Phil Lesh and Friends

Fillmore Auditorium - Denver, Colo.
May 8, 2008

By Brian F. Johnson

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Ten years ago, had anyone told me that I’d duck out early on a show by an original member of The Grateful Dead – especially one that just ripped through “Eyes of the World,” “The Eleven” and “The Other One” – I would have told them that they’re out of the minds.

But, that’s just what happened last night (May 8, 2008) at the Fillmore in Denver for Phil Lesh and Friends.

The moderately crowded Fillmore seemed poised and the dirty twirlers were loving it, but time and time again throughout the night it seemed that Lesh and his cohorts failed to really capitalize on the crowd’s forgiving attitude and make the show a SHOW, and not a glorified rehearsal.

I’ve never had a problem with a band who chooses to utilize technology, but I think it may be getting over-used here. Lesh, and his band, have electronic teleprompter-type devices and the ability to talk to each other through their microphones without the audience hearing it. It’s really a very cool and kick ass set up.

But that technology also leads to some odd times. Right before launching into the first set closer of “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain,” Lesh apparently had a lot to say to the band. He stood at the microphone for what seemed like a few minutes, talking and playing his bass (he was even gently rocking himself) but no sound was coming out to the audience. I had a bad feeling for a minute that I was watching a man begin to lose his sanity, and I felt bad for him.

The sad thing is that The Grateful Dead never needed to talk to each other. With a raised eyebrow and a nod, they all intuitively knew what the other guy was saying. Of course, Lesh hasn’t had the luxury of playing with this set of musicians for 30 years, like he did with the Dead, but still, couldn’t some rehearsal time at least minimize the need to verbally communicate with each other? To me, it took away the spontaneity of the show and the music.

The night was not a total wash, though. Some of guitarist Jackie Greene’s songs are very good and with Greene at the helm, Lesh was more apt to let loose the reigns of his conductor duties and allow the music to flow. How weird that “I’m So Gone,” one of only two songs in the set list that I’ve never heard before, was one of the highlights of the evening?

It’s sad to say, but I think these days that the performances by Lesh, Bob Weir and Ratdog and even Mickey Hart are all sub-par. I always feel like I’m watching a cover band, and not necessarily a good one. In fact, when it comes to live Grateful Dead music, I think that I’d rather go see Dark Star Orchestra perform the hell out of the material, rather than watch the former Grateful Dead members seemingly go through the motions.

Thursday night’s full set list can be found at:
http://www.phillesh.net/philzonepages/friends_stuff/setlists/080508.html

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