Phil & Friends, Tweeter Center, Mansfield, MA- 7/13
In the world of hit-or-miss shows, the Phil Lesh Quintet has taken the spotlight among the bands that tend to be a crap-shoot. Last night was a particularly good example of this. For a band that arguably boasts some of the greatest musicians in the jam scene today, many of the shows I have seen recently have either never gotten off the ground, or have fizzled out at some point in the show.
Some friends and I arrived to the venue pretty early in order to barbecue and enjoy a few beers in the parking lot. We were met with the typical lot scene at Great Woods, except a lot fewer police units than I have seen at similar concerts. An interesting side-show was a 3-song set by Warren Haynes at the Deep End van right outside of the gates. I was disappointed to have arrived at the end of his third song, but it was very cool to see him just hanging out in the lot, shaking hands with the rabid fans, and signing autographs. After getting our tickets at the box office, we headed in to the shed. Unfortunately, just as we were getting in, Robert Hunter was finishing his set, and I was disappointed to note that he had played the middle slot. Had I known this, I surely would have motivated to get in the gates sooner.
The set started out on a slow note, with a lovely Crazy Fingers. A very well-played version, with Rob on lead vocals, and a nice solo by Jimmy at the end. Next was an uninspired Uncle John’s Band, which in my opinion was actually jammed out a little too long. After a quick tuning break, and an introduction of their guest drummer, Mickey Hart, the PLQ launched into a very upbeat China Cat Sunflower. As the end of the song came about, and the crowd was really beginning to move, the band dropped seamlessly into I Know You Rider. I was glad to hear this, but was a little disappointed in the segue the Dead used to have some pretty cool jams sandwiched between these two songs. After Rider, however, the set went downhill. The Patchwork Quilt > Wheel > The Real Thing seemed to suck much of the energy out of the crowd. Heading out to set-break, the crowd was noticeably quiet and demure.
The second set opened with a quick jam, and then the opening notes of Dark Star were heard through the discordant din. It was deep, dark, and spacey, with Warren on slide and Jimmy shredding the fret-board. After the first verse, they went into Again and Again, a song with which I am not too familiar. However the spacey jam coming out of it was pretty interesting and the seamless segue into The Eleven was awesome. It has to be so tough to come out of a normal time signature and drop effortlessly into an 11/12 beat. I’m guessing that’s why the spacey jam was in there, with a very syncopated groove from the rhythm section. The Eleven was clean, hot, and well played. Rather than drawing the outro out, they went right back to Dark Star for the second verse. Again, the dark and spacey feel to the music left the crowd a little frustrated, especially after that Eleven jam. Next up was a quick jam that had a Spanish Jam feel to it, but never really went fully into it. Out of this came Lady with a Fan, and Phil flubbed the lyrics a bit, but laughed it off and continued uninterrupted. The Morning Dew was a nice treat, but Phil’s vocals were weak and his timing was off. The Terrapin brought everyone back up again, and was definitely well-played. I would have thought that that would be the set-closer, but Warren ripped the first few notes of She Said, She Said, and had the crowd dancing some more. After a 5 minute break, the band came back out for the encore and played Box of Rain. It was a slow ending to a slow show.
Overall, I’m a little disappointed with the show last night. I have definitely seen better from this band, including the sets I saw last weekend at Gathering of the Vibes. Hopefully Phil will decide to do another 4-night run at the Orpheum this fall. I’ll definitely be there…