The B List: Phil’s Best Friends – Assessing The Post-Jerry Phil Lesh Bands

3. Summer of Trey and Joan (summer lineups 2006): Difficult to peg, and hardly reliable – Osby, a galvanizing saxman, felt necessary only about half the time — but during the summer tour with G.R.A.B., plenty of intensity, especially in the mesmerizing Set 2s with Trey aboard. That Joan, she had her moments, and more frequently here than in her stints with the Dead.

Phil Lesh, John Molo, Rob Barraco, Joan Osborne, Larry Campbell, Barry Sless, Greg Osby

4. The Comeback Lineup (April 1999): Hello Old Friends and then a 39-minute Viola Lee to make the opening statement, and the worlds of the Dead and Phish don’t so much combine as squish together, with tasty results. Perhaps remembered more fondly because it felt so ephemeral; who knows whether this lineup would have gotten better or tiresome

Phil Lesh, John Molo, Steve Kimock, Page McConnell, Trey Anastasio

5. Furthur (2009-present): You know what? I’m buying. So quickly has this group gotten really interesting and adventurous that it’s earning converts left and right. Kadlecik, we miss you in DSO, but it’s not hard to see why you did it.

Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Jeff Chimenti, Joe Russo, John Kadlecik

5 That Deserve Another Look

Whether they were one-offs, variations on better-known Phil ensembles or just plain weird, good anomalies, here were five short-lived Phil & Friends lineups that if given a chance, might have blossomed into uniquely exciting groups.

1. Peev! (April 2000): Jeff Pevar brought a lot of himself to this short-lived lineup, essentially the Q without Warren but with a pretty unique personality.

Phil Lesh, John Molo, Jeff Pevar, Jimmy Herring, Rob Barraco

2. The Al Run (May 2005): Consistently underrated, this Al Schnier-anchored lineup lasted three shows and felt a little undernourished. But listen to the set two opening run from the 5/13 show – Across the Universe, then a lilting Eyes and a really fun Love The One You’re With – and consider what might have been.

Phil Lesh, Al Schnier, Mookie Siegel, Barry Sless, John Molo, Gloria Jones, Jackie LaBranch

3. Sco Mule PLF (June 2007): Sco put a unique spin on the Phil & Friends sound: sometimes he had a lot to say and led some knotty jams, sometimes his idiosyncratic style seemed ill-fitting, even grafted-on. This one-off at Mountain Jam, however, with Sco and Warren in it together (!) was more streamlined than other PLF lineups of the era, and was locked in from the get go, with a surprising amount of chemistry revealed in what might have been just a fun hodgepodge.

Phil Lesh, John Molo, John Scofield, Steve Molitz, Warren Haynes

4. Phil and the Tricksters (October 1999): Barraco and Mattson played like devoted students of the Dead and things felt full and even-handed, with saxman Bobby Strickland along for some extra oomph.

Phil Lesh, Jeff Mattson, John Molo, Bobby Strickland, Rob Barraco, Steve Kimock

5. Was That Really Medeski? (October 2006): Assembled for Vegoose, this lineup, on paper at least, was a jam fiend’s dream. Medeski didn’t stretch out as often as some would have liked, but imagine what a full tour’s worth of Medeski behind the keys in a Phil band could yield?

Phil Lesh, Trey Anastasio, John Molo, John Medeski, Larry Campbell, Christina Durfee

5 Phil Can Have Back

1. Absolutely SOBs (April 2007): This Larry McCray lineup has been so consistently shit on that it’s not worth rehashing. Two of Phil’s most intimate New York City shows in ages, but even Phil’s ability to bring out the best in his cohorts can’t take the place of rehearsal. I still feel bad for McCray, who made the best of an otherwise rough pair of nights.

Phil Lesh, Larry McCray, Larry Campbell, Christina Dufree, John Molo, Steve Molitz

2. The Ryan Shows (2007 etc.): Ryan Adams, a brilliant country-rock songwriter when he’s feeling like it, is a great fit for Dead songs, and he had as much right to be in a Phil & Friends band as anyone else. None of these shows, however, was nearly as good as either Phil or Ryan imagined they were.

3. Phil-ittle Feat (1999 and 2000): I liked the various combinations with Paul Barrere and Bill Payne fine – Little Feat and the Dead are in many ways cut from the same cloth. But the unfamiliarity with the Dead material left many of these shows feeling like even-jammier-than-usual Little Feat shows with Dead side trips, not the other way around.

Phil Lesh, Paul Barrere, Bill Payne, Robben Ford, John Molo

4. Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood (2004 and 2005): The Chris Robinson lineups had their moments, and Chris singing Dead tunes and lending his soulful Chris Robinsonness to Phil bands did, and still does seem, like a fine idea. Why weren’t these shows better than they were?

Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson, Larry Campbell, Mookie Siegel, Barry Sless, John Molo

5. The Dead (2003, 2004, 2009): I’ve had really superb moments with the Dead. But I’ll defer to David Gans, who in 2005 interview for Glide told me, “I’m not one of those people who thinks the world is necessarily a better place if all those guys – Phil, Mickey, Bobby and Bill – are playing together.” The Dead simply wasn’t as interesting as other bands featuring one or more of the players. Can we admit that, please?

Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, Jeff Chimenti, Warren Haynes

Just for fun, here are 10 musicians I’d love to see in a Phil & Friends lineup.

1. Catherine Russell: And I’d say it even if her jazzy version of New Speedway wasn’t so mesmerizing.

2. Gary Louris: The Parsons-style twang from the Jayhawks applied to Workingman’s era tunes might would sound like where the Grateful Dead, the New Riders, CSNY and the Flying Burritos overlap, with a hint of a more modern strain of angsty alt-country.

3. Neal Casal: Got enough of a flavor from his 2008 Nokia Theater sit-in to know he’d be a good choice.

4. Bela Fleck: Does such a wonderful job injecting himself into bands, though it’d be hard to say whether he’d get spacey enough – or get lost in the shuffle — for the more psychedelic material.

5. Bill Evans: The protean saxman can fit himself into anything and make it his own. Listen to Soulgrass and tell me that wouldn’t click with a Phil lineup.

6. Scott Tournet: A psychedelic bluesman par excellence, especially when heard in the confines of Blues & Lasers. He’d fit.

7. Jose Neto: What a sonic stylist, with such a broad palette. If you’ve never heard Neto, start with his work with Steve Winwood and then find your way to the Netoband.

8. David Hidalgo: The consummate pro, and an avowed Dead enthusiast already.

9. Brad Barr: An artisan; goes from knotted to riff-heavy to dreamy to hard rocking with humbling ease, often in the space of a single composition. Would love to see him unleashed, anew, on a Viola. Or a Dark Star. Or an Other One.

10. Marco Benevento: I just can’t see why this wouldn’t be a good idea, or at least a really fun experiment.

What were your favorite Phil and Friends lineups? Who would you like to see play with Phil? Let us know by leaving a comment below…

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18 Responses

  1. I just want to emphasize the version of The Q from Fall ’99 with a 20-year-old Derek Trucks absolutely destroying some jams. It’s a meeting of the minds of the Dead and the Allmans with some killer setlists and earth-shattering playing. A personal favorite lineup.

  2. Nice work Chad! I do agree on Furthur, I honestly think it’s the best post-Dead band yet, maybe because it’s more like the actually Grateful Dead than any of the others, but the Radio City show I saw simply blew me away and I’m really looking forward to seeing them in a couple of weeks.

    I did get to see Ryan play with the Jackie Greene line up at the Nokia and I’d probably pick that as my favorite of the 13 Phil show I’ve seen.

  3. I have to go with the “comeback” lineup as my favorite, not simply because of the obvious significance of Trey and Page meshing so well, at the Warfield of all places, but it was really the elevation of Kimock (remember the “From Zero to Hero” shirts?) into prominence for the younger generation of jam fans.

    I’ve gotten endless mileage out of these shows. You can really tell everyone is playing like these shows are historically significant.

  4. this is a great write-up man. i wis you put the full band membershiop next to each grouping. i’m not as familiar with some of these.

  5. Very nice read- I totally agree on ranking the Jackie Greene and Joan eras among the top and agree 100% w/ your desire to see (among others) Scott Tournet drafted for a tour of duty w/ Phil. Thanks for the fun read!

  6. I agree with almost all of this list but wouldn’t have put Chris Robinson’s era in that category since it was so hit and miss, but not generally bad. In fact, that first run of shows in 12/04 that included Skehan and Carbone from Railroad Earth is fantastic, imo. In fact, 12/19/2004 is one of my go to Phil shows. Tim’s fiddle solo on Eyes of the World is not only interesting because you get to hear that instrument in that context but is just great, overall.

  7. Great work, but having the Phil & Phriends lineup in 4th is just crazy.
    I don’t think most look back on those shows with fondness because they were ephemeral, but because they were superlative musical experiences, moving beyond the importance of two eras blending together. The concept was great, the realization was greater.

  8. I often come back to the ’99 Summer shows w/ Molo, Kimock, Hollingsworth, and then some version of Michael Kang, Billy Nershi, Al Schnier, and Warren, depending on who was opening that night on tour.
    .
    As for Chris Robinson, man his voice was wonderful and dirty all at the same time. Yet, I don’t think he was totally invested in the shows, leaving the stage during jams, and never learning the lyrics and needing a teleprompter.

  9. You left out one glaring omission in the “5 Phil Can Have Back Section” — anytime Ryan Adams was on stage. The July 2005 show at the Fillmore in Denver is one of the worst all-time concerts I have ever attended in over 30 years of live music; and it was strictly because Mr. Adams was far too messed-up and flat out incompetent on every level. The show was so awful that not only did I leave in the middle of the second set — and only the second time I left *any* GD-related show early! — it was a no-brainer to skip Red Rocks the following day. I was an avid Phil supporter, but not with Ryan Adams!

  10. Yes, Ryan Adams was very ragged and not right at those shows, but he was an inspired choice by Phil. Song selection and vibe really changed after that friendship blossomed.

  11. Ladies and gents, some GREAT feedback here. Keep it coming. We love this stuff, as you can probably tell.

    @Jesse G. You’re right in that the Robinson lineups don’t collectively deserve to be called “bad,” and man, I’m with you on those Dec. 2004 shows with the Railroad Earth guys and the horn section. (You have to wonder — why did Phil suddenly want to stuff the band with lots and lots of musicians after having gone with a streamlined lineup for so long?)

    I just wish, looking back, the 2005 Robinson shows had as much energy and were as much, I dunno, FUN, as those Dec. 2004 blowouts.

  12. i reviewed mountain jam for this lineup @ Mtn. Jam: 3. Sco Mule PLF (June 2007):
    Phil Lesh, John Molo, John Scofield, Steve Molitz, Warren Haynes

    One of my personal faves of all time. Watching Warren and Scofield duel on stage with Molitz’s funky ivory was one of my all time memorable Phil moments. This lineup, despite being a “one-off” was straight-up MaGellin the whole night.

  13. Great idea for a post. There were definitely some line-ups here I hadn’t focused on. What struck me was how hard it is to know what musicians create true magic. Every Phil line-up has quality musicians and yet the Q was miles beyond. Suppose you had never heard any of these and someone just gave you a list of the line-ups. You couldn’t have guessed that would be the magic line-up, right? And yet the Q towers over all of these other ones.

  14. Great Topic and Great List…Phil has constiently experimented since the end of the dead producing interesting music…good bad whatever, but it makes for a great blog list.

    I gotta say I am a bit surprised to find I am in the minority when it comes to the Jackie lineup. Caught them twice at Nokia and was extremely underwhelmed by his presence/addition/contributions and the band seemed to be plugging him in rather then flowing with him.

    While I am excited to see Phil play in any lineup, I feel that “The Q” was head and shoulders above anything he has done for a long time…yes including some of the last Grateful Dead years (I will go so far back as to ’91).

  15. @Watch4McGrupp (and @xeyedandpainless)

    That’s a really good point: if you just saw a long list of all of these lineups on paper without knowing anything else, the Q, for most people, wouldn’t be the top choice as the magic lineup. Would be curious to know what other people think made the Q work so well.

    My thought is that Warren and Jimmy were already familiar with each other as players and collaborators, and while both of them wanted to serve Phil’s vision and wanted to learn how to really communicate in the language of the Dead, both are also intense, lyrical, Alpha Dog-style players and improvisers. In other words, you take guys like Warren and Jimmy, and there’s not a lot of this Dead-style “let the magic come to them” so much as the Allmans-style “create the magic” approach. Somehow, they found a happy medium between that intensity and what Phil was after, and they also complemented each other so well.

    Plus, you’ve got Barraco, a definite pro and someone who can work with just about anyone but not let his own personality get buried. And what more needs to be said about the Phil-Molo chassis? Those two guys connect on a cosmic level, and, having read plenty of interviews and heard plenty of feedback, I can’t think of a single musician that’s played with the two of them in a band together that hasn’t made note of their special chemistry.

    Plus — and I’ve said this a lot — the Q was streamlined. Five guys who could handle the load between them. Why gild the lilly with extra players?

  16. Couldnt agree with #1 anymore…..hearing Jimmy H and Warren H trade licks was orgasmic…..Deer Creek 01′ is still my Favorite

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