Photos by Lou Montesano
With an ensemble of top musicians constantly retooling songs and set lists, Phil Lesh and Friends is a work in progress worth seeing again and again. Phil has lots of friends, but none finer than the very first members of his ongoing musical experiment. The original quintet, now known simply as the Q, features Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring on guitars, Rob Barraco on keyboards and John Molo on drums. Formed in 2002, the band released an album of new and reworked material that was largely overlooked, but the Q’s live performances far surpassed any latter-day Dead shows and subsequent spinoffs.
Getting the band back together means coordinating the schedules of several busy musicians (is Warren Haynes ever not playing somewhere?), but it’s always special when the stars align. With a series of March shows at the Capitol Theater to celebrate Phil’s 76th birthday, the Q opened on St Patrick’s Day and immediately fell into their groove. Stretching out on an opening jam before seguing into “Dear Mr Fantasy” set the tone for a night of extended improvisation. There were Dead standards including “China Cat Sunflower,” “Cassidy” and “St Stephen” along with spacey fare such as “Mountains of the Moon” and “Cosmic Charlie.” Warren closed the first set with a torrid “Spots of Time,” and found room for some “Mountain Jam” in the second. The band paid homage to its roots, performing “Passenger” and “Night of a Thousand Stars” from their aforementioned “There and Back Again” album. The lengthy jams made it a late night, with an appropriate “In the Midnight Hour” closing things down before a lesser-known “Days Between” encore.
With so many previous iterations and current Dead-related acts on tour, Phil Lesh remains the rightful heir to the Grateful Dead’s legacy. No matter the lineup, the spirit of musical adventure, of something different every night and therefore the potential for greatness, is what the Dead were all about.