Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dead, Phish vets break jam-band barriers

From Worcester Telegram:

Dead, Phish vets break jam-band barriers


Phil Lesh and Trey Anastasio have such a blistering musical connection on stage, they might just want to think about starting a band together.

With the former Grateful Dead bassist’s current lineup, Phil Lesh and Friends, headlining a jam marathon Thursday night at the Tweeter Center, fans were also treated to ex-Phish members Anastasio and Mike Gordon entering the mix — with Gordon playing banjo during the first set and Anastasio on guitar and vocals for the second.

And for Phish fans who saw the band on its farewell tour and have been longing for a reunion, the next best thing is, well, exactly what they got on Thursday. Anastasio and Gordon not only joined Lesh at different times, but they played together as the evening’s opening act.

While it’s not quite the same to see the two ex-Phish mates performing outside the musical walls of the band that made them famous, it can certainly be said that that they looked and sounded very much at ease. In fact, with the pressure of Phish’s final tour now a memory, Anastasio in particular seemed more comfortable, freer — even joyous.

As a former member of the greatest jam institution in rock history, it would be understandable if Lesh displayed a sizeable ego, which makes his laid-back on-stage persona that much more admirable. While Lesh sang a number of songs, he was perfectly content to share the spotlight with Anastasio and at other times vocalist Joan Osborne — who contributed a sultry, balancing female touch.

The night featured a heavy dose of Grateful Dead standards, as the band warmed up with a mellow first set of “Doin’ That Rag,” “Deep Elem Blues,” “Brown Eyed Women,” “Next Time You See Me” and “Golden Road.”

Set Two was a giant segue, as one song contracted into another, catapulting the night into an electric, blues-drenched mania.

With Anastasio on guitar and vocals, they ripped through an ambitious list of songs including “All Along the Watchtower,” “St. Stephen,” “Help On the Way,” “Slipknot!, “Nobody Girl,” “China Doll” and “Franklin’s Tower.”

The show closed with an encore of the ironically feel-good “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and the contemplative “Box of Rain,” which ended the night with soulful nostalgia.

The otherwise reserved Lesh — who wore jeans with a T-shirt, along with his trademark red, white and blue sweat band — took time to encourage the crowd to remember the importance of donating organs, referencing his own 1998 liver transplant.

The combination of Lesh and former members of Phish — which was regarded as the heir to the Grateful Dead’s legacy during its tenure — is such a natural idea that it not only supported one or two sets, but several hours of music. Anastasio and Gordon blended so well that they sounded like part of a seasoned band, and not merely cameos.

Thursday night is proof that two generations of jam bands can not only meet, but collide in a loud, grateful sound.


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