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 bringing us to 2002…
By 2002, The Q had become a mainstay of jamnation, reliable like no other band for night after night of marathon sets and mind-bending improvisation. The chemistry was profound: Warren Haynes’s effect-laden guitar serving up wicked, fiery leads and funky rhythm (not to mention his growling, soulful voice); Jimmy Herring’s lightning fast barrages of a thousand notes at a time, or slower, searing solos (his solo on the new outro jam to Unbroken Chain could knock you to your knees); Rob Barraco’s absolutely fearless piano (few keyboard plays could plunge into such a thick stew with such expressive voice and effect); John Molo’s insane elasticity, equal parts slick subtlety and propulsive fervor; and of course Phil himself, the grand conductor, with his bouncy, shifting bass lines and playful shuffle step that started every show.
Each element alone was worth the price of a ticket, but put them together and something truly otherly happened. Thrilling, jaw dropping performances drawn for the best possible songbook. And just as the performances matured from 2000 to 2001 so did they again in 2002, becoming more stylish, the jamlets even more distinct, the ideas pushed to more extreme ends; the drama of some shows, even single songs, was almost overwhelming (Check out the I Am the Walrus > Millennium Jam from Charlie Miller’s recording of 3/30/02, only the second date of the year. Whew!)
The year began with a series of West Coast dates, The Warfield followed by a run in the Rockies, with the band continuing a trend it had begun in 2001, unveiling new, original material, material that would become There and Back Again, a strong album, if a little unbalanced. Warren’s material is certainly the strongest, whether written alone (The Real Thing, Welcome to the Underground) or in collaboration (Night of a Thousand Stars), but everything has merit. Columbia Records, however, didn’t get behind the promotion in the same way it did for Jorma Kaukonen’s (admittedly entirely stunning) Blue Country Heart released at the same time, and the album, whose title is a reference to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, fell from consciousness. The songs stayed around however, growing and blossoming like everything else the band played, so that by the summer, they were staples buried deep in the heart of jams or closing sets in uproarious fashion.
READ ON for more on the Phil Lesh Quintet in 2002…
Of course not everyone loved the new material, and there were even those who mocked the line-up, calling it The Phil-man Brothers Band, in reference to Warren obviously, but also Jimmy’s short stint with ABB. The critique is largely unfounded though; the guitarists own voices were driving forces in the band, but no one would mistake the Q for the Georgia peaches, even when they covered Mt. Jam or Blue Sky; it’s a lazy comparison by people wanting Phil to produce a GD sound. It’s true that the Q doesn’t sound much like the Grateful Dead, nor was it meant to; it was something broader, and in a lot of ways better.
There are two particularly noteworthy two night stands in the summer of 2002. The first is 5/31 & 6/1 at The Greek, hometown gigs that have an easy, drenched, California feel. The Acadian Driftwood > GDTRFB that opens the shows is just about perfect, and the whole second set from that night is amazing, with a Lady with a Fan > Stella Blue > Terrapin climax. The next night has a killer first set closer: Roadrunner > (Jimmy’s) Again and Again > Unbroken Chain, and again the second set is a monster, with a Cryptical Jam > Dew > Dark Star > St. Stephen > 11 > Dark Star > Night of a Thousand Stars. The Dark Star > Stephen is phenomenal, with little hints at Watchtower and an angular, moody Milestones jam.
Just over a month later, The Q celebrated the Fourth of July on the East Coast with Phil’s first appearance at the Gathering of the Vibes. Many fans cite these two festival gigs as their favorites, and for good reason. The Vibes was in Upstate New York that year, offering its first four day event. The weather was absolutely perfect, the surroundings beautiful and the vibe was entirely blissful. Phil was out wandering the grounds during the day, signing Organ Donor cards and greeting fans, and at night the Q burned up the stage. This week’s Stormy Monday, in two acts, features both the opening and the closing suites from that weekend. The first, Jam > Crazy Fingers > Jam (with Mt. Jam teases) > Midnight Train > Rider, is a great slice of summertime, playful and breezy. The second is the opposite end of the spectrum: Terrapin > NFA > Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds > NFA > Friend of the Devil > Golden Road. The Terrapin Station (the Vibes is a Terrapin Presents production) is monolithic and Warren plays chilling, ferocious guitar on the jam, his strings just screaming out tiger calls. But the apex is the LSD – The Q’s Beatles covers were never anything short of anthems. During the donor rap Phil just gushes about the whole weekend.
The rest of the summer tour would feature a number of guests, including Al Schnier, Reid Genauer, Jorma Kaukonen, Greg Osby, Dickey Betts, Jeff Chimenti and multiple sit-ins from Billy, Mickey and Bobby. The Bonnaroo set was actually without Warren, but featured both Bobby and Jeff in a band that looked ahead to the fall. The summer closed with a family gathering at Alpine Valley called Terrapin Station, which featured all the GD bands – except DSO and the Tricksters – including Billy’s Trichromes, Ratdog, and of course The Q. But the big show was the latest incarnation of The Other Ones featuring the core four, plus Rob, Jimmy and Jeff.
[Photo by Terry Mayer]
The band would go to tour throughout the fall, Susan Tedeschi joining on backing vocals, playing 15000+ rooms with some amazing results, so amazing in fact that the band would stay together the next year under a new moniker: The Dead. Despite the strengths of the bands (The Dead of course featured Joan Osborne on lead vocals, without Susan), their shows are too often overlooked and sometimes disparaged, problems that come from both the advertising and the size of venues. If a small sample of the theater crowds didn’t get PLQ and wanted more GD sounding music, amplify that almost a hundred times, drawing in people who wouldn’t go out to see Phil Lesh or Bob Weir, but would to see the remaining members of the Grateful Dead share the stage again, and you’re bound to have people who are surprised and even disappointed with the music, which drew far more on the previous seven years than the 30 before that. Regardless, The Other Ones/The Dead, along with the wild success of Gov’t Mule’s rotating cast of bass greats, would keep the PLQ off the road for just over a year.
There are no official soundboard releases from 2002, but a short list of recommendations includes: