Saturday, December 31, 2005

John Mayer upstaged by good ol' Phil Lesh and Friends

From Inside Bay Area:

John Mayer upstaged by good ol' Phil Lesh and Friends
By Jim Harrington, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

PHIL LESH hasn't spent many New Year's eves at home during his career.

Between his legendary shows with the Grateful Dead and his own Phil Lesh and Friends gigs, the 65-year-old bassist has jammed away Dec. 31 more times than just about any major star in the business.

He'll ring in the New Year once again tonight at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, having properly warmed up for the outing with shows Thursday at the Fillmore and Friday at the Warfield.

That's where you should be as well, if you are a fan of the Grateful Dead's music.

The lineup of for this show — vocalist Joan Osborne, guitarist Larry Campbell, drummer John Molo, keyboardist Rob Baracco, pedal-steel player Barry Sless and vocalist-guitarist Ryan Adams — ranks right up there with the very best of Phil's Friendly ensembles.

Although tonight's concert looks to be the best of the New Year's Eve run, given that vocalist-guitarist John Mayer will number among Lesh's Friends for the evening's final set, Thursday's show at the comparatively intimate Fillmore was definitely the toughest ticket to score.
That's where I was.

It's hard to convince an editor that a Phil Lesh and Friends show is worth reviewing, given that they occur in the Bay Area rather frequently and, although the players change, the vibe and the music really stays about the same. The biggest selling point for why this run was newsworthy was the opener, the John Mayer Trio.

Unfortunately, Mayer and his bandmates — drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Pino Palladino — didn't deliver anything worth much ink.

The pop star is definitely trying something new with this trio, attempting to shed his pretty-boy pinup image in favor of a Claptonesque blues-rocker role. The 28-year-old Mayer can definitely burn up the frets on the electric guitar, but his playing seemed very mechanical and without passion at the Fillmore. He was too tentative and unsure of the material and showed no feel for the crowd.

Jordan, a diversely talented session man, music director and producer who has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, and Palladino, best known as a member of The Who's touring band, definitely has chops. But as a whole the band showed very little synergy and never found the type of "pocket," as they say in the jazz world, that these jam-band fans so crave.

Following the trio's mostly subdued, often tedious, performance, Lesh and crew immediately ignited the capacity crowd with a first set that was highlighted by terrific versions of Dead songs.
Not since 1989 — Dec. 6, 1989 at the Oakland Arena, to be exact — have I witnessed a better live version of "Shakedown Street" than the one that greeted fans Thursday. After an extended opening segment, the song took flight as Osborne belted the lyrics like a blues diva and the band solidly clicked like the ying to Mayer's disappointing yang.

The ultra-prolific Adams, who released three albums in 2005, appeared very comfortable as he took over on lead vocals for the Dead classics "Friend of the Devil" and "Dire Wolf." "Devil" was slowed down to a crawl, more like how the Dead performed it in concert than how it was originally recorded on 1970's "American Beauty," while "Wolf" was served up in a rowdy, fun manner that surely would have pleased Dead-guitarist Jerry Garcia.

The set also included a touching version of "He's Gone," which always comes across as a tribute to Garcia, and closed with a blistering take on "Bertha," a Dead tune that has become a staple of Los Lobos shows.
All were vastly more enjoyable than anything that fans heard back in September at the "Comes a Time — A Celebration of the Music and Spirit of Jerry Garcia" show at the UC Greek Theatre in Berkeley.

Lesh has again stepped up to the plate with his latest incarnation of his Friends. All that is left to do is for you to show up on New Year's Eve to watch him hit it through the roof of the Bill Graham Civic.

You can e-mail Jim Harrington at


Blogger Mark said...

SLC - Any news on whether the "core four" played along with PL and Friends on NYE???

Happy New Year, BTW!!!

Monday, January 02, 2006  

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