Saturday, October 29, 2016

Phil Once Again, Armonk part 1

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."  We keep going down to New York to see Phil Lesh and Friends, and to date we've been delighted by very different results each time, all excellent!

Seems we're doing it more and more often, but it's such a fun trip.  We heard Phil was coming back to the Capitol Theater in Port Chester for another Halloween weekend with a group of Friends, and so we got tickets and got a reservation at the hotel on Armonk that's so convenient.

What really made this a must-do thing was that the Friends on Friday, October 28th, were Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams(!), AND Luther Dickinson, AND John Molo and Jason Crosby, AND Barry Sless on pedal steel, AND Nicki Bluhm!  The Friends group on Saturday was scheduled to be the same except Scott Metzger would be added instead of Larry and Teresa,  Phil's also playing on Monday, Halloween itself, with the former group above, but we'll be back in Massachusetts by then.

So we took Friday off from work, had a morning session with Marina from Seaver's and a couple of contractors, and then threw the beer, sandwiches, and tickets in the car and drove down to Quincy to pick up Dave.  Back up to the turnpike (about 9 hours in advance of the start of open road tolling and the demo of the toll booths that have been there since Christ was a child) and headed West and then Southwest, starting with rain and finally sunny skies on a beautiful mid-Fall day, into and at last through the middle of Connecticut, driving with massive amounts of traffic the whole way, but moving quickly.

Got to the La Quinta in Armonk finally ... it really was pretty quick ... you can sneak up on Port Chester this way.  Checked into a nice first-floor room, and got psyched for the concert.  Got saddled up around 5:30 and fought more bad traffic down to a crowded Port Chester.

Our favorite parking lot is under different ownership and was not open, so we turned around and headed down the hill to the Church parking lot, which was the same price and just as close.  Up to Kiosko for another Mexican meal that couldn't be beat, though the waitress (not our normal one) almost forgot our drinks.  Same old routine ... checked out Shakedown Corner after that, which was packed with people but not much merchandise, and then into the theater at last.

Are we crazy to eat at the same place after driving all the way down there, and to retrace the same footprints?  Some would say yes, but we all say no.  This is the routine that we've lucked into (Kiosko is so excellent!) and that we follow.  Our favored parking lot folded and we had to change ... which was fine ... and we're going to sour eventually on Kiosko and/or it will go out of business.  But at that point we'll be glad to let fate push us in another direction, to another restaurant or to a different routine.  We don't need to struggle with fate.

We'd seen the poster for this show online, a proud-to-be-Headless Horseman outlined against a Nightfall of Diamonds, and Dave had to have that.  And they had the same motif on t-shirts!  Sarah and I both opted for that.  Up the lovely stairs, grab a beer, and then to our seats, which were dead center in the third row of the balcony.  We love the Capitol!

The had their loop of The Skeleton Dance playing in one pair of alcoves, and a new loop of the silent film Nosferatu in the center alcoves ... and lots of swirling lights and trippy patterns of course.  Hit the smoking area right before 8, and weren't too disappointed when they didn't come on until 8:25 or so.  Sitting in the balcony and enjoying the pre-show can be groovy.

The lineup was Jason far left, then Luther, then Larry ... the two stacks of guitar amps very close to each other, then Teresa, John behind her, Nicki to her left, then Phil with his control center of stuff (though curiously fewer speakers than we'd ever seen him with), then Barry to the far right.  Both Larry and Barry had other instruments they could pick up; Larry played his cittern a bit, played his mandolin a bit too, and also played a wonderful fiddle (it looked so small to us?!?).  And Barry ended up playing his electric guitar most of the night instead of the pedal steel he started on.  Teresa also picked up her acoustic for one song.

But, to leave the narrative for a bit, this was mainly about all of the band excelling on their main instruments, not about versatility or varied instrumentation (though those were featured of course).  It was delightful to see that Luther was having SUCH a good time playing with Larry Campbell ... who could not enjoy playing with Larry Campbell?  Time after time the two of them, right next to each other, faced off and let it rip and just *dominated* the song.  Or should I say, they tried to ... but just across the stage was the firm of Lesh and Molo and they weren't taking a back seat to anyone.  As before when we've seen Phil & Friends, Mr. Lesh was leading the band and was easily and gracefully playing better then anyone else on stage.

And as before, though I was so drawn in by the other excellent musicians, I kept forcing myself to turn back to Phil and listen to what he was laying down, which remains the most incredible music I've ever heard ... 45 or so years after I first heard it.  Maybe it's feeling myself get older this Fall, but I could see exactly how old Phil was, and ways in which he seemed older than he was even last March.  He was just a hair more stooped and a hair more of an aged, dignified, scarecrow inside his blue jeans and long-sleeved shirt.  An incredible man who plays with the old forces, but a skinny guy getting smaller.  How long will he keep on doing this?  I was very glad we were back at the Cap, back watching and listening to Phil.

So what did they play?  Well it was a great first set ... here's the list and some notes:

Till the Morning Comes
Uncle John's Band
Cumberland Blues
Rollin' and Tumblin'
River Deep, Mountain High

  • Fantastic opener, showing some of their best cards right from the start.  Larry and Teresa sang this so sweetly and Barry Sless picked a perfect pedal steel.  Perhaps "You're my woman now, make yourself easy" is anachronistic wording, but people with their minds open get the point; this is about the kind of mutual support we all need.
  • Another fantastic Peggy-O from Phil and L&T.  Phil was so eager he sang the "I would marry you" verse and in the middle of it chuckled at himself ... he'd stolen Teresa's part!  She tried not to give him mean looks.
  • So these guys just hit us with the good stuff right off the bat.  Larry got out his little fiddle, Nicki took a couple of verses, and they played another sparkling UJB and then let Larry and Luther just jam the fuck out of it.  We were up in center balcony, dancing our asses off.
  • And they jammed and jammed and all of a sudden were playing Cumberland!  Barry had switched to electric guitar somewhere in there and the leads and overlays and rhythmic chording flowed back and forth between Barry, Luther, Larry, and or course Jason, who was tinkling the (electric) piano so daintily I can't believe it wasn't a melted mess.
  • Luther's turn next and he got after it with no hesitation.  He pulled out the tin-can-and-strings guitar we'd seen him play at GRF and proceeded to howl the Muddy Water blues, and I mean howl.  He sang a few verses into the tin can and brought us all closer to the center of an echoing blues vortex. 
  • And then they stopped for a short rest, Phil nodded at the players who would start the next song, Teresa turned to the mike, snd she, Larry, and Phil hit it: "When I was a little girl I had a rag doll...."  We'd seen them do this before in the middle of Dark Star(!), but this time it was a stand-alone and the guys dragged it out and out.  She sang the "like a flower loves the Spring" bridge twice after long jams, and she could have done it several times more to my ear.
  • Dave observed that this night (and the next) were a bit unusual for P&F sets in that they featured many separate songs more than free-flowing jams.  Perhaps that was because they had so many people on stage and wanted to be sure the individual talents were not swept away.  Another observation was that Phil likes a lot of guitars on stage.  Some of these songs would definitely have been more vivid if they'd just had Luther/Larry with Barry on steel, or Luther/Barry with Larry on fiddle/mando, or whatever.  Sometimes the tumultuous river of guitar sounds was excellent, as in Crossroads (see below) or Sugaree, and sometimes it was a bit over the top.
  • Did someone say Sugaree?  Nicki stepped up for this and did a great duet with Luther, but Holy Fuck, this became an amazing guitar showcase.  Sugaree has been played over and over, but rarely with this degree of rhythm, soul, and searing guitar blues.
OMG, maybe going on too much again.  As with every other time we've made the effort to go see Phil, the first set was phenomenal.  Perhaps the rest of the weekend after this would now be judged/remembered at a higher level and with more discernment than the first set had been, after our tribulations getting to the Capitol Theater at that exact point in time?  But maybe now I'd be able to appreciate it better, having gotten back up to that plateau that Phil had brought me to before.  Whatever, I say again.

The Capitol that night was delightful, especially since there were a couple of empty seats around us and we had more room to relax and dance.  I'd checked the day before and some seats were still available, which had not been the story at other P&F shows we'd been at.  Maybe people are distracted by the election.

But anyway, had another fine half-time at the Cap, checking out the smoking area, getting replenished with local beer, and peeing in the stinky old bathrooms.  The film loops were going strong, the GD scene was happening all around us, and then the guys came back on after an average-length break.  Here's the second set:

Casey Jones
Midnight Highway
Cross Road Blues
Unbroken Chain
Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning
Help On the Way
Franklin's Tower

  • Casey Jones is a great song, though at times it has become an embarrassing and rote druggy sing-along.  And it was an awesome second-set opener, with Nicki giving it her laid-back hippie blues treatment and Larry playing some great guitar.  This needs a strong lead, and Larry did it like you wouldn't believe.
  • Midnight Highway is another song Larry and Teresa kill (Larry wrote it with Julie Miller) ... this was *the* earworm from the show when I reminisce.
  • In my mind, the next song was Crossroads, because Clapton's version (and spelling) is basic to my appreciation of this kind of art.  But this was something different, and was long, encyclopedic, lyrical, etc.  Luther and Nicki again paired off for the blues and perhaps didn't get to the furthest reaches of the song, but they, and the whole band, took us pretty far.
  • And then one of the quintessential Phil Lesh songs.  Don't know what to say about Unbroken that I haven't said before.  There's such an incredible layer of rich bass sounds in this song, room for virtuoso drumming, melody lines to bite on, and a beautiful vocal line, which Phil falls right into.
  • And then Teresa came back out for Trimmed and Burning!  I've gushed before about her talent at shouting out this song, and this was as excellent a rendition as I've heard her do.  We were gobstruck at getting River Deep and Lamps on the same night!
  • Well jeez, it was getting a little late.  At other GD concerts we've been to, this point of the second set has then led to some varied results, mostly excellent.  We were just beginning to think that and then they struck those chords...
  • Help On the Way, sung by Nicki.  Nicki's a tall woman with long dark-brown hair and was wearing tight blue jeans and a big Stetson that night.  She sang those great words ("Cause I love what I love and I want it that way") with a little shuffle.
  • Fantastic Slipknot!, with lots of jamming, and then a short and sweet Franklin's.

Yay!!!  We were in the middle of the balcony at the Capitol but standing on the top of a mountain in our own way, or in our own minds.  We'd just seen and heard some incredible stuff and were still in that bubble.  As I've said before, I hope that bubble will always surround me when I need to call it up ("Phil Power, now!!!").

We were hoarse and tired but made as much sound as we could and soon Phil came back out and did a perfunctory Donor Rap.  Then the guys came back out, Nicki stepped up to the mike, and Phil started into the groove.  They did Turn On Your Lovelight for an encore!  This was one of the most unexpected GD encores ever.  Maybe Nicki didn't get as graphic as Pig at his peak, but maybe that's a blessing.

Anyway, we loved it and the whole Capitol was swaying and shouting and moving in time.  A wonderful end to a wonderful night!

OMG, time to sit down and take a few moments before getting out of there.  Back down the lovely stairs after a few minutes rest, and then followed the crowd out onto the street.  Not too far to the car, and then not too far back up North to Armonk, where our nicely-sized, quiet room was waiting for us.  One more beer, checked internet stuff, and then we all fell into a sound sleep.

Pictures from Sarah here!

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