Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Phil Lesh aligns stars who shine at Armory

From the Times Union:

Phil Lesh aligns stars who shine at Armory

Special to the Times Union

Under the watchful eye of a waxing crescent moon, famed former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh brought a star-studded cavalcade of friends with him to Albany's Washington Avenue Armory on Sunday night for his "Shadow of the Moon" Winter Tour.

As a founding member of the Dead, Lesh's place in rock history is certainly secure. At the Armory, he played like a man with nothing to prove, as the sheer weight of his presence filled the room.

Hulking over a huge six-string bass, Lesh and his pals took a few tunes to hit their stride, which clicked in with a delicate, almost intimate reading of the Dead chestnut "Friend of the Devil."

It's a given that Lesh can pull together an amazing group on a whim, but he really outdid himself with this configuration: singer Chris Robinson (of the Black Crowes), drummer John Molo, keyboardist Mookie Siegel and guitarists Barry Sless were all onboard. Although guitarist Larry Campbell has been on most of the dates on this tour, jazz giant John Scofield filled in at the Armory. What a treat it was: Reversing the usual selection of a jazz-influenced rock player for this slot, Scofield is a jazz player with a rock sensibility. The results were fabulous.

Scofield kept one eye on a music stand and charts, but still managed to burn off one brilliant solo after another. His cerebral, complex approach was magical, using slinky single-note flourishes juxtaposed with stinging staccato runs and loose yet lucid lines. Lesh, for whom out-on-a-limb playing is a stock in trade, provided some wondrous melodic moments of his own with his deep, thunderous tone.

That said, the real star of the evening was skinny, scruffy Robinson, whose soulful, flexible voice raised an already elevated roof. He whipped out a harmonica for a rollicking "Sitting On Top of the World," threw out a fastball with the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" (as the huge crowd shouted "Hey" on the chorus), and wailed all over "In the Midnight Hour."

"The Wheel" spun the best jam of the night; "Eyes of the World" was hopeful and buoyant, and easily fell into the pure bliss of "I Know You Rider." A dark and delicious "All Along the Watchtower" was over-the-top, but a pounding "Not Fade Away" said it all.

Most of this crew can afford to be sitting on their couches in Marin County rather than come to the frozen north. But it was more than obvious that they needed to, had to play. Lucky for us.
David Malachowski is a local freelance writer from Woodstock and a regular contributor to the Times Union.

* When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
* Where: Washington Avenue Armory, 195 Washington Ave., Albany
* Length: Two 80-minute sets
* The crowd: Capacity house of colorful, festive folk of all ages
* Highlights: "Friend of the Devil," the juicy jam "The Wheel," perfect "I Know You Rider"


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