Phil Lesh continued his October residency at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on Saturday, marking night five of nine for the octogenarian Grateful Dead bassist and two of three for this particular configuration of his Friends. Building on the previous night’s experience, the all-star crew—comprised of Rick Mitarotonda (Goose), Grahame Lesh (Midnight North), John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood), John Molo (Moonalice), and the Trey Anastasio Band horn section of James Casey, Natalie Cressman, and Jennifer Hartswick—quickly settled in to deliver one of the most exciting nights of Grateful Dead music in recent memory.
Phil Lesh may be aging but as a band leader he surrounds himself with musicians who breathe new life and vitality into the timeless Grateful Dead catalog, one which Mr. Lesh himself had a hand in creating. With exactly one show to their credit, this group of Friends did exactly that, playing with what felt like years of experience while putting on full display the talent, individuality, and gamesmanship that brought them to this time and place.
As countless shared glances and knowing looks flashed back and forth amongst those in attendance, one couldn’t help but feel like they were witnessing something special with this modern day iteration of the Grateful Dead featuring a full horn section. It was fresh. It was exciting. It was, in a word, spectacular.
The band took a flying start with “Bertha”, Grahame Lesh singing while Medeski and Mitarotonda dazzled and the horns flew off at full tilt. A palpable buzz became an undeniable roar by the time Goose’s 31-year-old guitarist took his first vocals of the night on “Althea”, though Rick was just beginning to put his signature on what was already shaping up to be a special night. Bob Dylan‘s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (sung by Grahame) followed before Natalie Cressman made the most of her turn in the spotlight with sultry vocals on a searing rendition “He’s Gone”.
Phil Lesh & Friends – “Bertha”, “Althea” [Pro-Shot] – 10/22/22
After riding waves of patient builds and explosive releases, the band charged head first into a behemoth “Cold Rain and Snow”, a noteworthy transition that should have been impossible for a band on its second performance. Mitarotonda flexed his abilities once again here, prompting reflections on the exponential growth he has undergone in a short time. Though he was just five years old when Jerry Garcia died, Rick has launched his own band into rarified air and seemed thoroughly comfortable filling those giant shoes.
Phil Lesh & Friends – “He’s Gone”, “Cold Rain & Snow” [Pro-Shot] – 10/22/22
A rising tide lifts all ships and the room was no doubt buoyed by the spirit and zest for life shown by James Casey, a colon cancer survivor who completed chemotherapy earlier this year. To see him perform is to feel his triumph, and there was no more appropriate choice than him to sing the eternal words of “Touch Of Grey” as the band approached set break.
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The classic pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” (Grahame) > “I Know You Rider” (all) fiercely opened the second set ahead of a Rick-sung “Brown Eyed Women”. “The Wheel” (all) moved along deliberately, the band again exploring various tempos as every member of the band rose to the magnanimity of the moment, the rhythm section of Lesh and Molo creating space for savage guitar leads, swelling organ solos, and provocative horns.
Phil Lesh & Friends – “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider” [Pro-Shot] – 10/22/22
“Lady With A Fan” (Phil, Grahame) > “Terrapin Station” (all) showcased the technicality and intricacies of the catalog before segueing into a monster duet by Jennifer Hartswick and Grahame Lesh on “Morning Dew” to which the crowd responded with roaring hysteria. “One More Saturday Night” is sometimes anticlimactic when you know it’s coming, but not so on this night. Instead, it offered one more wild party as set two came to a close.
Phil Lesh may have stumbled over Rick Mitarotonda’s name during band introductions on night one but he made sure to get it right today, the crowd responding with the familiar, chanted rumble to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s unofficial collaboration with the fast-rising Goose. Rick would take that cue for lead guitar and vocals on an electric “Johnny B. Goode”, channeling both Chuck Berry and Jerry Garcia both as he indelibly imprinted his name on a truly memorable meeting of musical minds.
It’s impossible to say how or when these things take shape, or if they’ll ever happen again. All we know for sure is that there’s one more chance to sample this potent combo at The Cap this weekend. With night three on the docket, dare I say: Never miss a Sunday show.
Patrons who wandered over to Garcia’s at the show’s conclusion kept the party going strong with Summerfeet, local legends of psychedelic yacht rock for hippies who have been entertaining early-arriving fans all weekend. On Saturday night they took closing duties, too, dazzling with a mix of covers from Steely Dan, Phish, The Meters, and, of course, a little more Grateful Dead. Summerfeet will also play one more Garcia’s show on Sunday starting at 6:45 p.m.
Scroll down to view the full setlist and check out a gallery of photos via Andrew Blackstein from Saturday night’s Phil Lesh & Friends show featuring members of Trey Anastasio Band, Goose, and more. For a full list of upcoming Phil & Friends dates at The Cap, head here.
Setlist: Phil Lesh & Friends | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 10/22/22
Set One: Bertha (GL), Althea (RM), When I Paint My Masterpiece (GL), He’s Gone (NC), Cold Rain & Snow (RM), Touch Of Grey (JC)
Set Two: China Cat Sunflower (GL) > I Know You Rider (All), Brown Eyed Women (RM), Wheel (All), Lady With A Fan (PL/GL) > Terrapin Station (All) > Morning Dew (GL/JH), One More Saturday Night (RM)
Encore: Johnny B Goode (RM)
Notes: The band featured Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), Rick Mitarotonda (guitar, vocals), Grahame Lesh (guitar, vocals), James Casey (saxophone, vocals), Natalie Cressman (trombone, vocals), Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet, vocals), John Medeski (keys, organ, vocals), John Molo (drums). Singers for each song are noted with their initials.