Phenomenal!!! Acclaimed fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan started a three-night stand with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester NY last night, and we experienced jaw-dropping musical talent, technique, and precision like you wouldn't believe.
This is a mega-weekend in the NYC area, as Phil and Friends do three nights (Fri, Sat, and Sun) at the Capitol, Dead and Company pack Madison Square Garden on Saturday and Sunday, and the Mets play in the World Series at Citi Field against Kansas City, Friday, Saturday, and (since they won last night), Sunday. We're staying in a cheap hotel in Armonk NY on a beautiful Fall weekend, and can feel the whole area vibrating ... or maybe that's just the traffic on 684.
We took the day off work yesterday, slept late, packed up, and hit the road for a 3-hour drive down to Armonk, which was slowed by an incredible amount of traffic and a long traffic jam caused by construction in Waterville CT. Yuck. But we got to our cheap hotel, hung out a bit, and then headed for the 15-minute drive to Port Chester, where we parked in the usual lot, at the same time as a thrilled couple who'd traveled up from Florida on a Dead vacation.
The people around there are all very friendly to concert-goers and we stopped by the corner where Heads had set up a mini-Shakedown Street (Shakedown Corner?) and were eager to engage in repartee. Dead and Company had opened their tour Thursday night in Albany and we'd heard about half of it (streamed by a taper), and gushed about the show with some people who'd been there and were planning to continue to tour down to Philly and DC with the band, after a brief side-trip to see Phil!
Had another leisurely Mexican meal that couldn't be beat at Kiosko, and then pushed our way into the packed Capitol. The merch table was set up with some nice dragon t-shirts (Dave got one), and Halloween trimmings. We made our way up the well-appointed stairway and past the classy balcony bar and the steps up to the funky men's room, and sat down in the first row of the balcony (not the loge, which was the first three rows of the overhang). People were walking in front of us all night, but this was no problem when we were standing up, and we got close-up views of Deadhead after Deadhead twirling, doing ballet steps, staggering to and from their seats, and just rolling their heads and limbs and wonking out to the music.
Phil and the guys came out just a few minutes after 8 and lined up in the classic P&F arrangement with Phil and his huge amps on the right (looking at the stage that is), Tony Leone on drums close behind him, Stanley Jordan (the featured guest) at stage center, John Kadlecik between him and the keyboards setup, and then Jason Crosby at the keys: the quintessential B3, Rhodes, and (Kurzweil) electric piano rectangle, this time with two Leslies backing him up. Before we could even settle down: duh-duh, duh DUH ... and we were off on the crest of a wave. Here's the first set:
Help on the Way >
Ship of Fools
Here Comes Sunshine
Sitting on Top of the World
Dave, Sarah, and I were just delighted, as was everyone in the packed Capitol. The signal from starting with Help/Slip/Franklin's was that they were feeling it right away, and they showed in that triptych a preview of the phenomenal talent and execution we would see all night. John set the pace immediately with his fine voice, Phil was psyched, rolling those tones over us and around the hall, and Stanley Jordan was riveting. Slipknot! especially went on and on and they could have stayed in that groove all night, it was so excellent. And then Phil stepped up to sing Franklin's and he was in top-notch voice himself, perhaps because it was the first night of the tour. The crowd was a vocal factor to say the least, as well as the people on stage; Phil stepped back and let the crowd sing one of the "Roll Away the dew" choruses themselves.
OK, everyone take a breath after that and then it was time for a ballad. John continued his fine, mature singing with Ship Of Fools, and emoted more and more through the song, building to a thrilling, emotional climax. Dave had never seen this song live and it was great rendition.
I haven't mentioned Leone and Crosby but just wait! This was not just a rock and roll show, this was a full tilt fusion show, as was fitting with a cleanup hitter like Jordan (in nice jeans and a bit of eye shadow), and Tony and Jason were in their element. Tony kept up an incredible groove all night, banging out the chorus when it was time, but in the meantime keeping up a shuffle, a syncopated beat, or a full-fledged tom-tom barrage and just backing the other musicians excellently.
Crosby deserves a paragraph or more himself. I've seen him on video many times and live a few times and been more and more impressed by his talent on keyboards, though not as much by his fiddle. But he blew us out of the water last night, probably because he was let loose to dabble in jazz chords and solos, with John drooling over him, Stanley nodding at him with massive approval, and Phil looking like this was the place he was happiest in.
Phil announced very recently that he has bladder cancer, and canceled a couple of dates at Terrapin Crossroads this October. But his announcement also said that the cancer is "under control and not aggressive" (the word remission was not used). He was right on time (well, 5 minutes late) for his date at the Cap with his whole entourage (including grandson Levon, see below), and the crowd gave him a very, very heartfelt welcome. He was so moved by the occasion that he almost got distracted during his donor rap, but I'm getting ahead of myself...
Where was I? Oh yeah, after Ship Of Fools we were treated to an ethereal, jazzed up, spaced out Greensleeves featuring Jordan's amazing tap guitar technique and Crosby's flights of fancy on the Rhodes. Kadlecik has recently returned from a world tour with his band, and as I say was singing and playing as well as I've ever heard him. But you could tell he was concentrating on filling the role of a "glue" player, constantly deferring to Stanley or Jason (or Phil!) when they looked ready, and pushing the pace along with his singing.
Then was Here Comes Sunshine, another one which Dave had never seen performed live and was just killed by this band. He'd called it, and boy did they play it! And it was so perfect for this lovely, sunshine-filled, Fall weekend. Then Sitting On Top Of the World was another jazzed out treat, drifting farther and farther away from the old folk song as the players topped each other and made us smack our heads in disbelief, and then somehow coalescing back on the next verse. After that, nothing left but to close the first set with Bertha, John for once being the featured player here, leading the sing-along and ripping off the standing-on-your-ear leads.
That was a phenomenal first set! I couldn't stop saying that. Phil thought so too apparently and had the guys gather for a group hug in the middle of the stage, after the first set!?! This was incredible stuff.
Got another beer, right before the crowds gathered. They have a fine beer list at the Cap, including IPA from the hyper-local Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, that I of course quaffed. The second floor men's room, as mentioned, is up a stairway from the balcony lobby and consists of some of their vintage marble urinals, mixed in with modern ones stuck on the wall here and there, wherever they'd fit. Truly funky.
Reconvened back at the seats for the second set (actually I was a bit delayed at the bar), and they opened with a beautiful, beautiful version of Phil's classic. Here's the list:
Unbroken Chain >
All Along the Watchtower >
China Cat Sunflower >
Eyes of the World >
Standing on the Moon
Scarlet Begonias >
I Know You Rider
The magic continued and intensified. Phil's singing was ethereal, as was the powerful but delicate ensemble playing on Unbroken. Watchtower was as funky as I've ever heard a rock band do a Dylan song, and then Stanley just took over and melted everything in sight.
Everybody caught on slowly that Watchtower had ended and that he was gearing up for something serious, and then he was suddenly playing Little Wing and all extraneous thoughts disappeared. This was beyond riveting: he had everybody on the Eastern Seaboard floating on his incredible cascade of notes, some strummed, some tapped, and some plucked. Even over at Citi Field, the game stopped for a moment while everyone gazed up and around them and asked, "What's that music??"
There was another monitor and an orphan mike stand set up over on the far right of the stage, to Phil's left. We thought that *maybe* Bobby or John Mayer from Dead and Company would come out as a surprise guest (they weren't doing anything that night!), but then we saw that it was actually a jungle gym!! Phil's toddler grandson, Levon, was along for the ride and spent much of the second set pushing his plastic scooter around on the right-hand end of the stage, climbing/falling over the extra monitor, and every once in a while staring/pointing at his grandfather, who was standing tall, playing that huge bass and singing like an angel. This was very cute (of course, Levon was wearing sound-defeating headgear)! At times Levon pushed his scooter all the way over to where his grandfather was standing and bumped into his boot, then looked up in surprise. Phil beamed back at him and didn't miss a beat. He was happy and so were we.
What else? China Cat into Eyes!!!?!?! When you talk about a great Dead-related concert you talk about the dragon coming out, usually sometime in the second set. This dragon had come out back in the beginning of the first set, and was flying back and forth through the wonderful Capitol Theatre, spouting flame. And though I wasn't tripping, things got to the point where I could almost see the music. Most often when Jordan was standing in the middle of the stage, rocking his head back and forth to watch Phil and Jason, and each of them had one eye on Leone, the foundation of the sound. And then you realized that it all centered around the chords and fills Kadlecik was constructing. This was truly dancing about architecture.
The calmed it down for the second set ballad, Standing On the Moon, another wonderfully emotional vocal by John ("Old Glory waving stiffly, crimson, white, and indigo"). We all knew the second set was nearing the end but that there'd be a few more magic moments still. And then they paused for a beat and went into Scarlet! The whole theater roared as one and writhed in unison, including a crowd of dancers and twirlers who suddenly appeared in the corridor in front of us. This was another massive sing-along. I forgot to mention that at one point during Eyes, Phil hadn't even bothered to sing the chorus because everyone in the crowd was, and it was just as loud.
And after Scarlet they decided to finish what they'd started with China Cat and meandered into an epic I Know You Rider (though they'd teased GDTRFB). The Cap was in folk-rock heaven, listening to and shouting out that classic song, watching Phil and his grandson like a motif of life and art, and remembering who had first thrilled us all with the words, "I wish I was a headlight on a Northbound train."
Thundering applause, and then Phil somehow had the energy to come out for the donor rap. He was beyond beaming, and thanked and thanked us all for giving him the opportunity to do this. As I say, he almost forgot to do his "Cody" bit but somehow made it through, though distracted by Levon grabbing the bass, and then running around the stage and trying to re-set all Phil's filters. The happy grand-dad grabbed him up and delivered him back to his mother (perhaps thinking at the same time that his cancer surgeons had told him not to do any heavy lifting).
For an encore John stepped up again and sang George Harrison's Any Road. An excellent, though non-incendiary ending to a beyond fantastic night! We're currently throwing around ideas about how they're going to follow it up tonight!!
see pictures here