Phil Lesh & Friends
Wed. July 9
The House of Blues, Myrtle Beach
Maybe it was the Alabama Theater a stone’s throw out the front door of the House of Blues, but last week, Phil Lesh & Friends morphed back to the early days of pedal steel-tinged Grateful Dead and decided they were a honky-tonk band. Coming out of the gates with “Good Morning, Little School Girl” and “Big River,” Lesh — dressed in a jean short, jean jacket “Canada tuxedo” — and band had the not-quite-sold-out but energetic crowd two-stepping early on.
After a rocking “Loose Lucy,” they showed the influence of guitarist Larry Campbell, who just finished up touring with The Band’s Levon Helm. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was an evening highlight, segueing excellently into a set-closing “Bertha” they were surely saving for their stop along the Carolina coast.
The last time I’d seen Lesh, he still had Jimmy Herring playing guitar and Rob Barraco on keys, both of whom have moved on to even bigger projects since (Widespread Panic and The Dead, respectively). Apart from John Molo on drums, the current lineup of Lesh, Campbell, Jackie Green (guitar, vocals), and Steve Molitz (keys, vocals) was new to me. Green is a Dylanesque songsmith in his own right and fits the Lesh mold perfectly. Since leaving electronic mind-f*ck band Particle, Molitz appears to have diversified his style. He fits well into a band that, in Myrtle Beach at least, played more swinging country songs than exploratory jams.
After a quick rendition of bluegrass standard “Sitting on Top of the World,” the second set dropped into a raging hot “Deal,” with Lesh, Campbell, and Green joining vocal forces for the “don’t you let that deal go down” refrain. After catching their breath, Molitz led a “Doin’ That Rag” that continued into “Mason’s Children,” and from there the music didn’t stop. Lesh finally showed off some of the bass moves (embellished by blue LEDs along his fretboard) we’d all come for in “Wharf Rat” and “Cosmic Charlie,” before Green led the band into “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.”
As the clock neared House of Blues curfew, the band found its way into “Midnight Hour,” arguably the best, most over-the-top jam of the night. The “Stella Blue” encore melted the crowd, and although I’d hoped they’d take us out on one more rousing country shuffle, it worked as a lingering, calming melody as we made our way into the unexpected pouring rain outside.