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Published: 2002/06/12
by Seth Wax

Phil Lesh & Friends, Greek Theater, Berkeley CA- 6/1

First of all, one fact that holds true in my life, is that I'm a Deadhead. I
caught the bug at the ripe young age of 14 back in the early seventies. I
also had the privilege to be exposed to other forms of creative music back
in those days, thanks to my best friends father, a jazz booking agent. We
would listen to Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton, among others. I
always saw a connection between these two seemingly very different art
forms. The connection was the emotional impact of music being created from a
blank canvas. Whenever I went to a Grateful Dead concert, it was that
creativity I was expecting and it was that which would move me. Having only
gone to a few shows prior to 1976, I never really experienced the all out
jamming that I had heard on record or tape. Sure there were a few shows here
and there, in the later days. So a few years after losing my favorite band,
along comes Phil Lesh, with this concept to bring the creative forces of the
late sixties, early seventies back into the music. Phil & Friends is born.
All of various incarnations to date all held to the same basic premise,
explore the possibilities and reap the rewards of the efforts. I have seen
practically every lineup Phil has put together and have enjoyed all of them,
even if the outcome wasn't really successful. It was the fact that the
effort was being made to create, something that we really didn't get too
much of with the Dead in their later days.

Out in Deadhead land, there are many critics of what Phil is doing. Too many
notes, too Allman-ish, no subtlety, jams that go nowhere, etc… Others
think this music is just what they're looking for. Regardless of your
personal perspective, you can't deny the fact that Phil is challenging
himself and his band mates, by seeking possibilities through improvisation.
I went to five shows on this current West coast run. Some of the shows were
somewhat uneven, with a few moments of brilliance. The show at the Greek
Theater in Berkeley on Saturday June 1st, was the one where it all came
together. Phil said in a recent interview, it works when we're all doing it
together. Sometimes it's Warren's show, or Jimmy's, or Phil's, but this
night it was all of them working together as one.

The first set opened with one of the new songs from There and Back Again,
Welcome to the Underground. This song was played solidly and it seemed the
band was tight and on track. The band jammed hard out of the song and landed
on the Cumberland riff. With Phil, the band may jam out an intro for minutes
before actually going into the song (and sometimes they just tease the
song), kind of like the way the Dead did Not Fade Away back in 1977.
Cumberland did appear and the way Phil approaches this song, is not the
straight ditty the Dead used to play. Each Phil version is a bit unique,
with twists and turns and sometimes all out meltdowns. This version weaves
in and out of straight country to Ornette Coleman & Prime Time type jazz,
before finally bringing it to a full stop. Next up Rob Barraco steps up to
the mic and plays some kazoo, which leads into Ramble On Rose, one of the
few songs Phil plays straight up. Rob did a nice treatment with the lead
vocals and Rob, Warren and Jimmy each soloed. Next up was Roadrunner, the Bo
Diddley tune, also familiar to Deadheads through The Garcia Band and a rare
Dead appearance. This was the second time it was performed by this band and
was pure funk, with Warren on vocals and playing most of the guitar solos.
This led into another new song Again & Again, Jimmy Herring's contribution
to the new record with Robert Hunter lyrics. This is an introspective piece
with interesting vocal treatment, vocal tradeoff's between Rob, Phil &
Warren and then a chorus with all three singing harmony. The song dissolved
into a somewhat quiet jam and went into Unbroken Chain. This song has been a
staple for all incarnations of Phil & Friends and seems to get better each
time played. This time the band was tight as can be and playing with all the
passion they could muster. The middle jam features Jimmy first going through
the changes, then a brief passage by Rob and then Warren comes in and plays
through the same changes as Jimmy's solo. These days as the song comes to an
end there is an outro, which Warren plays hard edged bluesy riffs and the
jam continues. Typically it would wind its way into another jam or song, but
this time they came back to the end of Unbroken Chain and stopped, for the
set break. All in all it was a very solid set, but not to out of the norm
for this band.

The second set is where the magic began. The set opened with an unnamed
instrumental, that had a composed theme and went of into solos. The jam kind
of reminds me of something from Blues For Allah, almost like a King
Solomon's Marbles in approach as it is composed has several changes and is
slightly jazzy in direction. Some have dubbed this jam., the Four Winds Jam,
as it appeared twice on that tour. Jimmy especially worked in some nice
guitar work. This jam wound it's way back to the original theme and then
moved into a more melodic free for all type jam, a little bit like a
Birdsong jam. Out of this, you could hear Warren start to tease some of that
Beatles-esq psychedelia he does so often, which lead into Tomorrow Never
Knows. This started out as all out psychedelic, played with high energy.
Between, the first two verses the band got down into the depths of outer
space, but played in the typical Phil fashion, with a lot going on. All of a
sudden they slowed down to an extremely subtle pace, for quite some time.
This to me seemed deliberate and produced some of the most beautiful
passages of the night, almost minimalist, which for this band, has been very
unusual. Out of this very quiet, Warren sang the next verse and another
brief quiet jam followed and then Warren sang the last verse. Another jam
followed and found it's way to another of the new songs, No More Do I, which
is a relatively straight ahead ballad led by Warren and sang with very nice
three part harmony.

The jam out of this is where things got interesting. It very long and full of all sorts
of teases and twists. First it sounded like they were going for China Cat, then Dark
Star, then some Pink Floyd references, then Morning Dew, then it goes into this all out funk jam,
with Warren playing rhythm and Jimmy just wailing over it. This is the type
of thing that drives the Phil critics crazy, but every moment of this jam
was working flawlessly, as if it was all planned out, almost like an
orchestra. The jam then turned again and they played the intro to Cryptical
Envelopment twice, without any vocals and then the jam turned again. Now
there were lots of Morning Dew references and finally Phil hits the D to get
the song started. This Morning Dew evoked so much Grateful Dead. Here we
were in the Greek Theater and once again we're getting a big Dew. This one
was played and sung beautifully. I feel this song suits Phil's voice,
especially the treatment he gives it, which is more of the original version,
than a Jerry version. Phil sang it with all of the passion he could give us.
The middle jam was huge, with Phil dropping his trademark bombs. The crowd
went wild, here we were back at the Greek and the bombs are dropping. The
jam out started very quiet and built slowly, but Phil decided to give us
another twist and it was back into a free jam. After a few minutes I heard
Phil call out for a change to the key of A. After about a minute into this
jam, Phil started to play his Dark Star bass lines, without doing the normal
intro. This fell into a full on version of Dark Star which stayed relatively
upbeat and melodic. They jammed for 4 or 5 minutes and went into the first
verse. After the first verse they kept playing it very melodically and
Warren went into a passage that had to be some of his finest and most
creative playing I've ever heard from him. Just breathtaking. I've heard
many Phil Versions of Dark Star, but none have come close to this one,
including the very fine New Years '02 version with Derek Trucks. The jam
started to slow it's pace and open into free space and from there we got
those first two notes of St. Stephen. Like Dark Star, this was THE St.
Stephen. It was pure 1969 and could probably hold up to any version from
that period. Warren was the man on this, he took that middle jam to huge
peaks. Right out of "answer man" came The Eleven jam, which was a very solid
version, with Jimmy handling most of the lead guitar, until the end jam,
where they change from the key of A to E, that Warren takes over. That jam
quickly wound its way back to Dark Star and the sang the second verse. An
interesting thing about the vocals on Dark Star at this show, there was a
lot of reverb/echo and stereo effect added to the vocal, which gave it a
quality much like the vocals on Live Dead. After Dark Star they went into
Night of a Thousand Stars, a Lesh/Hunter song from the new record, which was
very high energy and a great way to end an incredible set. They encored with
Golden Road with a bit of a jam at the end, which capped off the 60's feel
of the set.

This show came together in a very special way. I liken it to a Dead show
like 2/13/70, which was one of those flawless beautiful shows. You can
compare that show to the other shows from that same run and see that the
others didn't have that same consistency. Phil shows are a lot like that.
It's the emotional content from the improvisation that we get. Anytime
there's going to be a lot of improvisation, there's a good chance it can
fail. I would much rather see a band put the effort forth and fail, than
just go through the motions. On the occasions such as 6-01-02 at the Greek,
we reap the rewards.

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