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Published: 2001/11/28
by Chris Robinson

Phil Lesh & Friends, Orpheum Theater, Boston- 11/23

For those of you who haven't been there, the Orpheum is at the end of an alley
just off a main drag in downtown Boston. Approaching the alley it became
obvious that rumors of a non-sellout were false. Lot's of folks other than the
usual stinky miracle seekers were looking for tickets. When I was at the
Orpheum in Sept. security getting in was tight with full length frisking and
metal detectors but tonight was back to normal with a basic pat down. In
general security is pretty rough inside. No smoking of any kind is tolerated
but save for a couple of over zealous roving security jerks things were
reasonably mellow for the discreet. Weird comment here but going to the
bathroom can be a humorous experience at the Orpheum. There's always a running
commentary going on and guys were yelling out predictions of the opener to no
one in particular. I chimed in with "Into the Mystic" as I heard the crowd
welcome the darkness and I bolted out to my seat.

Arriving at my spot in Row N Orchestra I found myself between a friend and a
taper. I said my hellos as the band tuned up and after a brief "Wheel" teasing
jam, into the mystic river we flowed. I was really hoping for this local
flavored tune and I thought of all the guys from the men's room who were
thinking "that guy next to me was right!". I wanted to yell or clap or whoop or
SOMETHING but being mindful that I was two feet away from the mike stand next to
me I did the "silent clap" and grinned at my buddy. I can literally see a
night-lit Boston skyline as if I was sailing into the inner harbor when I hear
this song. Warren Haynes' vocals were so sweet I'm getting chills writing about
it. When it was over I clapped with glee like everyone else but got tapped on
the shoulder by the taper who gave me "the look" and a "shush!". As the band
went into the next jam I whispered into her ear that she wouldn't hear anything
out of me when the MUSIC WAS PLAYING. I was a bit disgruntled for a minute but
re-focused on the music and the band gently jammed it's way into "Wheel." I
guess my assurance to the taper was acceptable because strangely enough, about
15 minutes later she disappeared without a word and left her rig with me for the
rest of the first set. Go figure. This whole show had a "trippier" feel to it
than the previous night. Very heavy and somewhat dark. The first set seemed
like an analogy for the mysteries of birth and life. Born in "Mystic" water ,
pondering life's journey (What is a man deep down inside?) with "Passenger",
realization of mortality (When the windows all are broken and your love becomes
a toothless crone…winter morning breaks, you're all alone) in "New Potato
Caboose" and "She Said.." (I know what it's like to be DEAD) with the "Wheel"
spinning in and out of the mix. Very cool! An amazing thing about this band
is that the longer they play together the less I notice each individual. The
set was like a woven rug where colors sometimes jumped out at me but no piece
was more important to the structure than the other strands. I was completely
captivated throughout the whole first set.

The second set also had some very heavy content, dealing with death and
afterlife. They jumped right into it with the powerful and eerie "Cryptical
Envelopment" which segued to the boarding of the "bus to never never land" in
the "Other One". Think Ken Kesey is there now? This "Other One" wasn't quite
as driving and frenzied as they were with the Dead. Much more surreal and
almost gentle in comparison it slowed down even more as it changed into a
luxurious "Dark Star". Off the bus now, we were invited out into the cosmos
only to find that the luminous diamonds themselves are mortal. WOW. More heavy
if slightly more optimistic themes followed as "Dark Star" cascaded into
"Unbroken Chain". This whole set was seamless with pinnacles, troughs and
transitions masterfully orchestrated by Phil. It's easy to imagine two
heavyweights on guitar like Haynes and Herring sort of "stealing" a band but
Phil is obviously the leader and mentor of all things dead. At one point at the
end of a particularly incredible cascading transition, my friend shook his head
in awe and whispered "No one but Phil could have pulled that off". From the get
go this set grew increasingly complex and dreamlike. Right about the point the
band may have started to lose a few people (although they never seemed lost
themselves for a second) they snapped us out of it with a 30 second "China Cat"
teaser. Instantly, the house began bouncing. Such masterful manipulation of
the crowd and music! Phil's seemingly developed a sixth sense for knowing how
far out a crowd can be lead. Once they had everyone tuned back in they jammed
out of "Chinacat" and into "Low Spark" for yet another exploration of mortality
and the beyond. At about 10 minutes long , this was a short crisp up-tempo
version and it didn't scare the hell out of me like the half hour version did at
Asbury Park this spring but it was still pretty deep. "Low Spark" almost
finished with a halt but "morphed" it's way back into "Dark Star" for the second
verse instead before up shifting into the "Chinacat" we were "promised" earlier.
Again, you could feel the building bounce. The set closer was "I know You
Rider" which was smooth and unwavering with every verse sung by Rob Phil and
Warren together, almost "folksy" in contrast with the big bombs and crescendos
of the Dead's version. Different, not as powerful or emotional but a nice
finish to an amazing set.

After Phil thanked us for "creating the music" with them and encouraged us to
become organ donors came the band intros. In keeping with his underrated unsung
hero status, Rob Barraco walked on stage doing a hunchback imitation as Phil
introduced him. As folks were applauding John Molo, Phil whispered something to
Warren and I would guess he was asking if Warren would mind being introduced
last. Warren nodded and Jimmy was introduced to thunderous applause but the
place truly went nuts for Warren. He stood there with a such a genuine and
humble grin, it seemed as if we overwhelmed him a little. The encore was a big
surprise, it sounded to me like it was going to be "Truckin" at first but turned
out to be "Cosmic Charley". This was probably only the second time I'd heard
this song live and I absolutely loved it. It was slow like a steam train going
up hill but was still fun and frivolous. After all the heavy deep stuff they
threw at us, Charley's message brought a big grin to my face. "I just wonder if
you shouldn't feel, less concern about the deep unreal". The show finished
with the lights fading down as the band repeated in harmony "Go on home your
Mama's calling you". A perfect ending to a wonderful show!

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