Elliott Peck & Friends | Sweetwater Music Hall | 12/8/23

Article Contributed by Gabriel David Barkin | Published on Monday, December 11, 2023

Midnight North singer Elliott Peck brought some of her friends to Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall on Friday, Dec. 8, for a delightful and powerful headlining gig that showcased her brilliant voice and distinctive songwriting chops. The Sweetwater was packed with veterans of Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads scene as well as other music lovers who have grown to appreciate Peck as one of the Bay Area’s finest performers. She delivered the goods, illuminating herself as an artist on the rise whose prospects are unlimited.

Elliott Peck & Friends | Mill Valley, CA

The evening was billed as a record release party for Peck’s new four-song EP In The Pines. (The EP is now available on streaming services and can be purchased on CD via her website) Many of the musicians who helped her record the new tracks were on board, including her Midnight North bandmates Grahame Lesh (guitar, vocals) and Nathan Graham (drums, vocals), as well as ALO’s Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), superstar session and touring musician Jason Crosby (keyboards and fiddle), and Burt Lewis from Jerry’s Middle Finger (bass). Rounding out the ensemble was a tight horn section with TAB alum Natalie Cressman (trombone, vocals) and Jazz Mafia’s Ross Eustis (trumpet).

Elliott Peck & Friends | Mill Valley, CA

For two sets (there was no opening act), the setlist alternated between a mix of country, classic rock, and R&B covers interspersed with a selection of songs from both Peck’s 2018 album Further From The Storm and the new EP. “I Believe to My Soul,” a Ray Charles hit, opened the show, and well-known songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and “Into the Mystic” were crowd pleasers as the night progressed.

Burt Lewis | Sweetwater Music Hall

The covers were soulful and fun, but the originals shined brighter. And for good reason: Peck’s lyrical ground is heartfelt, a tide of pensive reflections floating atop imagery of farmhouses and forests. She’s “in the zone” when she sings her own words. “Good for You I Guess” and “Highway Song,” both from Further From The Storm, were solid anchors in the middle of the first set – and while Peck had fun and sang with gusto all night (make no mistake, she can belt out the blues!), she seemed most at home with songs like these.

Elliott Peck belting out the blues

This was particularly true during the semi-acoustic portion of the show that opened the second set. Peck’s Midnight North song “The Colors Here” (from that band’s new album Diamonds In The Zodiac, which was released just last month) was among the evening’s highlights: This house has been shaken and twisted from the floor
I got a feelin’ we’re not in Kansas anymore A new perspective’s worth the fear Oh, but the colors here...

Grahame and Lebo | Sweetwater Music Hall

Peck also triumphed on “Row the River,” the single from the new EP (available now on Spotify). Her lyrics on this song abound with spirits of classic country sorrows; she laments, for instance, that “I watched that sunset alone,” and “The past ain’t nothing but a postcard.” Lebo’s “Bakersfield sound” pedal steel added a layer of plaintiveness to complete the Americana landscape during these renditions.

Elliott Peck & Grahame Lesh | Sweetwater Music Hall

It’s obvious why luminaries including Phil Lesh (Grahame’s father, of course), Bob Weir, Jackie Greene, and Reid Genauer have asked Peck to sing harmonies with them. Her voice is strong and unwavering, a hint of Crystal Gayle’s tone combined with Allison Krauss’s midwestern heartland purity. She paid homage to the latter at the Sweetwater with a rousing version of “Oh Atlanta” (originally by Bad Company) toward the end of the second set. Peck sings in a lower register than Krauss but with the same confidence, power, and clarity.

Natalie Cressman performing with Elliott Peck & Friends | 12/8/23

Other country / Americana covers included first-set takes on Dolly Parton’s “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” (which is included on the new EP) and “Dry Town,” a Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings song that was a big hit for Miranda Lambert. Peck made these songs her own with tight accompaniment from her accomplished friends. She was born on a farm in rural Michigan, but her parents introduced her to the blues at an early age and took her to Chicago for music festivals as a child. While Peck’s own songs tend toward country music, her love of blues and R&B canon was evident at the Sweetwater when she sang Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train” and "Baby Don't You Do It" (the latter written by Motown greats Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland for Marvin Gaye, and covered famously by The Band).

Crosby, Lebo, Peck & Lesh | photo by Gabriel David Barkin

For the Terrapin Crossroads faithful, there had to be some Grateful Dead, of course. Peck’s take on the Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” near the end of the second set was powerful, with her impeccable voice in the forefront of this bouncy blues classic. Reed Mathis (Billy and the Kids, Tea Leaf Green, etc.) joined on stage to shred some guitar, trading licks with Lebo and Lesh. Mathis and Lebo in particular have two of the most distinctive approaches to Jerry’s licks in the Bay Area’s expanded Dead cover band milieu – and even so, the best parts of the song came when Peck was at the mic leading the audience for choruses of “This darkness got to give!”

This Darkness Got to Give!

Yes, it was Peck’s night to shine, but certainly, the band was with her every step of the way. (Peck herself didn’t pick up a guitar until the third song, and she only played on about half of the numbers.) Lebo and Lesh took turns on leads, and Crosby often stepped up on keys to take the spotlight. Lewis and Graham held the floor steady all night, with equal aplomb on both the soft Americana and the boisterous R&B.

Lebo, Elliott, and Grahame Lesh

Grahame Lesh has matured on lead guitar since the early days of Midnight North. A residency at Terrapin Crossroads and numerous gigs with his father’s rotating cast of Phil and Friends has given him a ton of live experience, and it shows. (Most, if not all, of the musicians on stage have also played with Phil in various “Friends” lineups.) Lebo always impresses with his distinctive electric-style acoustic guitar chops and his country licks on pedal steel. Crosby is one of the most talented keyboardists in a generation. Together, the trio could support any singer on any size stage; the intimacy of the Sweetwater made their performance particularly sweet.

Grahame Lesh  | 12/8/23 | Photo by Gabriel David Barkin

Cressman and Eustis were on stage for about half of the show, returning particularly to add horns on the upbeat rock and blues jams. Each had multiple turns to solo on their respective brass instruments. Cressman also took several lead vocal spots in addition to adding harmonies alongside Lebo and Lesh. Notably, she took one of the verses in the second set closer, “Brokedown Palace” to demonstrate her inestimable crooning talent. Cressman stands along with Peck as one of the extended jamband world’s best singers, and the audience rewards her with well-deserved attention and applause on each occasion.

Elliott Peck | Sweetwater Music Hall

For the encore, Peck and Co. tore through “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” the traditional blues song perhaps best known as a Hot Tuna vehicle. Peck seemed to emphasize the sister in the line “Sister keep right on prayin'.” Despite being surrounded by a bunch of mostly guys on stage, and even when singing songs written by men, she is determined to own every line she sings. Peck’s authenticity is her power – and it may yet carrier her higher as a solo artist than the heights she has reached co-fronting Midnight North. If the Sweetwater gig is a sign of things to come, the world will hear a lot more from Elliott Peck.

Ross Eustis | Sweetwater Music Hall | 12/8/23


I Believe to My Soul
How Long Do I Have to Wait
Another Life Ago
Good for You I Guess
Dry Town
Highway Song
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
In the Pines
Midnight Train to Georgia
Don’t Do It
Sir Duke

A Great Farewell
The Colors Here
Row the River
Oh Atlanta
Into the Mystic
Greene County
New Speedway Boogie
Brokedown Palace

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

Sweetwater Music Hall | December 8th, 2023

Check out more PHOTOS from the show