Last night, after months of excitement and speculation as to what fans could expect, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh opened their 6-date Bobby & Phil Duo Tour with their first of two performances at New York’s iconic Radio City Music Hall.
Going into this performance, nobody was entirely sure what to expect. Would they play acoustic or electric? Would they invite out any special guests? What would the songs we know and love sound like played by just these two? The only other real basis for expectations was the pair’s Super VIP performance at LOCKN‘ last year, and that “very special hour” featured only two songs of just Bobby & Phil before Joe Russo and various others joined them for the remainder of that set, so this new project represented relatively uncharted waters.
Lesh and Weir began to answer those questions when they emerged for an “Uncle John’s Band” opener, with Weir on acoustic and Lesh on his go-to 6-string Alembic bass. They were joined by percussionist Wally Ingram, who would come and go from the stage throughout the night adding tastefully subtle rhythmic texture while keeping the focus on Bobby & Phil.
That focus on the two men in front would prove to be a theme of the performance, as it will no doubt be a theme of this brief tour. While Bobby spoke about “special guests” when originally announcing the shows, Ingram was the only other person to join him and Lesh on night one. And while rumors of heavy-hitting sit-ins were abundant pre-show, the response to the lack of guests on night one was overwhelmingly positive. Guests wouldn’t have felt right at this special performance. A deviation from the celebration of this pair’s decades-long musical partnership would have been out of place. On this night, all eyes were rightfully on Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. (That said, there’s always tonight…)
After taking a few minutes to get their footing during “Uncle John’s Band”, the two settled in on “Operator”, Phil’s noticeably stronger-than-usual vocals leading the way. After a brief moment of banter in which Weir mused about how “every one of these tunes means something different to each person,” Bobby led the duo through a slow-and-steady “Ramble On Rose”, the audience audibly singing along throughout.
After noting that “this next song has been really good to all of us,” the duo shared vocal duties on “Friend of the Devil”. Next, Bobby told a short story about the sounds he would hear from Pigpen‘s room when the late founding Grateful Dead member was entertaining his girlfriend. While the story itself didn’t amount to much, hearing Bob Weir do his best impression of Pig’s lady—a girl named Janis [Joplin]—(“Daddy! Daddy!”) proved to be one of the more amusing moments of the evening.
A beautiful “Bird Song” came next, with Phil handling the vocal duties impressively. That was followed by a rendition of “He’s Gone” which the two built methodically into an interesting, pulsing jam. Next, Phil pleaded, “Tell me a story, Bobby.” Weir acquiesced as he traded out his acoustic guitar for his Stratocaster, telling a story of a summer he spent writing on a ranch in Wyoming. He was having writer’s block and needed to find an inspirational vision, so he set off on a hike in the mountains. As he explained, “It came to me…I just don’t fuckin’ know what I’m looking for here. But I gotta keep at it.” As he finished, he made the connection between that aimless Wyoming hike and the “Lost Sailor”/”Saint of Circumstance” that followed to close the set (“Sure don’t know what I’m going for/Sure don’t know/But I’m gonna go for it for sure”).
The duo returned for their second set with “Loose Lucy”, with Bobby back on the acoustic to help thank the fans for a “real good time” all these years. “Peggy-O” followed and provided one of the night’s most memorable musical highlights, as Phil availed himself admirably on lead vocals and the two played off each other to emotionally moving effect.
After attempting and promptly aborting another story, the duo moved into “Me and My Uncle”. Next, Bobby once again strapped on his Strat as Phil led them through a bittersweet “Mountains of the Moon” which eventually fluttered into a well-received reprise of the “Bird Song” from set one. “Let It Grow” followed and featured some remnants of “Bird Song” in its winding jam before eventually moving into Bob Dylan‘s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and, finally, a set-closing “Not Fade Away” featuring a hot, impassioned blues jam.
Phil came back out first after the encore break for his usual Donor Rap, also taking time to speak about the recent shooting in Parkland, FL and encourage all those in attendance to register to vote and “vote the motherfuckers out,” an appeal which was met with thunderous applause. A “Box of Rain” encore sent the audience back into the damp New York chill.
With one show down, the Bobby & Phil duo tour has come further into focus. The two will get some rhythmic assistance from Wally Ingram, Weir will make use of both his acoustic and electric guitars, and Phil and Bob will trade lead vocal duties. As far as guests go, we’ll have to wait and see. But what was perhaps most surprising on night one–and thankfully so–was Weir and Lesh’s apparent mental approach to these shows.
Unlike other “special,” stripped-down, intimate runs like this, the stories and the banter were not the focal points (however hard they may have tried to work them in). They’re not just going through the motions for a campfire-style sing-along, where the actual musicianship is less important than the experience, the audience interactions, the simple fact that it’s happening. There was not a stool or a chair in sight for either one of them. To Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, these shows are not a novelty. They are taking the music of their duo show seriously. On night one, they came to play for real, and in doing so exceeded the musical expectations of many fans. It wasn’t perfect–but it was good, and they’re just getting started…
You can check out a selection of videos from the opening night of Bobby & Phil tour below:
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh – “Uncle John’s Band”
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh – “Operator”
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh – “Ramble On Rose”
[Video: Matt Frazier]
Bobby & Phil – “He’s Gone”
[Video: Matt Frazier]
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh – Banter, “Lost Sailor/Saint of Circumstance”
[Video: Matt Frazier]
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh – “Mountains of the Moon”
Bob Weir & Phil Lesh – “Not Fade Away”
Setlist: Bob Weir & Phil Lesh | Radio City Music Hall | New York, NY | 3/2/18
Set One: Uncle John’s Band, Operator, Ramble On Rose, Friend of the Devil, Bird Song, He’s Gone, Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance
Set Two: Loose Lucy, Peggy-O, Me and My Uncle, Mountains of the Moon > Bird Song (Reprise) > Let It Grow > A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall > Not Fade Away
Encore: Box of Rain
Bobby & Phil tour continues tonight with the second of two Radio City performances. You can see a full list of upcoming shows below. For more information, head to www.bobbyandphil.com.
Bob Weir And Phil Lesh Duo Upcoming Tour Dates
March 3 – New York, NY – Radio City Music Hall
March 7 – Boston, MA – Wang Theatre
March 8 – Boston, MA – Wang Theatre
March 10 – Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre
March 11 – Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre