Phil Lesh celebrated his 83rd birthday on Wednesday with the opening show of a four-night stand at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. Bookending the run with important milestones, the octogenarian founding member of the Grateful Dead will mark another on Sunday night when he plays his 100th show at the famed rock palace since its reopening in 2012.
Their eighth show together since October, this familiar group of friends—Goose’s Rick Mitarotonda, John Medeski, John Molo, Grahame Lesh, and the Trey Anastasio Band horns (James Casey, Natalie Cressman, and Jennifer Hartswick)—is gaining some traction as a fan-favorite and would demonstrate their mastery of the Grateful Dead’s prized catalog both early and often.
Rick Mitarotonda, one of Phil’s favored friends as of late who returned to the Cap’s stage just days after his own band’s five-night Cap Theatre takeover last week, would take the evening’s first vocal lead on the set-opening “Help On The Way”. A usual “Slipknot!” pairing took an unexpected turn into “Cumberland Blues” as the band flexed its improvisational chops behind the beautiful interplay of the TAB horn section. Trading vocals by the verse, when the birthday boy’s number was finally called for his first lead, he was joined in love and harmony by a sold-out capacity crowd of 1,800-strong.
Phil Lesh & Friends – “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” [Pro-Shot] – 3/15/23
Mitarotonda still at the vocal helm, a relatively terse “Dire Wolf” gave way to “Scarlet Begonias” as the interplay between him and Medeski on stage right gave the band the framework behind which to stretch the tunes and find wonder in the unknown. James Casey, who also released a single yesterday ahead of his upcoming first full-length album New Bloom, left the room with jaws agape as he channeled the spirit and inspiration from his ongoing fight against colon cancer with a stunning lead vocal on “Fire On The Mountain” before Goose’s guitarist cranked the pace to a flaming finish.
Keeping the energy high, the ensemble finally closed the loop on the traditional end to the “Help” > “Slip” it started an hour earlier as nearly everyone on stage took a verse in a bombshell set-closing finale of “Franklin’s Tower”.
Returning after a lengthy break, Phil and company launched an expansive combo of “Not Fade Away” > “Playing In The Band” that got the second set’s festivities underway with some very satisfying improvisation as the band once again seemed to take comfort in the unfamiliar. As soon as the octet regrouped and gathered itself 30 minutes later, the familiar notes of “St. Stephen” would then send the crowd into a climactic tizzy as the birthday boy admirably took lead vocal duties.
Phil Lesh & Friends – “Not Fade Away” (The Crickets) [Pro-Shot] – 3/15/23
“St. Stephen” would prove to be the first in an uninterrupted hour-long combination that gave way to “The Other One” > Crosby, Stills & Nash‘s “Long Time Gone” > “The Wheel” > “ Let It Grow” as the second set chugged and churned through hard-hitting favorites, hair-raising singalongs, and extemporaneous spontaneity to its glorious conclusion.
Returning from a brief encore break on the far side of the midnight hour, Phil’s traditional donor rap was lovingly interrupted by a countdown projected on the domed ceiling that cued the sold-out crowd into the beginning of “Happy Birthday” while Capitol Theatre owner Peter Shapiro and a human-sized squirrel presented Lesh with a cake and “I Know You Rider” brought the night to a celebratory close.
Phil returns Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for his 98th, 99th, and milestone 100th shows at the Cap with (mostly) the same group of friends apart from Natalie Cressman and Jennifer Hartswick who will be replaced by Nicki Bluhm and Katie Jacoby. Tickets are on sale here. See below for a collection of photos courtesy of Charlie Jenkins as well as some fan-shot videos.
Phil Lesh & Friends – “Dire Wolf” – 3/15/23
[Video: Dean Novin]
Phil Lesh & Friends – “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” – 3/15/23
[Video: Dean Novin]
Phil Lesh & Friends – “Franklin’s Tower” – 3/15/23
[Video: Marc Komito]
Phil Lesh & Friends – The Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, NY – 3/15/23 – Full Audio
Setlist: Phil Lesh & Friends | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 3/15/23
Set One: Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Cumberland Blues, Dire Wolf, Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, Franklin’s Tower
Set Two; Not Fade Away, Playing In The Band, St. Stephen > Other One > Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills, & Nash) > The Wheel > Let It Grow
Encore: Phil’s Donor Rap, Happy Birthday, I Know You Rider (Traditional)