Phil Lesh & Friends Concert Review

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Late last year, Peter Shapiro, the owner of Relix Magazine and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, signed an incredible deal with Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead in which he would play 45 shows at his venue for the coming year. I had the pleasure of interning for Shapiro, and by the end of the summer I was a converted Dead fan. This November, Phil Lesh (original bassist of the Grateful Dead) played a 10-night run at the Capitol with a different lineup each night. Lesh, 73, has the privilege of selecting musicians of whom he wants to play Grateful Dead covers with, hence, Phil Lesh & Friends. He is an incredibly respected icon in the music world and almost all musicians will throw away another gig to improvise with him on some classic Dead jams. As the end of Phil Lesh’s historic November run at the Capitol neared, he showed no signs of slowing down the abiding groove that is the Grateful Dead. Lesh was backed by a stellar lineup this past Friday: Marco Benevento (keys), Stu Allen (guitar/vocals), Joe Russo (drums), Anders Osborne (guitar/vocals), and the fabulous Joan Osborne (vocals). The supergroup opened with a fan favorite, “Uncle John’s Band,” which brought the crowd to its feet as they sang along to every word. Skeletons were dancing on the Capitol ceilings to other Dead classics, such as “China Cat Sunflower,” “I Know You Rider,” and “Stella Blue.”

Enjoy a version of Phil Lesh & Friends’ “Scarlet Begonias / Fire On the Mountain” here with another unique lineup:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0C_g8YqulE

 

I was pleasantly surprised by the band’s cover choices throughout the night. The Cap was graced with two Neil Young songs, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and the second set opener, “Heart of Gold,” which transitioned smoothly into Lesh’s own “Unbroken Chain.” In my opinion, the best Neil Young jam is “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and as Anders Osborne shredded through pentatonics reminiscent to it with a Young southern rock twang, Lesh effortlessly grooved through scales to complete the jam. After a great jam on “Terrapin Station,” the band shifted into a faster, upbeat version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which I thought was very cool. The band even brought some Beatles into the set, as they covered Lennon’s “Dig A Pony” off Let It Be. Anders Osborne, Stu Allen, and Joan Osborne all contributed to the “oohs” and “ahs” in Lennon’s choruses that were followed by crushing riffs. The band also covered Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” which was also a decent fit for the supergroup.

I was blown away by Marco Benevento’s keyboard playing; as he stepped up to solo, his hands were moving so fast you couldn’t even see them. He was positioning one of his hands to play the octave on the keyboard, while the other riffed through scales. I also found it incredibly impressive when he would have one hand on the organ, and the other on the keyboard. The classic howl of a Wurlitzer was a great bonus to the night. Benevento was by far the most impressive performer and contributed in the supergroup’s full sound as a unit.

Before the first encore in every show Phil Lesh plays, he does his traditional “Donor Rap.” Lesh was the recipient of a liver transplant, and encourages his audiences to donate their organs to save lives. The moving speech was followed by “Morning Dew,” which was a perfect way to close out the set as the Osborne and Allen traded incendiary solos once again on a classic Dead jam.

It was surely a historic night at the Capitol with 2,000 greasy Dead-heads and dreadlocked hippies. I can’t wait for another Phil Lesh & Friends run at one of Jerry Garcia’s favorite venues once again.

 

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Images sourced by dinoperrucciphotography.blogspot.com and deadheadland.com

What We ThinkJake Perlmutter