Monday, April 15, 2019

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Phil & Phriends Part 1: 4/15/99

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the first Phil & Phriends Show from April '99. These were the first true coming together of the Grateful Dead and Phish worlds. For those of use who remember the show announcements, the importance can't be overstated, this was going to be monumental, Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell would head west to join Phil Lesh along with Steve Kimock and John Molo at The Fillmore in San Francisco. These were the hottest tickets around and even more exciting the shows outshine the immense hype.

They remain some of the best live music produced by either outfits illustrious careers and deserve a revisit on their twentieth birthday. (Part 2, Part 3)

Today we look at the opener: 4/15/99 

(Listen through or watch through the youtube link above)

Sometimes things take a minute to really sink in, not this show. Phil brought out his sons Graham and Brian (with Steve Kimock playing guitar) to sing "Hello Old Friends" before the curtain even rose, proving how happy he was to be back performing after his liver transplant in 1998. There had been a smattering of other Phil and Friends shows in the past but this run cemented Phil's post Dead career by using the songs as merely a template for the music to springboard off of...and if there was ever an example of this it was the 4/15/99 opener; "Viola Lee Blues".

There are so many highlights from this three night run RtBE will probably not get to them all, but the first stinkin' song is huge and contains so many musical paths; it is cosmic that THIS run is special from the first group notes. Apparently when Phil first met with Trey and Page it was their idea to dig waaaaay back into the early days of the Dead and play tunes like this one and "Cosmic Charlie". The group are completely locked in and can't contain themselves, this is music in the moment, these are generations meeting on equal turf and blowing it the fuck out.

After the first song it was all gravy, however it could be argued that this version propelled "Wolfman's Brother" into the top tier of Phish songs (along with it's Slip Stitch and Pass version) as it was the first song of the Vermont crews which Phil wanted to play on. Trey had previously made a tape of songs he sent to Phil pre-show. The band proved all songs were game and ended the set with what I believe was the first "calypso" inspired "Uncle John's Band" which would go on to become a highlight in the powerful Phil Lesh Quintet during upcoming tours. 

Even listening with a critical ear twenty years removed there are only some draw backs to this run, "Cosmic Charlie" never shuffles like it should, and if one set out of the these three shows is the weakest, the second set on this first night is it.

However, there are also glorious musical moments, such as the transitions from "Like A Rolling Stone's" killer jam seamlessly into "I Know You Rider" or the flow from the funky as hell Trey led "Shakedown Street" into a soaring version of the "The Wheel", the minor quibbles can be forgiven.

Here is where I will put a caveat, if you don't like Phil's style of singing these shows may not take on the legendary status they have achieved in the RtBE clubhouse. Sure there is enough music (as well as vocals from Trey and Page) but Phil is the main vocalist and his singing just fine for us, but he is clearly not for everyone.

The second Dylan cover of the evening "Mr. Tambourine Man" wraps up the successful first night. With the historic "Viola Lee Blues" opener setting the tone for the whole magical run something special was certainly in the air.       

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