren directed the first jam with precise, meaningful leads. An Other One theme arose and Phil was so very smooth in reigning it back in to finish Lady with a Fan. With heads dizzy from the altitude, the band charged at Terrapin and leapt off the precipice behind, soaring out, gliding down and landing back in the rolling jam from earlier in the set.
The loose shimmy-shake of Not Fade Away won big cheers from the audience, and featured a vague Mountain Jam tease, as well as the expected guitar fireworks. The exiting jam began with more incendiaries from the leads, but gave way to a pretty, starlit spaceway that hinted at Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds well before the Beatles cover came to be. The anthem was short and thrilling; had it been longer, it might have overwhelmed the field of listeners. Returning to the NFA jam, more teases abounded, including GDTRFB and the China > Rider transition, before the band shambled into Friend of the Devil. Molo was loose and grooving along with Rob and the rhythmic guitars through the first verse. Warren handed off a nice slide solo to Jimmy, who finished it neatly, and returned the song to the second verse. The second jam picked up speed with Phil sounding deep and clear at the center of a swarm of blips and beeps. It was ripe with potential when it burst into Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion. "Take off your shoes, child, take off your hat, try on your wings and find out where it’s at."
After Phil’s accolades, during which he thanked Ken Hays and Terrapin Presents (how many times does an artist thank a promoter?), the band drifted through a warm rendition of The Wheel and into a smooth, spiraling version of Unbroken Chain. As I mentioned before, as Phil mentioned, as most everyone in attendance noted, there was simply a great energy present for these shows. While the opening and closing sets were certainly the strongest, as one long voyage, the shows covered vast amounts of territory, and offered glimpses of places just beyond the range of senses.