Monday, May 12, 2008

Show Review: 5/11/08 Phil Lesh and Friends @ Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA


Right after the Langerado music festival, I bought a ticket to Phil Lesh and Friends' concert at the Greek Theatre in LA. I thought Phil Lesh's latest lineup (Jackie Greene, Steve Molitz, John Molo, and Larry Campbell) was the best that he had in years and they were one of the many highlights of Langerado. When I scanned their tourdates, I jumped at the chance to see them at the Greek.

I found out several weeks later that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were opening up which is sort of big because Phil usually doesn't have an opening act. The gang at Coventry are huge Grace Potter fans. And I have been on a GPN kick over the last couple of weeks.

The Greek Theatre is nestled in the hills of Los Feliz and the last and only time I was for a Trey Anastasio Band concert a couple of months before 9/11. The Greek is located near a residential area and they had an 11pm curfew. Grace Potter was scheduled for 5:30pm.

I went to the show with Change100 and we arrived at the venue around 4:30pm. The Greek has stacked parking for $15 which means once you get into the parking lot... you're stuck until everyone in front of you leaves.

I have never seen the Grateful Dead in California, although I caught a couple of Phil & Friends shows, it's not quite the same. Sure, Deadheads can be found all over the globe, but the hardcore Deadheads still live in California. They all came out of the woodwork for the show.

When I used to follow the Dead in the early 1990s, I was a teenager and a part of the Gen-X crew of Deadheads which meant that my hippie counterparts were two (and even three) decades older. That age gap still held true at Phil and Friends. It was kinda cool to be around real hippies again, you know, the originals and the ones who started it all. A couple of them saw the Dead as far back as the Acid Tests in the early 1960s.

Shit, Grace Potter wasn't even born yet when the Dead stopped playing St. Stephen in 1983. As one of my Deadhead buddies would say, "I have t-shirts older than her."

We really wanted to catch Grace Potter's set and motivated to go inside. We made a pitstop stopped at a bathroom in the parking lot. It was a tiny bathroom with three urinals. I stood in line at the doorway. A Deadhead (a dead-ringer for Richard Dreyfuss) wearing a tie-dyed shirt rushed past me. We had to tell him that the line started behind me. He apologized and I noticed right away that he was far gone.

"We're in California, right?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Los Angeles to be exact," I assured him.

"Right on."

I pissed in the far urinal and the hippie guy took the one next to me. There was a window where you could see out into the parking lot. He commented on the big old school bus that had a cut out of a VW bus on top of the roof.

"It's the bus," he said. "Here, have these."

He held out his fist. I finished up my urination and zipped up before I unfurled my hand. He dropped tiny two cubensis mushrooms in my palm. By the looks of him, he must have ingested a fair amount.

I usually turn down drugs from strangers especially psychedelics. I made an exception. Buy a ticket and take the ride. The mundane always becomes extraordinary when you involve mushrooms.

Change100 and I made our way into the venue and there was no pat down by security. We bought $10 beers and found our seats towards the back of Section B. There's no really bad seat the Greek and we were almost aligned with center stage. The walk in music was bluegrass covers of Phish... Rift and Cavern.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals came on at 5:30pm. and played for less than 45 minutes.
5.11.08, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA

Set 1: Ain't No Time, Treat Me Right, Stop the Bus, Nothing But the Water > Drums Jam > Nothing But the Water, Apologies > Mastermind, The Big White Gate
Grace is the obvious shining star with a sultry voice that reminds me a bit like Edie Brickell mixed with a tinge of Janis Joplin. Grace also plays piano and guitar. Depending on the song, she'll even play both.

I recognized every song they played and Nicky wrote down the setlist since she knew the title to every song. The highlights for me were Stop the Bus and the Nothing But Water sandwich which included a drum jam where everyone in the band got up on the drummer's riser and beat some sort of percussion.

At one point, Grace mentioned, "I love hearing all the random shit that you guys yell. Keep it up, because we'll actually answer you."

One guy from the back screamed, "Show me your tits!"

The shrooms weren't extremely strong, but they definitely kicked in towards the end of Grace's set.

It would be almost an hour before Phil Lesh took the stage. In the meantime, I drank a couple of more $10 beers as the venue eventually filled up. I dunno if it was sold out but there were plenty of open spots. I'd say it was 85-90% full by the time Phil's set began.

Two older hippie guys sat in the row in front of us. Next to them were two hipster chicks sipping white wine. There was also a family of four nearby. I forgot that Deadheads often brought their kids to the show. The old guys befriended the hipster chicks. One of them pulled out a tiny prison joint and they smoked up only to be caught by a security guard since our section was not filled up by that point. The guard didn't throw them out and only said, "You can't do that here."

* * * * * *
Set 1: Shakedown Street, Friend of the Devil, Bertha, Ball and Chain, Beat It On Down the Line, Cumberland Blues, Sugaree
Phil Lesh took the stage around 7:15pm. The tuned up for about five minutes before they busted out a crowd pleasing and blustery version of Shakedown Street. The gang jumped into a jam right away and didn't wait to get heated up. Right off the bat, it was obviously that it was Larry Campbell's night to shine. He and Phil ripped it up during Shakedown. There was one section where Phil soloed a few notes and then Steve Molitz on keys replicated them before they transitioned out of the jam and back into Shakedown Street. I thought they were going to segue into The Wheel, but they abruptly stopped. Jackie picked up an acoustic guitar and Larry went for a fiddle as they played Friend of the Devil. It's one of those songs that make me miss Jerry whenever I hear it.

Bertha was high energy and Larry continued to lead the way. The great thing about bands with accomplished musicians is that on any given night, someone steps up and is the MVP of the show. Jackie took those honors at Langerado. Even though it was still the first set, Larry's stellar playing early on set the tone.

I thought the flow of the set was disrupted by Ball and Chain (not exactly what I wanted to hear) and BIODTL (a sloppy version). The shrooms started to fade away and smoked heavily during those tunes while the hipster girls in front of us hit their peaked wastedness.

They saved the set with Cummberland Blues. That song was one of the highlights of Langerado and they did not disappoint with their version at the Greek. They closed the first set with a mellow yet powerful version of Sugaree, although I expected Jerry to materialize on stage and finish it off properly.

I drank a couple of more beers during setbreak. Those 24 oz. Coronas for $12 pack a punch.
Set 2: New Speedway Boogie, Devil Take Your Mind, Jack Straw, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Unbroken Chain > The Wheel > Franklins Tower

E: Box Of Rain
I always have this weird theory that if you listen to music in the car on the way to a concert and happen to be listening to the same band you are about to see, inevitably, that band will play at least one song that you heard on the drive to the show. Phish used to do it all the time and it was always cool when it was an obscure song or a serious bust out.

This instance we listened to New Speedway Boogie on the way to the Greek. I mentioned it to Nicky that I hoped they played it and sure enough, they opened up the second set with a resounding version. Devil Take Your Mind was a classic Pauly Takes a Piss song. The trio of Jack Straw followed up by China > Rider was the highlight of the second set. Jackie stepped it up but Larry continued to plug away.

The second set ended with a three tune sandwich of Unbroken Chain > The Wheel > Franklin's Tower. It was a unique choice of songs to segue into each other. I kept hearing them tease The Wheel since the start of the show and it magically appeared. Franklin's came out of nowhere for me. Never expected that! Stellar version.

The encore included the standard donor rap where Phil expressed his gratitude for the kid who died and donated his organs which Phil desperately needed after decades of damage. That was followed up by Box of Rain.

Overall, it was an above average show highlighted by Larry Campbell's guitar playing. I thought some of the song selection was blah, but they managed to do a solid job with the songs that I didn't want to hear. The crowd was friendly but my section was super mellow.

I had high expectations for Phil and Friends after Langerado and they didn't quite meet that high standard which I set. In Langerado, my expectations for Phil and Friends were low because historically speaking, festival sets rarely stand out. Phil kicked everyone's ass to close out Langerado and that's why I expected them to do the same at the Greek.

4 comments:

the joker said...

a tip of the hat to old cali hippies. thank you sir! nice review!

Roman said...

yeah, they did a nice Franklin's at the fillmore in Denver earlier. No surprise though,m as it closed out the typical Help!/Slipknot seg.

looking forward to Phil ending an era at the warfield this week. hope to be there

Anonymous said...

1st set: good. 2nd set: great. The 70's Dead songs all segued quite nicely.
And I was digging the gal House Left, upper section who was doing signing for deaf people. The concept is ridiculous, but she was a real fan who knew the songs, and if not signing, she was groovin'. She even had her own elipsoidal spotlight!
Good times.

Anonymous said...

it was an awesome show, didn't expect someone to walk off with my camera bag, but it was a fine choice of songs..

btw.. Signer is at most dead shows, for hearing impaired, and it makes a real difference. Plus if you can sign it is fun to watch.