Friday, March 18, 2016

Phil's 76th, part 1

Though we had done a Capitol Theater excursion back in the Fall, when we saw The Q was playing there this Spring for Phil's 76th birthday, we figured it was time to do it again!

The Q is the most frequent assemblage of Phil Lesh and Friends.  They played together regularly from September 2000 through December 2003 and they get together once in a while since then.  It's Phil, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, John Molo, and Rob Barraco.  They announced a Birthday gig for the 17th and 18th of March (Thursday and Friday) in Port Chester, and later added another date on the 15th, which is Phil's actual birthday (Eric Krasno played instead of Herring), but which we didn't add ourselves!

Took Thursday and Friday off and after making a slew of sandwiches, loading up the car, and stuff, we drove down to Quincy to pick up Dave and headed South, through Rhode Island and along the Sound towards the Cap.  It was a very strange open-and-shut day with intervals of bright sunshine and hard rain, like a late-April day instead of mid-March.  The worst rain of course was when the traffic was at its most intense as we approached the maw of New York.

We made it to the [Grand] Amsterdam Hotel in Stamford by 3:30 or so, and took some time to set up computers, etc. in our nice room on the 4th floor, looking North.  We were trying another choice since the beds at the La Quinta in Armonk were small (though we had found it otherwise acceptable back in the Fall), but though the [Grand] Amsterdam has its charms, it has flaws too, like the shower, the breakfast, and the city noise.  Oh well.

Headed on up the turnpike, through the crowded streets in Byram, and across the river to Port Chester where we parked in the usual lot and had another great dinner at Kiosko.  Then it was down the street to the Theater, where some of us (like me) were patted down thoroughly, and then bought t-shirts.  Up to our seats in the left of the balcony, second row (not the loge), and settled down to wait for the crowd to fill in and the concert to begin!

They lined up with Herring (not sitting on a stool this time) far right, then Phil with his lighted bass and lots of displays and electronic matter spread all around him, Molo behind him, then Haynes and Barraco far, far left.  We actually had a great view of Rob's keys.  They tuned up and went into a spacey jam of course, though this one soon swelled, coalesced, started rocking, and then paused and burst into Dear Mr. Fantasy.  We were off again!

Here's the first set:
Jam >
Dear Mr. Fantasy > (WH)
China Cat Sunflower > (RB)
Let It Ride (PL)
Passenger > (WH & RB)
Cosmic Charlie (PL)
Cassidy (RB)
Spots Of Time (WH)
  • We had never seen Herring live before and his performance was perhaps the most unexpected for me; he was ripping up that lead guitar all evening and providing some incendiary fills ... great stuff.
  • We'd seen most of Tuesday's gig on the web, and one of my impressions from that came through even stronger, that Barraco was singing excellently ... not to mention his playing, which was just transcendental, especially when he was on piano.
  • Never seen Molo either, and he was very strong and smooth, holding the ensemble in one piece ... as if they needed any help, you could tell these guys had been playing together for a long time.
  • China Cat was flawless, with Herring shining on the Bobby part, and they strung it out to its utmost, then hinted at going into [I Know You] Rider, before dropping into another kind of jam, and coming out with Let It Ride (close!) ... moving like the fog on the Cumberland River.
  • Passenger and Cosmic Charlie were expected of a Phil Lesh ensemble, and were routinely great, but then Cassidy was totally unexpected, and great as well.
  • And the vocals on Cassidy, especially for the first few verses!!  I list it as "RB" but Rob and Warren dueted for the first verses and that was one of the highlights of the show.  Let Bobby and John top that this summer (I'm sure they will)!
  • They closed with Haynes doing Spots Of Time, which we could not place until we looked it up; Haynes and Lesh co-wrote it and last performed it in 2008.
Great first set!  The guy to my left was big (though not dancing, standing un-moving like a rock), so I was a little cramped, but had just enough room to dance a bit myself.  We sat down and talked some, then I did a bathroom > beer run.  Though the Capitol has rarely given me a chance to complain (even the thorough pat-down had been done with a smile!), this bartender was not efficient and ended up giving me something else when I ordered Lagunitas, which I didn't realize until back at the seats.

Oh well ... besides that the Cap was in fine form again.  For this stand they had a stage backdrop of subtly glittering vertical stripes, and had a beautiful blue, faintly reminiscent of Canton china, pattern on the non-alcove parts of the stadium ceiling.  The alcoves themselves sported a more traditional, tie-dyed look, and the two worked together, casting echos of color over the huge brass medallion in the center of the ceiling.  They were also projecting pictures from Phil's life, including him with his violin as a child, and plenty more recent pictures of him as a laughing old guy.  The interesting thing is that they weren't in a loop, they were selected randomly and the projection on the right wall and the one on the left wall were different random sequences.  The Cap does things well.

And then they were back, after a shorter-than-usual break.  They tuned up and I called it (the guys behind me heard me and passed it back up the balcony quickly): Mason's!  Here's the second set:

Mason's Children > (all)
Mountain Jam >
Mountains of the Moon >  (PL)
Night Of a Thousand Stars > (WH)
Mountains of the Moon > (PL)
The Other One > (RB)
Cryptical Envelopment (Reprise) (PL)
St. Stephen > (all)
In the Midnight Hour (WH)
  • I had figured they'd do an Allman Brothers song, and they did (though Mountain Jam is more than an Allmans song of course), this was the traditional ABB arrangement of it with a lot of "jam."
  • Then another excellent Mountains (though not sung by Teresa Williams), and they continued on the space/mountain/sky theme with Night Of a Thousand Stars (written by Lesh, Haynes, and Hunter and released on There and Back Again), then back into Mountains for the last couple of verses.
  • Then the dragon was released for good, Phil started booming, Herring started shredding, Molo started having convulsions, and before you knew it, everyone in the theater was in the thrall of TOO as it rolled through the building and our consciousnesses.
  • And then another twist ... they suddenly quieted way down and Phil tripped into the end of Cryptical like of course we'd been waiting for it since they did the beginning of Cryptical, back in ???.
  • Then a pause, and then St. Stephen.  I love that Live Dead stuff!
  • And they finished the set with an excellent, funky, jazzy, bluesy, Midnight Hour ... it had been a long night but this was perhaps the most well done song of a professional performance with very few flubs or slow spots.
Phil came back out shortly and we started applauding ... and this lasted for a while.  It's probable everybody else was feeling what I was feeling: that we'd been blessed with Phil's musicianship and spirit for years and years, and now he was approaching "very old" and who knew how much longer he'd be able to do this?  We wanted to thank him and wish him many happy returns, and it took a while for us to calm down.

Phil finally launched into his donor rap and we finally quieted enough to hear it, though most of us could probably recite it for him.  "We've got another for you," he concluded, and the guys came back out.  This time Dave called it from the tuning, Days Between, and this was passed back up the balcony.  Can't say I'm a huge fan of this song, though I have to admit that it's an excellent writing job and can be done very well ... they did it well of course.

OK, sat down for a minute as we were in the middle of a row and the others had to leave first, but it wasn't long before we were out of there and walking back up the hill toward our car.  Twisted back over the river into Connecticut, picked up 95, and were back to Stanford with its maze of construction and the [Grand] Amsterdam Hotel soon after that.

Time for a sandwich and beer break and to check if the MP3s were up (no!) ... then soon to bed.

Pictures here!

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