HT’s Dan Alford continues his look back at the Phil Lesh Quintet in which the Grateful Dead bassist was joined by John Molo, Rob Barraco, Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring. Part One looked at the unit’s start in 2000, Part Two looked at the group’s rise in 2001, Part Three looked at the peak of 2002, while today’s finale looks at the group’s final days…
In the fall of 2002, Phil, Bobby, Billy and Mickey joined forces for another incarnation The Other Ones – featuring Jimmy Herring, Rob Barraco, Jeff Chimenti and Susan Tedeschi on backing vocals, playing arena-sized venues with some excellent results, but they were just getting started.
In the late spring of the following year, the group resurfaced with a new vocalist, a new name and a new confidence with the material. Joan Osborne may have seemed an odd choice initially, but in fact she was a denizen of The Wetlands in the early nineties, a road warrior in her own right and Americana soul singer of the first order. Plus, she didn’t hesitate for a second, jumping right into the fray and leaving a mark on the music; like others before and after, Sugaree became her show piece, and her Joan Moan became a staple of the spacey interludes.
The group churned out plenty of killer music on its summer tour, including an especially great gig in Hartford, a slew of Dylan sit-ins across the Midwest, and a pair of nights at Jones Beach that boasted acoustic sets. But the band also kept the PLQ off the road until the fall of 2003 when the group returned for its final 20 dates. READ ON for more on the Phil Lesh Quintet ’03…
Despite the scant shows, there are four soundboards that amply show off just how effortless and facile the ensemble was. The initial shows at The Warfield cover the full range of the Q’s prowess: they were able to thunder through rockers, drift away into the stratosphere, drop into bad ass struts and blaze out soul searing leads, but more than that, they were able to do so with stunning elasticity, switching gears and directions simultaneously not only without missing a beat, but while constantly raising the stakes.
The following tour took the group from the West Coast through Colorado and Chicago out to Boston and down to The Tower outside Philly, and finally back home to NYC, the birthplace of the Q, and more specifically to Warren’s home turf, The Beacon. (The fourth soundboard is from the last night at The Tower, a wild show with a Scarlet > Fire opener, and an outrageous second set with Dark Star > She Said, She Said > Dark Star at its smoldering core.)
Since we started this retrospective with the very first performance by the Q, we’ll end with the majestic suite that closed the second set of the group’s final gig: Dark Star > I Am the Walrus > Dark Star > Standing on the Moon > Viola Lee Blues. The performance and recording here are as big as life, and the Walrus is a must hear. Beatles’ tunes were anthems for this band, and this one is over the top. Plus there is no more appropriate way to end the both the run and the band than with a wicked Viola Lee Blues.
Of course, though 2003 was the end of the Q, it was not the end of the collaborations: in 2004 Warren joined The Dead (sans Osborne and Barraco) for a great summer tour that was unfortunately overshadowed by Phish stumbling its way across the Northeast in its ugly death throes. Jimmy stayed with Phil until the fall of 2005, bringing his former ARU band mate Jeff Sipe on board for a few dates, although he never quite gelled with Phil Lesh and Friends; indeed, those shows without Molo were noticeably lesser for his absence. Barraco rejoined Phil in 2006 and eventually found a comfortable home in Dark Star Orchestra.
During the post Q years, Phil’s music took a turn away from the wild, free form psychedelics towards rootsier Americana; a shift noticeably similar to what The Grateful Dead enacted almost 35 years earlier. In December of 2004, he enlisted an army of musicians, including members of Railroad Earth, JGB’s Gloria and Jackie, and a horn section featuring Ratdog’s Dave Ellis for three nights of near musical theater that had an orchestrated feeling that couldn’t have been more different from the Q.
The next year found Phil returning to his earlier ethos, cycling through a large rotating cast of guests before settling back with Mookie Siegel and Barry Sless, and welcoming Larry Campbell and Chris Robinson for what should have been an amazing line-up. The band fell flat though, largely due do Robinson’s limited vocal abilities and Campbell’s newness; he seemed like a hired gun at the time.
In the winter of 2006, the line-up was still working out the kinks, with Rob back in the fold, Joan on vocals and Jeff Sipe on drums, and by the summer, a new Phil and Friends was born: Molo back where he should have always been (I remember jotting down “Let’s never go out without him again,” at my first show that tour); Greg Osby on sax; and Larry, now a known commodity who was comfortable with the material, paired with John Scofield, Barry Sless and Trey Anastasio, depending on the date and set. This was the type of band Phil was looking for, but that didn’t stop him from changing again the next year for the final PLF line up: Molo, Campbell, Steve Molitz on keys and Jackie Greene taking over lead vocals. This band was golden, and left its own mark on the GD songbook, but that’s a story for another time. For now, enjoy the final notes of the PLQ.