Fan Review by David Rosen
Phil Lesh and sons, with Stu Allen, Ross James, and Scott Padden, Terrapin Crossroads, 9/7/12
This is for my friend Tim, who wasn’t able to come. He asked me to give him the lowdown on this one. I figured I would share it. I hope this isn’t too self-indulgent. My goal was to help me preserve my experience, as well as to share it with Tim.
To start out, let me talk about the room. I didn’t take measurements, but the Grate Room seems to be about the size of the Ashkenaz. Now, imagine a stage the size of the Fox in Oakland, on one *side* of the room. (Actually, I don’t think the stage is quite that big, but it really dominates the room.) I’d estimate the room holds 300 people. The furthest away you can be is about 40 feet, no matter where you are in the room! Talk about intimate!
A brief note of personal history. When Jerry died in 1995, like many, I thought the music went with him. In 2005, I went to my first Jerry Day, saw Grapefruit Ed, and discovered that the music was still alive and well. By the next year, Stu Allen had come on board, and he can really channel Jerry! I’ve been following him ever since, and I’ve seen way more Stu shows than I ever got to see of Jerry. It has been so much fun watching a subset of the local Deadhead community coalesce around him.
When Furthur formed, a lot of people I know thought they made the wrong decision. Nothing against John K, but Stu just sounds more like Jerry than you can imagine would be possible. And it doesn’t look like he’s trying very hard. It seems to just pour out of him! And it’s not just his guitar tone and style, it’s his vocals too. And no disrespect to Jerry, but Stu has a much smoother voice.
OK, so here’s the nutshell summary from my friend Joel: “best show ever!” How do I back that up? Well first of all, there was the energy in the room. Really, it was Stu’s crowd as much as Phil’s. I didn’t hear anyone chanting “Phil,” “Phil.” But from the beginning of the night there were repeated choruses of “Stuuuuuuuuu!” Those of us who have been fans of his were having the opportunity to see him get the recognition he deserves. This undercurrent was there the whole night, and charged things with amazing electricity.
I don’t really know Stu personally, but like Jerry, he strikes me as a humble, self-effacing kind of guy. I bring this up because for the opening number, Alabama Getaway, he really hung back. Grahame Lesh did the lead vocals, and Stu seemed content to just give some tasty fills. He didn’t dominate the music like he would if it was his own show. A very Jerry touch, I thought. But as the show went on, he really showed his stuff. I won’t say he dominated, because there was a lot of music happening that wasn’t him. But he definitely claimed his space, and he egged the others on. Hey, that’s kind of Jerryish too, isn’t it?!
Phil’s sons are fine musicians. Papa was proud! The stage layout put Phil between both of them. Grahame was center stage on guitar, and Brian was to the right of Phil on mandolin. To the far right was Ross James on pedal Steel, and Stu was at the left. (Scott Padden was on drums behind and to the left of Grahame.) Imagine, *four* lead instruments! The sound was so richly textured! Many times I found myself looking from side to side to see where a particular sound was coming from. With Stu and a pedal steel at the same time throughout the whole show it was like having two Jerrys! Wow!
Both of the Lesh sons have good singing voices. Brian has a sound that I think matched his instrument well. He’d be a good fit in an old-time or Americana band. In fact the three Leshes together could do that. Get Phil to break out his double bass for authenticity?! Actually, in many ways this was an Americana show. Except for The Wheel into Althea, there weren’t any of the extended jams from one song into the next that we love so well. That’s not to say the songs didn’t contain extended jams within them, but there was no long extended sequence of songs like the second set of a Dead show.
Phil didn’t sing a bit, not even back-up. (Well, do you need more than three vocalists?) But that meant no Box of Rain, no Tom Thumb Blues, no Unbroken Chain. I’m not complaining — it was all good!
OK, so *many* people have been to lots more shows than I have. But I never saw Phil having a better time than this. I spent much of the night standing next to my friend Kimberly, and we kept turning to look at one another with looks of amazed joy! I kept seeing the same kind of look on Phil’s face! Any number of times I saw him shake his head side to side with this bemused smile. He was digging it, and many of us felt like he was getting blown away by Stu’s performance.
I hope my friend Ruth won’t mind my comparing Phil with her, but it’s so much fun for me to watch the way she enjoys the music when we’re at shows. She often closes her eyes, and beams. Literally, she glows! She goes into some private space of her own, and lets herself get totally carried away by the music. I saw that happening to Phil! He had his eyes closed or nearly so for much of the show, with this relaxed, beatific look on his face. The chemistry on stage was amazing to behold.
For those of you that know me well, here’s something that may give you a chuckle — somehow I forgot to bring a pen and paper! Oh, no! No setlist? Well, I actually worked at it, and memorized the first seven songs, in order. But they did one long 2 1/2 hour set, and it got really hard! As soon as I got home, I turned on my computer and started typing. I didn’t want to forget! Fortunately, Bob Scalcione posted the list below, and he had the courtesy to keep track of the vocalists for each song. By the way, I’m thrilled to report that I got all the songs, in order! I’m using his list because he spelled out all the names, while I used abbreviations.
I’m not going to go song by song, since I’ve already written so much, but some high lights. Wheel into Althea? OMG! The space sure was getting hot, just four songs in! And what a tasty, and unpredictable, transition between the songs. I really like to hear the familiar made new! I was very happy with Dear Mr. Fantasy (though I kept hoping for a Hey Jude reprise). Hearing I Dig A Pony let me know for certain that Stu helped choose the set list — he’s pulled that out of the hat at several shows he’s played that haven’t had a Jerry/Dead focus.
One more high light was the encore. At the end of Going Down the Road Feeling Bad there’s that jam that sounds like We Bid You Good Night. For so long I’ve been wanting to hear that transition, but never have. I was about to turn to my friend John to tell him, when they did it! The Dead only played those two songs in the same show on six occasions, and never one into the other (Furthur have done this, but just a handful of times.) I’d like this to become as common as Scarlet Fire or China Rider!
I do have three small complaints about the show. First, Brian’s mandolin was too low in the mix after the first few songs. Second, I don’t think the drummer really knew the music very well. He wasn’t bad, but it lacked a little something. The worst complaint though, is they weren’t offering to sell us CDs of the show when it ended! Damn, I want a soundboard of this!!
I felt like I was witnessing a historic event. It’s not as if Stu has kept a low profile. Seven years with Melvin Seals and JGB is quite an impressive credential, not to mention playing with a who’s-who roster of Dead family musicians. But Phil has a reputation as a demanding band leader with high performance standards. For Stu to achieve the Phil Lesh seal of approval can only mean good things to come for Stu. I’m excited to see what comes out of this. Stay tuned, Deadheads!
Here’s Bob Scalcione’s setlist (used by permission):
Phil Lesh – bass
Grahame Lesh – guitar, vocals
Brian Lesh – mandolin, vocals
Stu Allen – guitar, vocals
Ross James – pedal steel guitar
Scott Padden – drums
8:50 – 11:40
Alabama Getaway gl
Doin’ That Rag sa
The Wheel gl, bl, sa >
Cumberland Blues gl, bl, sa
Bird Song sa
Brown Eyed Women sa
Dear Mr. Fantasy gl >
Ramble On Rose bl
I Dig a Pony sa
I Know You Rider gl, bl, sa
Uncle John’s Band gl, bl, sa
Franklin’s Tower sa