Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band | NYC

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Submitted by Carter Shelter on Sat, 09/09/2017 - 10:04 am

As the sun crested the sky on one of the more perfect afternoons you could ask for in the middle of New York City at the end of August, Phil LeshLesh and his Terrapin Family Band huddled at the side of the stage as the audience hooted and hollered, unable to contain their excitement for the music that was about to come. It feels as though this year, even more than in years past, Phil Lesh has made New York his home away from home, with multiple runs at Brooklyn Bowl and the Capitol Theatre already in the books, so it only made sense for the Grateful Dead bassist to make his way back to town to cap off the summer with one marathon performance at Central Park’s Summerstage.

Hot off a run down south at Virginia’s Lockn’ Festival, Lesh and company wasted no time getting the fire burning, opening with a sizzling rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” sung with a cigarette-soaked growl by guitarist Ross James. The show had promised a full set of Jerry Garcia Band material, made particularly powerful with longtime JGB organist Melvin Seals joining the fold for the night, and the Dylan cover led them into a non-stop ride on some of that outfit’s strongest cuts, including a moving “Mission in the Rain,” and spirited takes on Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” and Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion,” the latter two led with perfection by the evening’s other special guest, Nicki Bluhm. While there was never a dull moment to be found, the set did suffer slightly in its relatively formulaic approach to the instrumental breaks with just about every song featuring Jason Crosby’s keyboard work giving way to a ripping organ solo from Seals before the two guitarists would each give it a go.Lesh and company wasted no time getting the fire burning, opening with a sizzling rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” sung with a cigarette-soaked growl by guitarist Ross James. The show had promised a full set of Jerry Garcia Band material, made particularly powerful with longtime JGB organist Melvin Seals joining the fold for the night, and the Dylan cover led them into a non-stop ride on some of that outfit’s strongest cuts, including a moving “Mission in the Rain,” and spirited takes on Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” and Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion,” the latter two led with perfection by the evening’s other special guest, Nicki Bluhm. While there was never a dull moment to be found, the set did suffer slightly in its relatively formulaic approach to the instrumental breaks with just about every song featuring Jason Crosby’s keyboard work giving way to a ripping organ solo from Seals before the two guitarists would each give it a go.

Though it could be that the group was just flexing their muscles, because the second set suffered no such fate. With darkness falling, the group embarked on a nearly two-hour odyssey with the dark groove of “Shakedown Street” and a punchy “Music Never Stopped,” both of which featured jams that descended into more interesting and exploratory realms than anything the first set had offered up. “Gallilee,” a Terrapin Family original, garnered a few thrown-off audience members turning to their friends and asking if they knew what the song was, but it made for a strong addition to the band’s repertoire, with Grahame Lesh’s vocals anchoring it comfortably. What followed, though, was the kind of outstanding sequence that proves just how strong this troupe has become and why it is that Phil appears to have settled on this crop of musicians.Lesh’s vocals anchoring it comfortably. What followed, though, was the kind of outstanding sequence that proves just how strong this troupe has become and why it is that Phil appears to have settled on this crop of musicians.

“Playing in the Band” had each player gradually working around each other in a slow-burning jam that led into a gentle “Wheel” before the band let themselves get properly loose on a terrific “Dark Star,” which also featured Phil’s only vocal performance of the night. That in turn gave way to an absolutely spellbinding “Morning Dew,” which split vocal duties between Bluhm and drummer Alex Koford. Bluhm made for a valuable asset the entire show, but here she stunned as, over the course of 13 minutes, her vocals grew from comforting lilt to soaring cries of “It doesn’t matter anyway” as Grahame Lesh’s guitar led the band into an extraordinary climax.Lesh’s guitar led the band into an extraordinary climax.

The group returned to a groovier “Dark Star” jam to follow before bringing things properly up-tempo with a rousing “St. Stephen” that featured Kosof breaking into a bit of “Whole Lotta Love,” as well as Grahame and Ross James teasing a bit of the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” in their guitar interplay, followed by a fun closing romp on “Turn On Your Lovelight” that made for the perfect showcase for Seals’ organ skills – not that they weren’t on display all night. “Sugaree” made for the perfect encore for the night, leading the audience in a breezy sway as Koford and Bluhm once again shared vocal duties, with Bluhm lending a bluesy swagger to the song’s final verse.

If there were any show to usher out the summer with, this would be the one. The band brought to life so much of what makes the Dead’s music so great, from jaw-dropping virtuosity to pure jubilant fun to that special brand of mystical, heart-wrenching emotion. Melvin Seals and Nicki Bluhm weren’t just special guests, but essential to the magic that happened on stage; redefining the band, and in Bluhm’s case the music itself. It might be Phil’s name that draws in the crowd, but as has always been the case with the Dead, it’s really a family affair.

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