It was bound to happen that the San Francisco-based Brothers Comatose, one of the hottest bohemian bluegrass bands on the circuit would wind up pickin’ and grinnin’ from the Terrapin Crossroads stage at Phil Lesh’s lair in San Rafael, California. On May 9 it came to pass, tearing up the Grate Room with the Terrapin Family Band, featuring Phil Lesh, along for the ride. Before the night was out, The Brothers Comatose ran through a set as a band of eight with Terrapin Family Band members Ross James, Alex Koford, and Lesh, the patriarch himself; had a few surprise visits to the mic from Nicki Bluhm; and a closing sequence turned upside-down due to a fiddle-string incident.
While The Brothers Comatose, great players all and the nicest bunch of guys you’d ever want to meet, have made a lot of people stand up and take notice across the land, they were not yet anointed into the Terrapin Crossroads milieu. That all changed on Saturday before a sold-out audience. After some prep and rehearsal time, the band, fronted by real-life brothers Alex and Ben Morrison, came out and the electric guitar, bass, and drums of the Terrapin Family Band melded immediately with the acoustic quintet (with upright bass player Gio Benedetti relegated to tambourine and vocals as Lesh seemed to have the bass end covered pretty well). James was clearly enjoying himself throughout, jamming one-on-one from time to time with mandolin player Ryan Avellone, and Lesh too appeared jolly while playing along on the Brothers’ fun acoustic stomp, “Pie for Breakfast,” as well as “Bertha,” the Rolling Stones old “Dead Flowers,” and a traditional ditty that the Grateful Dead performed a handful of times in 1970, “Tell It To Me” aka “Cocaine Blues.” Nicki Bluhm helped the ensemble close out the set, lending her voice to “Goin’ Down the Road (Feelin’ Bad).”
With Lesh’s work over for the night, the sufficiently warmed-up audience, many of whom presumably were having their first go at a Brothers Comatose show, danced, frolicked, and swayed to every song of the Brothers Comatose’s second set. In addition to being chock full of great contemporary newgrass players, the Brothers are fine song crafters as well, and endeared the crowd with back stories to many of the their tunes, including “Me & My Brother,” and “The Ballad of Tommy Decker.” Nicki Bluhm returned twice during the set, first for “Morning Time,” which she recorded with The Brothers a few years back, and then for the Jefferson Airplane’s old standard that she’s mastered, “Somebody to Love.” Sometime around mid-set, fiddler Philip Brezia broke a string but had no spare. He tried to mend it with one of Alex Morrison’s banjo strings but to no avail. In the end, the ever-ready Ross James and Alex Koford returned to the stage, and the band threw out the rest of the planned set for impromptu acoustic/electric performances of such tunes as the Stanley Brothers’ “Long Journey Home,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia,” The Faces’ “Ohh-La-La,” and the Brothers own “Strings.”
As per usual, Terrapin Crossroads had a busy dinner crowd over in the classy adjacent restaurant, where early-seated patrons enjoyed their food with the smooth sounds of the Michael LaMacchia 3io, which offered jazzed-up instrumental versions of jammy numbers including The Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song.” Later arrivals were serenaded in the restaurant/bar by the Sandy’s duo, featuring Alexi Glickman.
Funny observation: You can often smell grilled steaks outside of a restaurant, and once in a while, you may sense the wafting aroma of reefer in the air, but between sets at Terrapin Crossroads, in the cool evening air, one can experience a truly heady simultaneous mixed aroma of high-grade barbecue and high-grade herb. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.