The Rebirth Of Phil Lesh (Relix Revisited)
Many Deadheads were disappointed over Lesh’s decision not to tour with The Other Ones again this summer. While rumors were fueled on the Internet regarding the circumstances that led to the decision, Lesh revealed that there was nothing really sinister lurking behind his choice not to undertake a summer Furthur Festival tour. “There were many layers to that decision,” Lesh explained. “The main one is that it was never intended to be a full-time thing like the Grateful Dead. In any case, there were issues that were still unresolved that had nothing to do with who’s playing guitar. I just felt that it might be a good idea for us to put it to bed for a year and let everybody do their own thing this summer. And nobody seemed to have any objections to that. It’s not like we carved it in stone—‘Okay, now this is it. This is the lineup, and this is how we’re going to proceed,’” Lesh said cautiously, recalling a newspaper interview a couple of weeks earlier that gave the issue a different spin.
“I said something about new material in my interview,” continued Lesh, “and now I’m getting heat about playing Grateful Dead material at Phil and Friends. Well there’s a very big difference between Phil and Friends, which is an ad hoc, one-lineup-at-a-time kind of thing where you rehearse for four days and play three shows, and The Other Ones, which in some people’s minds, is the lineup. But if that’s going to be the lineup, we’re gonna continue as a band with the same people, go on tour and play 30 shows, then we’re gonna need not to just recycle Grateful Dead material, we’re going to need new stuff. And although Bobby and Mickey came up with a couple of new things last year, we need more than that. That’s all. I hope that clarification will assuage a few people out there who are concerned that I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth at the same time.” Interestingly, Phil performed with Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Steve Kimock and Sammy Hagar at the Open Space Benefit in Santa Rosa a few days after this interview. It’s obvious that the remaining members of the Grateful Dead will continue to perform in the foreseeable future, although perhaps not as The Other Ones. One of the reasons may lie in the success of the Phil and Friends shows, which keeps the former Dead member close to home, with minimal stress from the rigors of the road.
The high-point of the Phil and Friends shows thus far has been the collaboration with members of the popular jam band, Phish. Lesh had never met Trey Anastasio or Page McConnell until the week of rehearsals. The Phish members were fans of the Grateful Dead’s music, and just one phone call from Phil began what will go down in the annals as a merging of the musical generations of improvisational rock bands.
“I was familiar, but not as familiar as many,” recalled Phil. “I heard enough to know that these guys would be very interesting to play with. And the event proved more than merely interesting. I had heard some tapes, and it was kind of like with Steve. I heard some of their studio material, and it showed a certain sensibility, but I wasn’t sure because I had heard that these guys were jammers. The CDs really didn’t reflect that. So I got some live tapes of Phish and heard what they do when they stretch out. Jill had it on the stereo, and I was just entranced by Trey’s guitar playing. I couldn’t hear the keyboard that well on the live tapes, but when I went back to the CDs to hear what Page was doing, that really made a lot of sense, too. I went, ‘Yeah, I want to play with these guys. I don’t care how weird it gets, in fact, I want it to get weird.’ And so we talked on the phone and they were up for it, and we set it up and they came out. The first tune we played, I think it was, ‘Viola Lee Blues,’ we were at it for 25 minutes in the studio.”
John Cutler, who recorded the event in the back of a truck outside the Warfield Theater’s stage door, recorded all three Phil and “Phriends” shows on 24-track ADAT. A week after the shows, Lesh was ecstatic with the results. “Cutler recorded multi-track so I can fix my vocals and everything,” he revealed. “I’m very pleased with what I’ve heard so far. And I’ve only heard one set out of six. It was recorded 24-track so we didn’t miss a note. If the tapes reflect the performances, let’s just say I’m extremely hopeful that something will be able to be done with those tapes.”
Since the death of Jerry Garcia, for some, Phish has filled a void that was left on the music scene. Like the Dead, Phish enjoys a fanatical devotion from its fans. Lesh saw both a musical and cultural connection between the two bands. “They started out being a Grateful Dead cover band, so I understand, and that was so cool because they knew all of our stuff,” remarked Lesh. “And not only that, they did their homework by rehearsing at home, the two of them, before they came out. I’d never heard them live except on tape, but I think that maybe their willingness to stretch out their songs is a connection. Aside from that, I think that they’re very much their own musicians, at least from the moment that they started doing their own stuff.”
Of the musical landscape, Lesh commented, “I’m just grateful that there’s a whole jam band scene out there that never existed 20 years ago. And there’s a demand for it on the grassroots level. This was what San Francisco music was all about in the very beginning—the medium is the message. Here’s five guys up there on the stage playing music together. You can do the same thing, whether it’s playing music or being in an art commune or writing software; you, too, can connect in this way. And I think that’s a message that jam bands have given. First the Grateful Dead, and now dozens, hundreds maybe, of jam bands all over the country, little and large. And I think that’s a great thing.”
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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