Friday, November 25, 2005

Experimentation keeps Lesh engaged in music

From Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Experimentation keeps Lesh engaged in music
By Regis BeheTRIBUNE-REVIEWThursday, November 24, 2005

The Grateful Dead's body of music is among the most important and enduring of any band that emerged from the 1960s. The albums "American Beauty" and "Blues for Allah" -- arguably the group's finest studio efforts -- and a slew of live releases remain influential among musicians, especially those categorized as jam bands.

But as significant as the music is, bassist Phil Lesh is even prouder of another element of the Dead's ongoing journey: The community of fans who gathered and gather still at any Dead-related event.

"That's really the meaning of it all," says Lesh in advance of his concert Tuesday at the A.J. Palumbo Center. "Otherwise, it's only rock 'n' roll. But rock 'n' roll in itself, if you think about it, is kind of a communal ritual. I think the distinguishing factor in our shows, from the Grateful Dead to Phil & Friends, Ratdog and the units and organizations that tour now after Jerry (Garcia's) death, is that it's a conscious decision. That's what we wanted to do: We wanted to create a community from the very beginning. That's why we went out and played constantly rather than make a record every three years and tour behind it and then retreat behind the walls of the gated community until it's time to make another record."

Lesh, 65, is still on that quest to create a dynamic that embodies the perfect union between musicians and audiences. His approach, however, is anything but safe. Like an artist experimenting with different hues and mediums, Lesh continually adds and subtracts musicians to his band in order to create new listening experiences.

For this tour, he has tapped Chris Robinson, the Black Crowes vocalist; and Larry Campbell, the guitarist, dobro, pedal steel and mandolon whiz who has performed with Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris.

Robinson, Lesh says, "is a really strong singer who does rock and blues really well." Campbell might be less known, but Lesh says when he was available to tour, he immediately enlisted him.

"I can't wait to get some of those textures going," Lesh says, noting that regular band member Barry Sless also plays pedal steel. "We might even having dueling pedal steel in some places."

It's this idea of continually reinventing the music from the Dead canon by way of new components that keeps Lesh engaged at a time when most musicians his age are touring the oldies circuit. And part of the fun is raising the curtain on each new tour, the audience not knowing exactly what to expect.

"I want to surprise people," he says. "I want to keep them guessing. You're never really sure who is going to be in the band, you're never really sure what's going to happen. That's part of the excitement, as far as I'm concerned."
The music, however, is entirely dependent on the audience's participation. Whether it's Phil Lesh & Friends or Ratdog (Dead guitarist Bob Weir's band), the spirit of the Grateful Dead depends on the life force of the fans to survive.
"The desire for community, for communion, is so great, that it almost doesn't matter who is playing," Lesh says.

"They are there not just for the music, but because the music is a trigger for a binding force, so essentially everybody is on the same page and singing the same tune when they're at the show and the music is playing. This is true, to some extent, at every rock show, or any large gathering where there's music. But because we've deliberately tried to foster this over the last 40 years, it does seem very intense at our shows."

Regis Behe can be reached at or (412)320-7990.


Blogger a.j. said...

so good to hear that phil still gets really excited about the music and the shows after all these years. by the way this blog is really well done. nice work...any news about the removal of the grateful dead SBDs from

Saturday, November 26, 2005  
Blogger SLC Library Boy said...

Thanks for the compliment!

Since I've been visiting my mother for Thanksgiving, I've been mostly out of the loop... I posted what I could find out this evening (not much). BTW, I always had a "too good to be true" feeling about the Archive and so I burned all 60's & 70's shows to data disc as well as most SBDs from the 80's and 90's. I have always supported the policy of removing shows that are commercially availabe, but I loved the easy access to shows that wouldn't have been available elsewhere.

Sunday, November 27, 2005  
Blogger a.j. said...

yeah, i really wish i would have pulled more shows while they were up. i agree with your take on things. while i suppose i can even understand the removal of the SBDs, i cannot fathom why the AUDs are no longer available to download, only stream. i mean, these were the work of the taping community which was encouraged by the band. and what blows my mind is that (as of my writing this) there has been no official statement from the dead, even though that people at the archive have made it clear that it was not their decision and that they were asked to take the music down. i'm willing to hold out for a rational explanation, but if it's out there lay it on us!

Sunday, November 27, 2005  
Blogger SLC Library Boy said...

I agree AJ! me at :)

Sunday, November 27, 2005  

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