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Watching The River Flow: On Tour With Phil Lesh And Bob Dylan (Relix Revisited)
Today we look back to the summer 2000 Phil Lesh & Friends / Bob Dylan tour
When it was first announced that former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh would embark on an extensive tour with Bob Dylan, rock fans were overjoyed. The two artists have crossed paths many times over the years, as Dylan and the Dead shared both a common musical vision and an audience made up of many of the same devoted fans.
This tour was the biggest excursion undertaken by Lesh since his liver transplant provided him with a new lease on life. It covered 17 dates in mostly college arenas, as well as touching down in some of the favorite touring stops that the Grateful Dead enjoyed for so many years. The shows were advertised with both artists receiving equal billing on the posters and advertisements.
Shortly before the tour began, Lesh and Dylan decided that for the sake of the ease of production process and soundchecks, they would agree to a coin toss to determine who would perform first. Lesh, having won the toss, elected to play first at each of the shows. The tour was set; the only thing left to do was to prepare for the road. For Lesh, though, that meant some unexpected detours along the way.
Phil Lesh and Friends decided to do some warm up shows at The Fillmore Auditorium in Denver with Paul Barrere and Billy Payne from Little Feat who were signed on to perform with Lesh on the first leg of the Dylan tour. By all accounts, these shows were a resounding success as the Little Feat members blended perfectly with the hard-jamming sounds of Phil Lesh and Friends.
Although Steve Kimock had always been the cornerstone of previous Phil and Friends shows, the guitarist walked off the tour after the opening performance with Dylan in Champaign, Illinois. Since his abrupt departure, the guitarist has never given a full account of the reasons for bailing, leaving many fans bewildered. That said, Kimock returned to San Francisco on the eve of the biggest showcase of his life.
Also complicating matters was the dismissal of longtime roadies Steve Parish and Ramrod. The reasons for their dismissal appeared to be some old issues between the Dylan and Dead road crews. Lesh addressed this matter on his Website several days later when he posted a message under his pen name, Reddy Kilowatt. “I will not allow old politics and ego to poison what I am striving to do,” he said, “a tour where the only mission is to do our best to honor the music, the musicians, and the community.”
While the loss of such a significant musical partner as Kimock could have spelled doom to a lesser band, the departure actually opened new doors for the bassist as Lesh quickly discovered. Phil Lesh and Friends played its next two dates with Paul Barrere and Billy Payne before guitarist Derek Trucks signed on to the tour in time for a rollicking Halloween show in Chicago, which was the last show on the tour with the Little Feat guys.
Like a young Jedi knight wielding his light saber, Trucks’ soulful, high-soaring, slide-guitar playing added an unheard element in the Phil and Friends sound. Trucks’ arrival came at just the right time as Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes and Zen Tricksters keyboardist Rob Barraco joined the tour at the next gig, providing what would be the core band for most of the remaining shows on the tour.
While the Internet chat groups debated the current state of affairs with Phil and Friends, I left San Francisco to embark on my first Grateful Dead-related tour since the band’s 20th Anniversary shows back in 1985. The following recounts some of the moments that occurred on the last half of the tour.
After an afternoon exploring our nation’s first capital, I descended on Temple University. Philadelphia is an old city, and this newly constructed venue stands in stark contrast to the surrounding buildings, many of which are over 100 years old. While I don’t make it back east very often, I was greeted by many old friends including Relix publisher, Toni Brown, who is a celebrity in her own right in these parts. While we chatted, many fans came by and gave us their warm wishes. I was heartened to learn that Phil had jammed with Bob Dylan the previous night in Delaware, performing “Friend Of The Devil.” In recent years, Dylan has included the Dead classic in his set.
Proving that the world is indeed a small place, I also ran into Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams, who had come out to catch her first sets of Phil and Friends shows. Jerry Garcia’s former wife gave a big thumbs-up to what she had heard the evening before. Throughout the tour, the venues employed a reserved seat policy in the stands, with an open general admission for fans on the floor. Admission to the floor required a wristband, which caused some delays for folks who were trying to make it down to the floor area.
The show’s format had changed a bit since the last Phil and Friends shows at the Warfield Theater. As the house lights remained on, Phil Lesh and the band—drummer John Molo, keyboardist Rob Barraco, and guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes—eased into a jam that increased in volume and energy. As the lights dimmed about five minutes into the beginning jam, Lesh and the guitarists floated like butterflies with some sensitive passages that soon increased in intensity. Trucks and Haynes certainly work well together, and in this context, they were simply awesome. Quoting instrumental passages from “Mountain Jam” and “Blue Sky,” Lesh’s bass always ringing at full throttle, the band embarked on a 25-minute jam before morphing into “Crazy Fingers.” Rob Barraco’s tenure with one of America’s best jam bands, the Zen Tricksters, certainly served him well as his vocals hit the mark. Barraco was playing a Hammond B-3 organ that was previously used by none other than the late Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.
“Unbroken Chain” was greeted like a long-lost friend. Lesh’s voice was met with a thunderous ovation, and the song’s intricate middle section was performed masterfully. Phil and Friends were joined by blues queen Susan Tedeschi for “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” and “Turn On Your Lovelight,” which proved to be the highlight of the show. Tedeschi demonstrated her prowess as a masterful guitarist, adding some fiery guitar licks with Trucks and Haynes.
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 top-notch 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.
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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