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Published: 2001/11/28
by David Lubell

Phil Lesh and Friends Celebrate Three Nights of Thanksgiving in Boston {Orphuem 11/21, 23, 24}

Phil Lesh & Friends treated Boston to an audio feast last week, serving up three nights of Jam, sandwiched around the Thanksgiving holiday. Bringing his Paradise Waits Tour back to New England, the run trekked through Native American country of Connecticut, the syrupy climbs of Vermont, then downeast to Maine before landing in the Hub of the Universe (well, New England anyway).

With the now standard house band of Warren Haynes (guitar), Jimmy Herring (guitar), John Molo (drums) and Rob Barraco (keyboards) in tow, PL-n-F kicked off the run on Wednesday, November 21. Opening with a not-yet appropriate “Cold Rain and Snow” the Boston weather desperately making an Indian Summer reprise it featured Haynes’ playing some interesting fuzz-slide, which set a creative tone early and signaled the ensemble was peaking at the right time in the tour. Their transition into “King Solomon’s Marbles” also signaled Lesh was likely going to be mixing up the lists quite a bit during the run; here Herring’s blazing, peppering fills would serve as an interesting rhythm to offset Haynes’ leads, and they would highlight many songs and transitions during the run.

“Here Comes Sunshine” featured strong vocals by keyboardist Barraco, and the reggae-tinged, “China Cat Sunflower”-teased jam that followed segued into one of the night’s highlights, an all-too-rare “Keep on Growing.” The vocal meshing worked well on “Uncle Johns Band,” which flowed perfectly back into an even more surprising “Growing” reprise to close the set.

Work on Lesh’s microphone between sets didn’t quite fix its mute tones Lesh was undermiced vocally until the last show, despite the best efforts of the crew and soundman John Cutler though his bass would on more than one occasion literally vibrate the old theatre and reverberate throughout one’s skeleton.

“Blue Sky” in the second set brought to life a distinct Allman Brothers flavor in the early jamming, but surprise guest Susan Tedeschi would later add some true Southern Joplin-Raitt flair to a “Lovelight” that faltered before it even got off the ground and needed an energy boost. While not as energetic as her appearance on same in Atlanta earlier this summer, it was still a standout and a lengthy effort, her trading vocal phrases with Haynes’ guitar licks and made even more impressive by the fact she is now noticeably pregnant.

“Mason’s Children” kept the energy high, but the set-ending “Sugaree” was a bit of too mellow as a set-ender for some, and the now clichldquo;Not Fade Away,” while energetic, didn’t quite satisfy. No matter, two more nights followed a well-earned Thanksgiving break.

Night two again kept the setlist guessers on their toes, opening with an oddly-placed cover of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” and a distinctive Beatles feel bubbled to the surface during the between song jams of the set. Haynes’ prowess was unquestioned on a ripping “Passenger,” and Lesh’s smile told the whole story to those who may have missed the action thus far.

“New Potato Caboose” is always a welcome offering for Dead fans, and the Haynes-led “She Said, She Said” filled the band’s insatiable appetite for the Beatles.

The second set harkened back to “the good old days,” opening with “Cryptical Envelopment;” Lesh laid some extra heavy bombs on a thrilled crowd as they worked through “The Other One,” which hinted at “Wharf Rat” only to work through a lengthy Space jam before becoming “Dark Star.” Lesh, Barraco and Haynes took turns on the vocals, and the tempo soon picked up thanks to the ever-steady Molo on drums. More teases (“Box of Rain,” “Dancing in the Streets”) followed before sliding into “Unbroken Chain,” the longest, hottest and most completely exhausting version this scribe has ever seen.

The superb light show paralleled the audience’s journey, and piqued continual “Dark Star” teases, but the sudden development (and rescinding of ) “China Cat Sunflower” caught everyone by surprise. Instead it became “Low Spark of Hi-Heeled Boys,” with Haynes’ soulful vocals able to fool a novice into thinking that Haynes himself wrote the song.

The second verse of “Dark Star” followed and led into an actual “China Cat Sunflower”>”I Know You Rider” to end the set.

There wasn’t much to be said after a set like that, though Lesh pretty much summed it up perfectly, rhetorically asking “What was that?” when he came back pre-encore to introduce the band and urge everyone to become organ donors; it was as if Lesh was exhilarated as the audience with what had been conjured up.

As if to keep up the “old days” vibe, “Cosmic Charlie” ended the night perfectly and sent everyone home salivating for the final night of the run.

Saturday night took on a distinctive Southern feel from the opening jam, and a surprising “Smokestack Lightning” made its first appearance of the tour. “Cumberland Blues” chugged out of the ensuing jam, all the singers taking part in the vocals. More breakouts followed when the band tackled the new Gov’t Mule tune “Banks of The Deep End,” from Mule’s latest release, sounding even better than the CD. “Friend of the Devil,” “Broken Arrow” and “Casey Jones,” with its revved up ending, closed the set on a high note.

It was back to 60s-era Dead to open the second set with another rare offering, “Alligator,” and the crowd ate it up, hoping for a repeat of second set craziness, but a new Lesh song (“Midnight Train”) followed, featuring even more of Haynes’ spectacular leads.

New gave way to old, with another Beatles cover, “Get Back,” which had the crowd singing along on the chorus, and “Doing that Rag.” A 25+ minute “Bird Song” then slowed the pace to a near crawl at times, though exploration was always its motive.

If people lost focus during “Bird Song,” they were quickly aroused by a hopping version of “The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion,” which ended on a chord that could only lead into one song: “Viola Lee Blues.” Haynes’ jaw-dropping slide playing here was particularly reminiscent of such greats as Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The “Midnight Hour” encore was quite tasty, with Lesh adding the final exclamation point on the run with a bomb that would have shaken loose an last asbestos in the old place.

Overall, Lesh and company served up heaping portions of old material, complimented nicely with new. Lesh is clearly happy with the direction of his Friends these days, as they consistently discover new worlds within music written decades or merely weeks ago. And if the Boston run was any indication, there’s no telling where Lesh will steer this ship in tours to come, which should make for even more reason to give thanks should they continue to come back this way each November.

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