October is quickly rolling to a close, but not without the excitement of the Phil-O-Ween residency at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. The Grateful Dead's legendary bass player Phil Lesh wrapped up the second of three weekends with another group of all stars on Sunday, October 23rd, 2022. Ironically, the Grateful Dead played numerous residencies at this storied venue many years ago, and it was only fitting for Phil to return for another Halloween run.
Phil has been playing under the Phil and Friends moniker for many years, and countless talented musicians are eager to join him on a musical journey. Tonight's line up included a slate of young stars, most notably Rick Mitarotonda, the guitarist for the rising jam band Goose. Three members of the Trey Anastasio Band horn section joined the party: saxophonist James Casey, Trombonist Natalie "Chainsaw" Cressman, and Trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick. Both Goose and the Trey Anastasio Band are ramping up for a combined Northeastern fall tour, and this collaboration gave fans a glimpse into what may transpire during next month's unprecedented shows.
This residency is also a family affair, as Phil's son, guitarist Grahame Lesh, was front and center throughout the night and the duration of the run. Rounding out this impressive squad was jazz organist John Medeski and drummer John Molo.
The collective group played together all three nights this past weekend, and their energies gelled into high gear by Sunday night. They had never practiced together until the sound check on Friday, which highlights how truly adept they all are. The set list included a mix of Grateful Dead and classic songs that are second nature to these musicians and certainly warmed the hearts of everyone in attendance.
Bluesy tune "New Speedway Boogie" kicked off the evening's festivities, with Mitarotonda providing his stellar singing skills. A back and forth guitar dual ensued between Grahame and Mitarotonda during this vintage tune from the 1970 Grateful Dead release Workingman's Dead. Mitarotonda belted out the next song, "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo," which is another song from the Dead that is occasionally played by his band Goose. Medeski provided the perfect glue on the organ between all band members during this Wake of the Flood tune.
Grahame took his turn at lead vocals for the mellow "Wharf Rat," and reminded the crowd how musically brilliant the Lesh family is. The jam included a layered build up on top of the rock solid rhythm section led by the one two punch of Phil and Molo. The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" followed, with Casey crushing vocals as his TAB band mates harmonized behind him.
The vibe turned psychedelic meets folk with the traditional tune "Jack-A-Roe," sung by Mitarotonda. The song escalated into a tasty peak with Grahame leading the charge. Hartswick reminded the crowd that her outstanding bluesy voice fills the room during Little Milton's "That's What Love Will Make You Do." Cressman's trombone added the perfect accompaniment, along with Mitarotonda's impeccable guitar tone. Hartswich joined in on trumpet for a high spirited solo to round out this vibrant tune. The set closed out with a short but mighty "U.S. Blues," sung by Mitarotonda as though the song was written for him. Goose fans can only hope the band adds this upbeat Grateful Dead tune to their cover repertoire.
After a quick break, the high energy "Shakedown Street" got the crowd moving with the funky bass line that Phil has played for many years. The horn section added a unique twist to this psychedelic jam vehicle, with Casey on vocals. The mood stayed dynamic as the band moved into a rocking "Mason's Children," with both Grahame and Phil on vocals. Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" slipped in next, and Mitarotonda provided soulful vocals for this bluesy tune. The horn section and both guitarists created a euphonious back and forth jam.
The band veered back into psychedelic territory with "Estimated Prophet." Grahame contributed vocals during this trippy tune, while tye dye colors were projected on the walls of the iconic Capitol Theater. Medeski showed his true versatility, as his inspired organs melded the guitars, horns and rhythm section. Peter Shapiro, the owner of the Capitol Theater, was seen enjoying the throwback jam in one of the presidential boxes.
Phil finally took the lead on vocals for the musically complex "Unbroken Chain," which he wrote the music for and appeared on the From the Mars Hotel album. "Looking for the secret, searching for the sound." These words seem to sum up Phil's historic career, and yet were apropos for this meaningful moment. A fiery jam unfurled with more back and forth between Mitarotonda and Grahame.
The mood dipped once again as the music navigated into the mellifluent "Stella Blue," with Hartwich providing her resonant vocals. Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light" wrapped up this set with vigor. Mitarotonda's deep vocals, along with a jam reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, transported the crowd to that happy place.
The band left the stage, with Phil returning alone for his well known "Donor Rap." After receiving a liver transplant in 1998, he always takes a moment to advocate for organ donation, and this evening was no exception. The remaining band members joined their fearless leader for one final tune, the heartfelt "Ripple," sung by none other than Phil.
Phil Lesh and Friends are back in action next weekend for the conclusion of Phil-O-Ween at the Capitol Theater on October 28, 29 and 31. More details about the shows can be found on the Capitol Theater's event page. Tickets are still available for night one here, and can be procured via Cash or Trade for the other nights.
New Speedway Boogie, Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Wharf Rat, Dear Prudence, Jack-a-Roe, That's What Love Will Make You Do, U.S. Blues
Shakedown Street, Mason's Children, Hard to Handle, Estimated Prophet, Unbroken Chain, Stella Blue, Turn On Your Love Light
Donor Rap, Ripple