Monday, January 14, 2019

Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band at Masonic Lodge, 1-13-19 Concert Review

Phil Lesh performing "I Know You Rider"
Last night Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band played the second of a two-night stand at the Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery here in Los Angeles. What a treat it was to get to see Phil Lesh at such an intimate venue. Supposedly the capacity is 150, but it felt more like 250 or 300 people were there. Still, I’d never seen any member of the Grateful Dead at a place that small. The sound wasn’t perfect, but the vibes certainly were. It was a good crowd, good people. And the music was excellent, the band playing several songs I’d never seen performed before, including “Pride Of Cucamonga” and “Born Cross-eyed.”

The venue was not created for music, and so there is no special entrance to the small stage. The band had to walk through the audience to get to the stage, and at 8 p.m., the members began to make their way through the crowd. They then kicked off the first set with “Tennessee Jed,” establishing a good groove before delivering any of the lyrics. Several of the band members sang lead on different verses, with female vocalist Elliott Peck taking the “Drink all day and rock all night” verse. “Tennessee Jed” featured a really good lead on keys by Jason Crosby. That was followed by what was for me one of the show’s highlights, “Pride Of Cucamonga.” It is a song that I’d never seen Phil perform before, and that morning I’d had a dream where I asked Phil to play it. It was great to hear this song, and the rendition was fantastic, with some wonderful work by Ross James on pedal steel. And that section where this cool country tune suddenly turns bluesy was explored more than is done on the version on From The Mars Hotel. Then we got a version of “Jack Straw” that really moved, driven by some excellent stuff on guitar, and then a sweet rendition of “Teach Your Children,” featuring some nice harmonies and more good work on pedal steel.

“West L.A. Fadeaway” is one song that has really found its life in the post-Grateful Dead world, with better versions being performed now than in the 1980s. Dead And Company has done some excellent things with it, and last night Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band delivered a phenomenal rendition, with some delicious jamming. Am I insane, or did Jason Crosby dip into Gershwin during the song’s stellar jam? Anyway, it is interesting how this song has really taken off in the days since the Grateful Dead. “West L.A. Fadeaway” led straight into “No More Do I,” a tune from the Phil & Friends’ There And Back Again. It seemed to be leading to something else, but then just sort of drifted off at the end. That was followed by one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, “Stella Blue,” a surprise for the first set. It was wonderful watching Phil conduct the band near the beginning, an adorable moment. And there was some beautiful vocal work toward the end. The first set then concluded with “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” with Phil singing lead on the first verse. “We’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back,” Phil told the crowd. And indeed – particularly by Dead standards – it was a short break. The first set ended at 9:22 p.m., and the band started heading back to the stage at 9:49 p.m., certainly not enough time for everyone to use the loo. I should mention that this venue has only two toilets upstairs, one for men and one for women, and so the line before the show began was rather long (apparently there are more toilets downstairs, but those weren’t available then). I didn’t even bother leaving my spot during the set break.

The second set got off to a fantastic start with “Born Cross-Eyed,” a song I was certainly not expecting to hear. It was another of the show’s highlights, and it was followed by “Playing In The Band.” This one developed into a seriously cool jam. Phil gave it a strong pulse, but the jam had a gentleness to it, and the band took an interesting, unusual path back to the main section of the song. And, yes, Elliott Peck did her own version of the Donna scream. Phil then sang “Mountains Of The Moon,” which had a smooth feel at first. This was when things start getting weird for me, the engine of the song catching fire, then suddenly cooling down and returning us to a land that resembled Earth, though we were still on the moon at that point. Phil delivered the song’s lyrics gently, kindly. That was followed by “Caution,” a jam that chugged along on a fast track, giant rodents scampering to either side, as holy men lay sacrifices at the train’s many feet. The guitar suddenly cut through the walls, the hills, the air, a blazing knife dividing and then uniting, as we spilled out and tumbled underground to a gloriously hellish celebration catered by slightly domesticated trolls in striped outfits and surgically achieved smiles. Where were we being led? For a moment it seemed like the band had strayed into Who territory, but soon after that slid into “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Ah yes, the band had done this one during the soundcheck. We could hear it from outside – that and “Playing In The Band.” And on this song, Elliott Peck finally got a chance to really show her vocal chops. Fantastic!

The rhythm of “He’s Gone” began on guitar, lifting us up just a bit from the mellow and darker realm of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” That led straight into “The Other One,” a song that is a force to be embraced or destroyed by. This version took us in strange places, with unusual phrasing, and it led directly into “New Speedway Boogie,” and then into Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and back into “New Speedway Boogie,” ending with a nice bit delivered a cappella, the audience finishing the line. That was followed by Robert Hunter’s “Jack O’ Roses,” a song I didn’t recognize at first. It has been a while since I listened to my Robert Hunter albums (I have them all on cassette). That slid nicely into “Terrapin Station,” though something felt weird about this “Terrapin” at one point near the beginning. Did Phil start singing the wrong verse or something? Well, by the time they got to “Inspiration!” it was clear this was a spiritual service and we were all a part of it, the audience supplying the shouts of “Terrapin!” That led into a fun rendition of “I Know You Rider” to wrap up the second set. It featured a wonderful conversation between piano and guitar. The band stepped off the stage at 11:34 p.m., but basically just hid behind the curtain at stage left rather than walking through the audience. After a minute, Phil returned to the stage to urge folks to become organ donors. Then the band came back on to play a rockin’ rendition of “Ripple.” “Ripple” is my favorite song, and this version was so different that I didn’t even recognize it at first. It sounded like a Rolling Stones song from the early 1970s or something. But I quickly got into it. It had a tremendous amount of life and energy and joy, a new way of looking at what I consider to be the best song ever recorded. The show ended at 11:43 p.m., and some of us made our way over to right side of the room to give Phil a high-five as he passed by to the rear of the venue. It was a wonderful night.

Set List

Set I
  1. Tennessee Jed
  2. Pride Of Cucamonga
  3. Jack Straw
  4. Teach Your Children
  5. West L.A. Fadeaway  >
  6. No More Do I
  7. Stella Blue
  8. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
Set II
  1. Born Cross-Eyed
  2. Playing In The Band
  3. Mountains Of The Moon
  4. Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) >
  5. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
  6. He’s Gone >
  7. The Other One >
  8. New Speedway Boogie >
  9. Whole Lotta Love >
  10. New Speedway Boogie
  11. Jack O’ Roses >
  12. Terrapin Station >
  13. I Know You Rider 
  1. Ripple
Here are a few photos from the concert:

"Pride Of Cucamonga"
"Teach Your Children"
"Stella Blue"
"Playing In The Band"
"Mountains Of The Moon"
"Mountains Of The Moon"
Phil between songs
Phil urging folks to become organ donors

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