Checking In On The Philathon

2. I have never heard a Terrapin Station from any Phil & Friends lineup that did it for me, and Tuesday night’s wasn’t an exception, despite the cursory pleasure of hearing the crowd swell whenever a jam melts into those first Lady With a Fan climbing progressions and you know what you’re in for. Hard to say what it is; Phil’s vocals on the tune are able, if colorless, the band didn’t blow too many of the transitions and delivered a juicy jam in between the “bought or sold” and “Inspiration” passages, I like what Phil tries to do with speeding up the tempo during the “Inspiration” lift-off, and Larry added a lot to the tune with well placed snatches of cittern and mandolin. I can’t put my finger on what the problem is—it still sounded clunky.

Maybe I haven’t heard enough PLF Terrapins—I’ll gladly take recommendations, you PLF bootleg hounds—or maybe I’m in the camp that believes the Grateful Dead’s recorded version of the entire, 16-minute Terrapin suite can’t be improved upon with improvisational passages by any group anywhere. A good argument to be had there.


Fire On The Mountain 11/03

3. One of the best things about both the original Phil Q and the current group is its streamlined roster: the personnel bloat that dotted some Phil lineups between 2003 and 2007 led to chaos and people stepping on each other and confusing the jam as often as it did transcendence.

That said, adding Barry Sless to this core group is a masterstroke; given Sless’ command of the material and experience playing in bulky Phil ensembles, he knows when to be a colorist and knows when to step out and get dirty. His spacey steel added so much to the opening run of tunes Tuesday night—a ripping Me & My Uncle, a really funky Mr. Charlie and a so-rockin’-it-was-almost-a-boogie Big River—and having him flex on guitar frees Larry up to put his “master of things with strings hat” on aplenty. Lots more cittern and loads more mandolin from Mr. C last night, especially in the second set, and the plucks of those strings add a different flavor to the stew. Phil seemed encouraged by Larry’s string work—a twinkling mandolin breakdown as The Eleven built toward its chorus put a smile on the big guy’s face—and it’ll remain to see how the band makes room for it during louder, meatier jams.

4. It didn’t exactly go unnoticed that the opening and closing songs of each set Tuesday were dyed-in-the-wool Bobby tunes. Samson and Delilah positively blew the place out, and Jackie sang lead, even allowing himself one or two Weir-like yelps to punctuate certain passages. Is the inclusion of so many Bobby songs simply Phil expanding his repertoire with more of the catalog? I think so, but I won’t dampen the excitement of Phil fandom’s conspiracy wing, which sees a Phil show tonight, sees that Ratdog is in the area (they played Newark last night) and has the night off tonight, and is hoping to put two-and-two together. Wouldn’t be surprising.


I Am The Walrus – 11/11

5. I wouldn’t call them the absolute highlights—those honors for Sunday go to the seriously ferocious Other One (and what came around it) and for Tuesday night to that spicy Samson—but in both shows did Phil choose to knock the crowd for a loop part way through the second set with a well-placed Beatles cover. This band wears Beatles really well: soulful, playful and energetic in their execution, and willing to use those songs sparingly as surprise bust-outs instead of as overused gimmicks. To hear the audience recognition when a long, gooey jam out of New Potato Caboose suggested any number of destinations only to arrive at the curvy, bent-tone I Am the Walrus intro was as awesome a collective “Oh, fuck yeah!” crowd moment as I’ve had this year.

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4 Responses

  1. I have been to 3, with 2 more to go. I haven’t caught a Sless show yet this run, I’m looking forward to Sunday. I will say that while the band is tighter this time around, the 2007 run was raw, energetic, and at any time you could be in the middle of a three set show. The RA sit-in on 11/5 was one of the most exciting Phil shows I have ever seen. I’m still waiting for a moment like that during this run. That being said, these are still fun great times!

  2. I feel ya—great and really fun times. Last night was a solid show—really, a pair of “first sets” instead of set 1 and set 2, but with lots of stirring moments all the same—and really bolstered with a Joan Osborne appearance. She was only out for “Sugaree” but she looked like she was having a ball, and though she didn’t emerge for the encore Phil still announced her with the band intros and she came out for a hug and a curtain call.

    The band is definitely tighter this year, but I’d agree on the rawness. Last night was my sixth and likely final Phil show of 2008 and there have been some zenith moments in every one of ’em, but I still haven’t seen them as good as 11/11/07.

  3. Phil really needs to lose this Jackie character- Also, where’s all that primordial trippiness he got back into a few years ago when playing the Beacon and Hammerstein?

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