Watching The River Flow: On Tour With Phil Lesh And Bob Dylan (Fall 1999)
Dylan, it must be said, is at the top of his game musically these days. His band has also undergone some personnel changes in recent months as guitarist Larry Campbell filled the void left by departing pedal steel guitarist Bucky Baxter. Guitarist Charlie Sexton is now a full-fledged player in Dylan’s crack band as well. His show has also undergone some revamping as the legendary rocker performs a first-half acoustic set, followed by an electric set. Some standouts of his set included, “The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll,” “Boots Of Spanish Leather” and “Shooting Star.” Instead of playing from a short list of songs, Dylan’s live set list has expanded considerably as he performed rare versions of Porter Wagoner’s “A Satisfied Mind” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” the latter featuring a scorching guitar solo by Sexton.
The next evening’s show at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven brought out several “friends”—Phish’s Mike Gordon, Zen Tricksters’ Jeff Mattson and Max Creek’s Scott Murowski, to check out the show. The revamping of Phil and Friends’ show to include a freewheeling opening jam continued to yield much in the way of musical fireworks. The band once again performed as an ensemble, not just a collection of soloists, with the group locking into some solid grooves before coalescing into a joyous rendition of “Uncle John’s Band.” During the 90-minute medley, Lesh delivered the first ever East Coast performance of the Grateful Dead classic “Pride Of Cucamonga,” while Warren Haynes was sensational during his original Phil Lesh and Friends original, “Patchwork Quilt.”
Dylan’s set also produced some powerful musical moments. Opening with the gospel tinged, Ralph Stanley-penned bluegrass tune, “I Am The Man, Thomas,” Dylan, the fiery folksinger, displayed some awesome acoustic power during “My Back Pages,” “John Brown” and “One Too Many Mornings.” The song selection was sensational, as was Dylan’s rock solid rhythm section of bassist Tony Garnier and drummer David Kemper, who was a mainstay of the Jerry Garcia Band. Dylan continued to mine gold performing stellar versions of “Positively 4th Street,” “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” and “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.” During the encore, Lesh came out to join Dylan’s band for a rollicking arrangement of “West LA Fadeway” and “Not Fade Away” to close the evening. Apparently, Dylan’s band had rehearsed several Dead songs in anticipation of performing with the former Dead bassist and the preparation was rewarded with a razor-sharp rendition.
One of the most anticipated shows of the tour was the November 13 performance at the Continental Airlines Arena, located in the Meadowlands Complex in New Rutherford, New Jersey. This show was long sold out, attesting to the enormous drawing power of these two world-class artists. The parking lots surrounding the venue were packed with fans early and it was nice to be back on “Shakedown Street.” The carnival atmosphere was reminiscent of the glory days when the Grateful Dead made this venue a popular spot during its East Coast tours.
Inside the arena, anticipation reached a fever pitch as Lesh and Friends began its show typically with a nearly half-hour jam. Derek Trucks was incredible and his incendiary slide guitar playing was one of the early highlights of the show. Lesh and Friends totally revamped version of Dino Valente’s anthem, “Get Together,” was also a stroke of genius as the song was given a very upbeat, calypso arrangement featuring some relentless poly-rythems by drummer John Molo.
Warren Haynes delivered a sensational version of the Traffic tune “Dear Mr. Fantasy” that also displayed the awesome strengths of this band. The die hard New Jersey crowd exploded in approval from the opening strains of “Cryptical Envelopment” that was only surpassed when Lesh lobbed one of his patented “bombs” during a ferocious “Other One.” The jam that followed included “Days Between” and John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” before coming back full circle with “Cryptical.” The set-ending “Help On The Way,” “Slipknot” and “Franklin’s Tower” was thrilling.
As if energized by the exciting set by Lesh, Dylan performed an emotional show that included many of the touchstones of his folk rock origins. Despite performing before a sold-out throng of 18,000 people, the room became an intimate folk club, as one could hear a pin drop in the hushed arena. The crowd reacted to some of the singer/songwriter’s tunes in quiet reverence, and they were rewarded mightily as Dylan delivered a sermon that included “Song To Woody,” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Visions Of Johanna” with stunning power and clarity.
The electric set was no less impressive as Dylan broke out Muddy Waters’ “Hootchie Cootchie Man,” “Tombstone Blues,” “Joey” and a haunting “Not Dark Yet.” During the set-closing “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat,” someone from the audience tossed up a leopard print hat, which landed perfectly on Dylan’s microphone. Dylan, who had his back turned when it happened, broke into uncharacteristic laughter when he turned back to sing the song’s final verse. The good vibes continued well into the encore when Dylan was again joined by Lesh for a rousing version of “Alabama Getaway” and “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35.” Dylan, Lesh, and Dylan’s bassist, Tony Garnier, stood close together, all grinning ear-to-ear during the tasty jam.
After the show, a party was held at the nearby Sheraton Hotel where guitarist Jeff Mattson and bassist Klyph Black from the Zen Tricksters entertained.
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