Tag Archives: Phil Lesh

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Phil Lesh – SummerStage – August 30, 2017

August 31st, 2017


Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com

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Jenny Lewis Celebrates a Tenth Anniversary in Style

September 15th, 2016

Jenny Lewis – Capitol Theatre – September 14, 2016

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More than a decade ago in San Francisco, I patiently perched in a stairwell awaiting the live debut of Ms. Jenny Lewis’s initial solo effort, Rabbit Fur Coat. Sure I grew up watching Troop Beverly Hills, but what fascinated me was how she seamlessly dipped in and out of formidable bands like Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes and the Postal Service. Lewis always has been a thoughtful songwriter and it especially showed in her time with Rilo Kiley, however this next step pushed the singer into a career all her own. She and her backup singers, the Watson Twins, were late due to traffic but well worth the wait as they glided down the aisle holding candles to approach the stage—it was an unforgettable show in an intimate 250-seat venue. When word got out that the trio would take out the record for a 10th-anniversary spin, I had to be there. Previously selling out two Beacon Theatre shows last winter, Lewis returned with the twins to play Capitol Theatre last night.

The trio, donning the dresses from the album cover, entered stage right singing in harmony to open with “Run Devil Run,” candles in their hands just as they had years prior. The room was flooded with nostalgia as they played Rabbit Fur Coat in its entirety with a full band. Gems included lap-steel accompaniment on “Happy” and Lewis returning post-wardrobe change to croon the title track in a black embroidered jumpsuit complete with fringe. Although missing the backing vocals of M. Ward and Ben Gibbard, “Handle with Care” fleshed out the classic cover with additional guitar. The petite singer added a heavy dose of electric organ on “Born Secular” to fill the room, but it was her soaring vocals that sent chills to fans’ hearts.

After a brief intermission, Lewis emerged to play largely from her latest album, The Voyager. A gentleman politely asked if it was OK to stand for “Just One of the Guys” and was soon joined by another man. The catalog was broken by a cover of the Shirelles“I Met Him on a Sunday,” performed a cappella by the trio. But the real treat was a deep dive into the Rilo Kiley days for the soul-infused “I Never,” which Lewis dedicated to the Cap’s most frequent artist, Phil Lesh. The oldie was paired amongst her most recent work with New York City band NAF (Nice as Fuck), on “Door.” Dueling guitar solos concluded the evening on the crowd pleasing “She’s Not Me,” and there was no doubt that 10 years later, the storied album holds up. —Sharlene Chiu

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You Don’t Have to Go to Chicago to See Dead 50 This Weekend

July 2nd, 2015

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This weekend, the “core four” remaining members of the Grateful DeadPhil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann—celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary—Dead 50—by performing together for the last time on 7/3, 7/4 and 7/5 at Soldier Field. The famed Chicago football stadium holds a special place in the hearts of Dead fans as it was the location of the very last Grateful Dead show with beloved frontman Jerry Garcia. Of course it wouldn’t be the Dead without a little help from their friends. So rather than going it alone, the “core four” are joined by Trey Anastasio on guitar, Bruce Hornsby on piano and Jeff Chimenti on keys. The Dead just played two additional shows over the weekend in Santa Clara, Calif., to pretty much universal acclaim. Per Billboard, “Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Arrives & Thrives with Trey Anastasio on the Side.” Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times proclaimed, “Otherworldly? Yes. Worthy of praise? Most certainly. So expertly imagined as to suggest not just a reunion but a continuation, this was the Dead ideal, communal, filled with a generosity of spirit that united stage and seats.” This weekend will be one of the biggest musical reunions in the history of musical reunions, which, of course, means lots of people got shut out from attending. But no worries, because with the eyes of the world cast upon Chicago, you won’t miss a thing: All three shows will be simulcast in their entirety at Brooklyn Bowl, the Capitol Theatre and Bearsville Theater, and the last night will also be simulcast at the Space at Westbury.

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A 75th Birthday Bash Full of Smiles and Classic Rock

March 17th, 2015

Phil Lesh – Capitol Theatre – March 16, 2015

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead and, if you haven’t noticed, their music seems to be everywhere, a constant presence that transcends genre, age and geography. Part of that constant presence has been the band’s bassist, Phil Lesh, who, remarkably, turned 75 on Sunday and is celebrating (how else?) with a run of jam-filled shows at the Capitol Theatre. Monday night’s band of Lesh’s friends included Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule on guitar and vocals, Eric Krasno of Soulive on the other guitar, and longtime Lesh running mates John Molo and Rob Barraco on drums and keyboards respectively. The evening began with a session of noodling: free-form, aqueous improvisation that featured all five musicians interacting with the others, like wolves licking their chops before devouring helpless prey.

The set proper bounced back and forth between the Dead’s repertoire, older blues-based material like “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” and “Cosmic Charlie” interleaved with later-era groove-rockers like “West L.A. Fadeaway” and “Alabama Getaway.” Of course, the songs themselves were merely starting points for various shades of space-outs and left-turn excursions. The walls of the Capitol Theatre were populated in tie-dyed fractal explosions that seemed to open up wormholes to past eras, 20, 30, 40 years back. Krasno’s clean-toned guitar played counterpoint to Haynes’s gritty licks, but Lesh was the constant force, running circles around his younger crew. Each measure of bass playing was a snowflake— clear, defined crystal, beautifully unique. The first set ended with an optimistic spring theme: “Here Comes Sunshine” brought a projected sunrise to the theater’s walls with Lesh pushing Haynes and Molo while Baracco glued together the sonic collage, segueing into the Allman Brothers classic “Blue Sky,” the ceiling turning a bright indigo as Haynes ceded the floor for Krasno and Baracco solos before shining his own big, Allmans-y turn.

The second set picked up where the first left off, another round of free jamming, Lesh slithering through multiple THC-soaked themes before charging through a few more covers: Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” and later Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” the band cracking open classic-rock radio and lacing it with LSD-inspired psychedelia. There’s often a concern with the various Dead-cover outfits about who will sing which song, but really it’s not a problem because the guy next to you will (probably) know most of the words and sing it out, loud and proud. The smiles and the twirling dancers were as integral to these shows as the weird set-list variations like the traditional “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” being split up by “Just a Little Light” and “Uncle John’s Band” as the quintet mostly pulled off Monday night. Krasno shined best during the closing section, finding comfort in build-up solos and going toe-to-toe with Haynes. A supercharged ovation brought back the band for an emotional “Stella Blue,” Haynes belting it out as those in the smiling audience sang along, many swaying in one another’s arms. But no smiles were bigger than the constant one on the 75 year old leading the way. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(See Phil Lesh play the Capitol Theatre on Thursday night.)

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An Impressive First Night of PhilRAD at the Capitol Theatre

December 30th, 2014

PhilRAD – Capitol Theatre – December 29, 2014

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About 80 minutes into their first set last night at the Capitol Theatre, PhilRAD finally paused and the audience let out a collective sigh that was easily translated to “What just happened!?” The band—consisting of four-fifths of the upstart Grateful Dead cover outfit Joe Russo’s Almost Dead with Phil Lesh leading the way on bass—had just opened their sold-out three-night run with a twisted jam-filled expedition that on paper looked like “Truckin’”“Jack Straw” > “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “Crazy Fingers” > “King Solomon’s Marbles.” It was like watching a kid get a new bike with training wheels for Christmas and in the course of an hour or so go from wobbly beginner to look-ma-no-hands to X Games medalist. The stretch was full of highlights: Russo on drums cracked open the jam in “Truckin’” like an egg as Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger played a runny-yolk two-guitar jam; Marco Benevento led a glorious jam in “Jack Straw” on the grand piano; five guys seemingly played at five different tempos but all somehow fit together in a feeling-out-each-other-moment in “Estimated”; Metzger crafting a peak-upon-peak solo in “Eyes”; and, of course, Lesh playing the adult in the room with his beautiful, exploratory bass playing. If it was sloppy at times, the music seemed to benefit: This material longs for looseness and the surprises that come with imperfection.

Everyone had a moment to shine, individually and in the group dynamic. Russo was in fine form, a firm hand on the back of the bicycle seat that knew exactly when to let go and when to rein in things. A first-set highlight was the jam out of “Crazy Fingers,” which under Russo’s guidance went free then beautiful then funk-rave until finally crashing into “King Solomon’s Marbles.” The crowd reveled in each moment that was half nostalgia, half groundbreaking. There were sing-alongs for their old favorites and revelations at new discoveries in decades-old material that lurked unknowingly beneath the surface.

The second set, which alternated between straight-up guitar rocking, out-there space-drifts and shall-we-dance? grooving, was somehow even looser, and the surprising second song could sum it up. “Throwing Stones” formed out of a free-flowing underwater jam lead by Benevento that finally coalesced around the up-tempo theme. Metzger, sounding every bit like Bob Weir on vocals, led the crowd in a fist-pumping sing-along before turning in on Russo for a climactic, crowd-pleasing guitar solo. After another verse, Lesh and Hamilton bounced on a theme that as much Sly and the Family Stone as the Dead, which Russo somehow brought back for a short bit before things went into space-funk-fusion for an unexpected segue into “Dark Star.” That tune was a platform for some of the most inventive exploring of the night, ceding way to a raging-under-the-red-lights cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” plus a jam-fueled “The Wheel.” Sure, they occasionally lost track of where they dropped the breadcrumbs along the way, but that was OK, Lesh or Russo eventually brought them back to where they began. PhilRAD rounded out the superlative set list with “Terrapin Station” > “I Know You Rider” before encoring with a heavy-boogie version of “Shakedown Street,” white lights whirling around the Cap like the band had set off a fire alarm. As great as the show was, there was a definitive just-getting-warmed-up feeling in the room. Two more nights of jams, surprises and, I’m sure, people in the crowd looking at each other wondering, “What just happened!?” —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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Phil Lesh and Friends Freely Jamming Without Ego at Capitol Theatre

April 11th, 2014

Phil Lesh and Friends – Capitol Theatre – April 10, 2014

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Phil Lesh treats his band’s lineups much like the jams those groups end up playing: There are (probably) themes, riffs and improvisations underlying some grand design. Of course, some work better than others and stick together longer, but in the end, most of them deliver. This week at the Capitol Theatre, Lesh seems to have once again found magic, this time with his current group of Friends, running the gamut from Jackie Greene’s soulful, smooth vocals and blues-rock guitar to Marco Benevento’s indie-pop groove jazz keyboards to John Kadlecik’s singing and guitar playing, which ooze the Grateful Dead ethos for which Lesh continues to be the standard bearer. Bill Evans, who drifted on- and offstage at a rate of about every other song, added a saxophone to the mix. In between, Lesh and drummer Joe Russo formed a two-man Rosetta Stone, deciphering, decoding and interpreting so that the musical conversation formed a coherent dialogue.

Last night, the band got off to a rollicking start with the crowd favorite “Truckin’.” There were notable solos galore, too many to catalog, although I will note that Benevento particularly shined on the keys, which, in Lesh’s band, often has trouble finding moments in such a heavy guitar-bass-drums environment. Throughout the night, there were subtle pairings of musicians, conscious couplings with, for example, Benevento bantering with Kadlecik or the two guitars playing off each other. But the best parts were when everyone melded into a single entity, freely jamming without ego. There were two such moments in the first set, first a gorgeous, atmospheric noodle coming out of a cover of former-Friend Ryan Adams’ “Let It Ride.” The second was a highlight improv in the middle of “Cassidy,” spontaneous composition without a net

Often the best Grateful Dead moments weren’t the songs, but rather the spaces in between them, with the jam dividing “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” a favorite historical example. On Thursday, Lesh took this to the extreme, placing not just a big jam in between those two songs, but the entire set. It was like looking at your fingernail beneath a microscope and discovering an altogether new universe. Along the way, the band hit on many themes and genres. There was the funk chunk of “Shakedown Street” led by Lesh’s elegant bass playing, with Greene eventually leading the band to an impromptu vamp on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut” and then a fantastic slide-guitar solo. There was the catchall rocker “New Speedway Boogie,” which contained its own multitudes, jams within jams, everyone getting their chance at the wheel. The high-paced “Caution” had Lesh and Russo banging out the theme while Greene did his best Pigpen imitation. The set ended in grand fashion, “Caution” leading into a charged version of the Dead’s take on “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” Kadlecik shining as he did all night, before the band moved into a wonderful “Terrapin Station,” Russo taking complete control of the Dead opus. Finally, the show closed with the predetermined sing-along “I Know You Rider,” like a wanderer returning from a journey around the world, none the worse for wear. —A. Stein

(Jackie Greene and Rich Robinson play Webster Hall on 6/15.)

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Five Questions with … Jonathan Wilson

February 11th, 2014

Jonathan Wilson is a talented guy. He’s done production work for musicians like Father John Misty, Dawes and Chris Robinson. Plus he’s put out his own excellent albums filled with a unique mix of folk, psychedelic rock and R&B, including last year’s Fanfare (stream it below). Wilson has also performed with big-time names like Robbie Robertson, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Jackson Browne—while he and his band have won over audiences across the globe, touring on their own and alongside Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jonathan Wilson (above, performing “Trials of Jonathan”) plays The Bowery Ballroom tomorrow night with Laraaji and Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday with the Blank Tapes. And ahead of those shows, he answered Five Questions for The House List.

Which New York City musician—past or present—would you most like to play with?
Laraaji, and on February 12th we will be doing just that. It’s a dream come true, as I listen to his music almost every day.

Where do you like to hang out in NYC? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
I always like the East Village and the Lower East Side. I like going up to midtown for the nostalgic experience of when I used to visit NYC as a kid. I’ll try to catch a jazz show when I’m there. It’s the last place on earth with any jazz scene. I’d like to live in NYC again some day, sure.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
I’m not sure if a song is better if it really happened to the writer. Certain songs are. Like today in the world of rustic Americana banjo totin’, there seems to be a lot of hobo-centric songs about jumping trains to ol’ Virginny and the like. I doubt many young banjo frailers have ever done that, but they still can convince many a listener they have … or maybe it just inspires someone to dream or to ponder a yonder time. Nothing wrong with that. Music many times is fantastical and complete fiction, but everyone loves great fiction, right?

Behind Gentle Spirit, you played the early show at Mercury Lounge a couple of years ago. But following the release of Fanfare, this time you’re playing two shows in much bigger rooms. Is that just a local thing, or have you found you and your music are getting more recognition across the country?
Indeed, we are very excited to play these wonderful rooms. It is quite a jump since the last shows in NYC, but we have been touring pretty much nonstop since then, and the band has gained some great fans and support along the way. We are getting much more recognition across the globe, which is such an amazing feeling. The records are getting bigger, more complex, and the live show is as well. These are good times for us.

What goes into choosing a song to cover, like “Isn’t It a Pity,” “One More Cup of Coffee” or even “La Isla Bonita”? Does it have to do with liking those songs as a kid—or is it just about what moves you now?
In the case of “La Isla,” yes, there is certainly an affinity from childhood. Most of the others are just songs that have spoken to me, that I find a kinship with—songs I want to honor. Songs I want to bring back into someone’s day. —R. Zizmor

 

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Joe Russo’s Almost Dead: The Legend Grows

December 30th, 2013

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – the Capitol Theatre – December 27, 2013

(Photo: Scott Harris)

Last January, NYC drummer Joe Russo gathered some of his best friends for a one-off night of Grateful Dead music at Brooklyn Bowl. It seemed like a lark: buddies riffing on Dead tunes. But it just so happens that Russo’s friends—Tom Hamilton, Scott Metzger, Marco Benevento and Dave Dreiwitz—are also some of the best musicians in the city, and the gig, billed as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, became the stuff of legend before you could say, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Naturally, an encore performance was in order, and the long-awaited second gig on the much grander, steeped-in-Dead-history stage of the Capitol Theatre took place on Friday night. Expectations were obviously higher, but in the end, I think, the legend only grew.

It seems impossible to say this, considering that the raison d’être of the Grateful Dead canon is loose improvisation and noodling jams, but JRAD stretched and explored the repertoire like few have. The marathon two-set show stripped off layers and layers of old fraying wallpaper from the catalog, sandpapered through coats of paint and found the raw surface of the music. From the ripping, rocking opening couplet of “Cream Puff War” > “Truckin’” to the lilting melody of “Row Jimmy” to the split-level groove of “Shakedown Street,” JRAD proved to be expert innovators. With these guys, familiarity breeds content: They’ve played countless gigs together in various permutations and it showed as jams zigzagged across multiple themes with ease. From behind the kit, Russo controlled the action, pushing and pulling his pals in various directions, letting things drift into uncharted waters and then bringing back the energy into focus. Hamilton shone on guitar and lead vocals, charging through jams and singing with a comfortable confidence.

Of course any Deadhead worthy of the tie-dye on his back knows the real action is in the second set. JRAD did not disappoint, opening with a racing wet-noodle jam before breaking into the fan-favorite pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain.” Dreiwitz bounded through the bass parts here, one foot in Phil Lesh’s shoes, the other firmly anchored in his more familiar, ragged rock-out roots. Metzger, Hamilton and Benevento were mouse, cat and dog, chasing one another through multiple levels of jamming, half homage, half sledgehammer. The set was one jaw-dropping jam after another, peaking with an ambitious rendering of the full “Terrapin Station” suite. With classic skeleton-and-roses iconography spiraling across the Cap’s ceiling, the band raised “just some friends hanging out” to an art form, perfectly hitting every subtle change and movement of the suite while still taking it to new, exciting places. Just like the Dead would’ve done after a superlative show like that, JRAD encored with the heartfelt harmonies of “Brokedown Palace,” Russo and Co. proving they can match the soulful depths of the source material as well as the ecstatic peaks. And as they wished the audience a “fare you well,” we could only guess when these pals would get together next, hoping they’d be kind enough to invite the rest of us. —A. Stein

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We’ve Got You Covered on Halloween

October 30th, 2013

Let’s face it: Halloween is one of the biggest amateur nights of the year. So rather than trying to fight your way through a parade or going to a costume party surrounded by people who think they’re supposed to drink as much as they possibly can, let us do the heavy lifting for you, because we’ve got five stellar shows on All Hallows’ Eve. Grateful Dead guitarist Phil Lesh brings his traveling group of Friends—guitarists Grahame Lesh, Anders Osborne and Luther Dickinson, keyboardist Jason Crosby and drummer Tony Leoneto the Capitol Theatre; New York City’s own Holy Ghost! bring their post-disco dance party to Terminal 5; Avan Lava, mixing electronic music, rock and R&B, will have the Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd moving in unison; another hometown band, post-punk five-piece Crystal Stilts, will think global and rock local at The Bowery Ballroom; and taking a break from playing Madison Square Garden, English crooner Ed Sheeran (above, performing “Wake Me Up” for Live from the Artists Den) plays Mercury Lounge. Tickets for that show go on sale—only online—tomorrow at noon.

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Phil Lesh and Friends Captivate the Capitol Theatre

July 24th, 2013

Phil Lesh and Friends – the Capitol Theatre – July 23, 2013


Phil Lesh and Friends makes it sound so benign, like a group of toddlers on a play date. Phil Lesh and Conspirators might better describe the guerrilla warfare that Lesh & Co. inflicted on the Grateful Dead canon in the second of two sold-out shows last night at the Capitol Theatre. For 15 years, Lesh has played off and on in this format with a rotating cast of jam-worthy musicians, and the current incarnation features John Scofield and John Kadlecik on guitars, John Medeski on keys and Joe Russo on drums. It’s a classic Lesh band: it might make you wonder how the pieces are going to fit, but when the music starts, you appreciate how everyone brings a vital piece to the group. The song-oriented first set provided plenty of opportunities for the packed house of Deadheads to sing along. The set closed with a “Box of Rain,” which took the touching ballad to all sorts of interesting places, Medeski charging ahead on organ and Scofield cascading down while Kadlecik raced to crescendo.

Of course, every Dead fan knows it’s all about the second set, and last night’s was no exception, with top-notch song selection, lengthy full-band improvisations in unlikely places and surprise segue pairings. The band opened with “Here Comes Sunshine,” which found each member playing in constant, relentless jamming, Scofield looking one pointy hat short of a full-fledged wizard as he led the way through more than 20 minutes of major-key majesty. The second set was largely triangular, rotating threesomes locking into themes both acute and obtuse before the rest of the quintet found their way in. The “Sunshine” outro jam found Russo, Lesh and Medeski kicking into a funkier, up-tempo jam, Russo finally exploding into a superlative arena-rock drum lesson that finally settled with the whole band into the classic “Uncle John’s Band” riff. Longtime fan-favorite “St. Stephen” featured a rollicking Kadlecik-led jam with Lesh and Russo providing backup and eventually devolved into a noise thing, equally free-form and funky.

For me, the set’s highlight was “Mountains of the Moon,” a soothing psychedelic ballad that unleashed multiple viral forays, notes multiplying exponentially with everyone fully locked into the ever-changing melodies until Lesh impossibly reined in everyone for another verse before repeating the process all over again, while moonscapes were projected onto the Capitol’s walls and ceiling. This perfectly transitioned into “Fire on the Mountain,” with huge solos from Scofield and Medeski. The set finished with a pair of cover tunes that the Dead made their own, a stunningly gorgeous “Morning Dew” followed by a straightforward, rollicking “I Know You Rider.” It took Phil and his Friends all of seven songs to traverse 80-plus minutes of time, deftly maneuvering through themes and melodies all the while, reconstructing and rediscovering the Grateful Dead catalog as only Lesh can. With a swinging-Russo-beat encore of “They Love Each Other,” the show came to an end: mission accomplished for the conspirators and their fearless leader. —A. Stein