Last night, after nearly 60 years of friendship under the sun, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh teamed up at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the first gig of their “duo tour”. For months since the duo’s announcement Deadheads guessed with anticipation in excitement for answers to the “surprise guest slots”. Rumors included Trey Anastasio, John Kadelecik, Joe Russo and even the elusive Bob Dylan.
Last night none of those anticipations materialized. However, magic was brought to New York City. Weir laid down quick striking chords and Phil summoned bass lines that danced and bounced around Bobby’s rhythm as years past. To start the night, the audience was presented the story that the Crow told Weir and Lesh many moons ago..”Uncle John’s Band”. Following “Uncle John’s” Lesh turned around to his rig, fiddled around for a moment and greeted the audience with a rarely played Pigpen tune, “Operator”. I am of the opinion that Lesh’s voice has aged well. We get it. We don’t want to hear Lesh sing, “Eyes of the World”. However, this ignores the fact that Lesh has cleaned up his voice since the Grateful Dead’s final show at Soldier Field in 1995. Instead of stretching his voice to extremes to hit notes, Lesh has found a way to work his vocal chords around the structure of the melody. “Operator” was the highlight of the night, I believe. “Friend of the Devil” followed “Ramble on Rose” and Weir went onto to tell a story to the audience. Weir recalled the days of Dead past when Pigpen dated Janis Joplin. “Daddy daddy!” Weir called Janis would scream during her passions with Pigpen when Pigpen was staying above Bobby’s room in a shared house. After some laughs, Weir led Lesh into a beautiful “Bird Song” eulogy for the late Janis. Lesh SHINED on this one. One of my favorite “Bird Songs” of all time Lesh, the cosmic musician he is played the lead guitar lines on bass. Often Lesh’s choice of harmonic tones reflect an instrument far different than a bass.. Brass? Lead guitar? Whatever it is Phil is pure magic.
Fittingly, “He’s Gone” followed “Bird Song”. For myself, this made me think about Garcia. What would Garcia look like on stage with Bobby and Phil if he were here with us? After all, Phil is 77 and Jerry would have been 76 this year. Whatever the answer is, Jerry is smiling at this performance somewhere. Bobby ended the first set with a beautifully executed, “Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance”. I turned my friend and said, “I don’t know how they’re gonna pull of “Saint of Circumstance “ with just bass and an acoustic”.. Boy was I wrong.
After a short set break, the duo hit the stage once again for, a thunder striking “Loose Lucy”. Among the Garcia tunes, this particular song has found its way into the image of a “Bobby” song very well. Howling and yelping you can hear the true attitude of this song in Weir’s voice. A beautiful “Peggy-O” came next, which featured both heroes trading off vocals. One of the most played Dead adaptations, “Me and My Uncle” was then added to the second set which made its way into the rare and elusive, “Mountains of the Moon”. “Mountains of the Moon” was a very nice treat as it has yet to be added to Dead and Company’s catalog.
Weir and Lesh and a trick up their sleeve when they segued back into, “Bird Song” from “Mountains”. Once again, Lesh stunned the audience with other-worldly lead guitar lines on his bass on “Bird Song”. My guess is that the next few tunes were picked by Weir. “Let It Grow” blew Radio City Music Hall into a psychedelic wonderland. Eventually, the mood simmered down with the somber Dylan tune, “Hard Rains Gonna Fall” which seemed to bore Lesh to death. Me, though, I had a grand time. In a tribal manner, Weir and Lesh concluded the second set of their first “duo” show with “Not Fade Away” that left the audience in solidarity that our love indeed will not fade away.
After Lesh’s usual donor rap the night was capped off with a beautiful “Box of Rain”. “Box” took me back to days of old dancing by the riverside in my adolescence when I first discovered the magic of “American Beauty”. I am truly grateful for this continued magic and what a true bore life without be without the good ol’ Grateful Dead.
Follow @SMRTraveled for setlist reviews and on-site action for Bobby and Phil’s journey into our minds this Spring. Things are only going to get stranger.
Uncle John's Band
Ramble On Rose
Friend Of The Devil
Saint of Circumstance
Me & My Uncle
Mountains Of The Moon
Let It Grow
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Not Fade Away
Box Of Rain