Warren Haynes took control Friday night at the 1stBank Center, captaining Phil Lesh’s carousel through a heavy rotation of syrupy jams. From the “Althea” opener through the “Morning Dew” closer, the four-hour show was rife with boogie.
While the penetrating Lesh controlled the tempo – running both “Althea” and a very rare “Estimated Prophet” a half-beat slower than usual – it was Haynes who commandeered the house Friday, leaving Jeff Chimenti to sparingly sprinkle his grand piano trinkets while John Scofield largely lounged in the side-stage shadows.
Lesh is a locomotive at 71, churning relentlessly through his old band’s vast catalogue with the vigor of a player a third his age. His gathering of hand-picked friends is simply laying his track.
But they take turns carrying the load. Scofield, whose jazzy riffs sometimes seem a poor fit with Haynes’ blues, worked a sideways jam into “Eyes Of The World” that seemed to steer Haynes away from his predictable crescendos.
Behind the scenes was Joe Russo, a drummer perfectly built for Lesh’s relentless groove. Handling triple-time rhythm that corralled sometimes as many as three guitarists, Russo’s dense drumming is a cascade that elevates every sound coming from the stage. It is everywhere, all the time, yet remains in the background, a sort of aural slight-of-hand that pushes Russo into the upper echelons of drumming.
Coming off as a casual get-together jam, Phil and Friends revealed the secret that they’ve been practicing – hard – during several moments Friday night. The stuttering vocals in “Mississippi Half Step” and the exquisitely lockstepped jamming into “Loose Lucy” showed a band that has been rehearsing.
Jackie Greene – the youthful presence on stage whose rudimentary guitar work sadly drowns Scofield’s more delicate, building approach – glowed vocally in “New Speedway Boogie.” A bleeding jam that built into a well received and perfectly pitched “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” again positioned Lesh as the maestro, breaking the chimerical tune down to zero before re-building it with his signature thunder. Scofield grabbed a sliver of the spotlight in “Low Spark,” coyly twisting Steve Winwood’s lyrics with his Stratocaster – where is Scofield’s semi-acoustic Ibanez? It is sorely missed – and delivering his creation to Haynes for a blues revision. Haynes took Scofield’s hand-off and sculpted a strong rendition of the late Tim Buckley’s “Gypsy Woman” inside “Low Spark,” marking the first time Phil and Friends has ever played the storied tune.
Sticking with Lesh’s fondness for tucking a classic rock cover inside his richest jams – Thursday it was the Who’s “Magic Bus” inside “Cryptical Envelopment” and “The Other One” – Greene conjured a compelling “I Am The Walrus” between two thematically different “Dark Star” renditions, building a sort of psychedelic sandwich of subdued jamming.
Eyes Of The World>
Mississippi Half Step>
Ball And Chain
She Said She Said>
New Speedway Boogie
Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys>
Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys
I Am The Walrus>
E: And We Bid You Good Night
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.