Phil Lesh and Friends

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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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6 Comments

  1. Brandon Daviet on

    Reall diggin these live revies and updates. It is like the mag is becoming the CNN of denvers music scene keep it.

    As for the Phil Lesh show thanks Brian for confirmin that my skipping the show was a good idea, the current lineup is not good IMO.

  2. Thank you Brandon.

    “The CNN of Denver’s Music Scene?” I’m going to quote you on that…just as long as you’re not calling us “Headline News.”

    and yeah, you missed nothing at Phil and Friends. If you miss the Dead, go listed to a good soundboard, or Dick’s Picks.

  3. you sound suprised but phil shows have sucked for years……
    this is clearly the worst lineup ever……
    the person philln jerrys spot was clearly not alive to have ever seen him.
    its a insult to heads ,,,,,after bobby comes around with kimock to charge top dollar for this crap. couldnt have said it better glorified rehersal . thank jah i had the strength to resist waisting 2 more nights of my life on that garbage.
    let the dead die if its gonna be like that. i could go on & on,,,,, but who cares?

  4. Phil & Jackie Green are doing a fantastic job of keeping things alive. i was alive alive to see a shit load of dead shows & while no one can ever replace Jerry these guys still have soul & are out there for us who appreciate music w/love & soul. QUIT YOUR BITCHIN’

  5. If you have done you research you would know that while Bob Weir is a prodigy (Taking Guitar lessons from jerry at 18/19). He did not have 6 fantastic albums under his belt like Jackie Greens does Jackie’s song writing is great he sings w/soul & he can play the guitar/piano& harmonica. Stop waiting for an clone of the Dead & appreciate Phil & Co. for keeping it going.

  6. RE: your comment: The sad thing is that The Grateful Dead never needed to talk to each other.

    The Dead actually did have the ability to speak to each other through the microphones, and they did it often, to count off a song, or to have Harry make adjustments in their monitor mixes.

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