Phil Lesh & Friends with Chris Robinson

Music Reviews Phil Lesh & Friends
Phil Lesh & Friends with Chris Robinson

(Above [L-R]: Chris Robinson and Phil Lesh at the Fox. Photo illustration by Jon Tonge.)

Aptly closing their Shadow of the Moon tour under the twinkling clouds and stars of the Fox Theatre’s domed ceiling, the most recent incarnation of Phil Lesh and friends had the feel of six buddies caught up in the reckless abandon of making music for music’s sake.

As with much of the tour, Chris Robinson’s bombastic vocals led the charge throughout the first set, with Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” dying out into a roadhouse version of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” followed by an eerily ethereal jam that led into “Tumbleweed in Eden,” one of Robinson’s own tunes. A fire-and-brimstone “All Along the Watchtower” seamlessly transitioned into the set’s closer, an upbeat “Casey Jones” with its chugging, speed-it-up-into-the-crash ending.

The night’s second set was lifted straight from a Deadhead’s dream, with the inclusion of gems like “China Cat Sunflower,” “Dark Star” and “Mountains of the Moon.” Robinson was off stage during the set as much as he was on, and the band—anchored by virtuoso guitarists Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan) and Barry Sless (David Nelson Band)—took the Fox crowd straight to Jam Central, travailing the highest peaks of hair-tingling intensity atop the underwater alien music bubbling from Lesh’s bass rig.

Sless—who let the pedal steel lay dormant most of the night—took charge, ensuring the improvisations didn’t wander too aimlessly and, indeed, they all had purpose and direction—a talent these veterans enjoy while greenhorns from other less-focused jam outfits noodle haphazardly. Drummer John Molo and keyboardist Mookie Siegel were in lockstep all night, the former providing some nice hippy-R&B beats and the latter playing with a tasteful perfection. And surprisingly enough, Lesh’s deep baritone harmonized beautifully with Robinson’s higher-pitched soul belting. The two emphasized this with a rich, a cappella coda on the Dead classic “Cosmic Charlie.”

But it was apparent that the band was an ensemble of mates and not a regular working act, as flubbed lyrics and musical missteps abounded, though each was greeted with cheers from the audience and laughter from bandleader Lesh.

Fans’ applause anointed the show a glorious tour closer as “Help on the Way” segued into “Slipknot” whipping the crowd members with the relentless intensity of Sless’ guitar work before rolling them away with a joyous “Franklin’s Tower.”

Peaks and valleys, rivers and mountains. Maybe you land on the top; maybe you slip, careening a few hundred feet into a temporary musical abyss. But the important thing on a journey like Phil Lesh’s is to keep moving. To always be on the way.

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