Phil Lesh and Friends - Live at the Warfield - San Francisco, CA - May 18 and 19, 2006

Offered here as a compilation on two CDs, Phil Lesh tributes the shows recorded at The Warfield in San Francisco, CA (May 18 and 19, 2006) to Lawrence “Ramrod” Shurtliff at the start of track one (“Shakedown Street), because “his love stood like a tree.” And so a recently deceased Grateful Dead roadie gets an ovation from a sea of fans, I mean family.
For anyone who would choose to shy away from a Phil and Friends or Ratdog show because, "Jerry isn't there, man," I say, your loss. The Grateful Dead (like the best bands) was about the music, at least for the most part, and while the emotions involved for those people who really lived the Dead lifestyle would be an obvious mountain to overcome, a spoonful of sugar really can help. Lesh it a tall stalk of cane sugar if I've laid eyes on one. Really, isn't it time to have a listen already? Guitarists Larry Campbell (also fiddle and vocals) and John Scofield nudge away at each other while pianist/organist/vocalist Rob Barraco pings between Greg Osby's sax work on "Shakedown Street." Acting as pillars, Lesh and drummer John Molo redirect "Shakedown Street" > "Mr. Charlie" under Joan Osborne's vocal croon. From "Shakedown's" party vibe directly into "Mr. Charlie's" blues, a true mark of those Grateful Dead roots and the reason I ever started paying attention to the Dead to begin with; you never know what style is coming at you! Phil Lesh always surrounds his bass bombs with entirely capable musicians. I mean, come on, John Scofield is on guitar can that go wrong? To Joan Osborne's credit, she sounds entirely better and more comfortable than the first time I saw her with The Dead back at Bonnaroo 2003, when she was completely new to the crew. I didn't know if she'd be sticking around, but it's good to hear her still in the fold. Other highlights from the first disc are "Cosmic Charlie" (always love that) and a "Scarlet Begonias" > "They Love each Other" > "Turn on Your Lovelight" suite. Closing out the disc is a requisite of Phil Lesh shows, his speech on becoming an organ donor, a practice he's picked up since being gifted by a new liver after a bout with cancer. Disc two is the heavyweight. Imagine being in a distant field somewhere, surrounded by family in the tens of thousands and the stage in front of you is pumping magic. Just when the mood you've been searching for all night finally settles into your being, a set like this second disc creeps in, right on time, and you don't want the swirling goose-bumped night to end. It goes "The Wheel" > "Dark Star" > "Morning Dew" > "I Know You Rider" before there's a break in the musical comps and improvisations for a breather, and then it rips again as "The Other One" > "Dark Star" > "The Other One" > "Box of Rain." While that's just a string of song titles, they basically speak for themselves. They're the kind of titles that suffice in making me all excited inside. Serving up that hometown crowd, Phil Lesh and Friends pulled out the fine silver. The bonus DVD includes a discussion between Lesh, Scofield and Osby regarding the segmented improvisational sections of jam-rock (heavy jams at the end, sometimes flowing into a new song) versus the more integrated and structured uses of improvisation in jazz. Also included are backstage vocal warm-ups with a little group meeting, a jam in the mode of jazz and video of "All Along the Watchtower" and "Passenger," neither of which are included in the CD material. Although no single song on here reaches at an hour in length (16:34 on "Scarlet Begonias"), Lesh comments that the reason the Grateful Dead started playing 45 minute songs is because of the idea that, "If we just keep going, something could happen." We all know something did happen and it's good to know that things are still happening, even over a decade after Jerry Garcia's death, one that seemingly could have ended the jam much too soon. - Jeremy Sanchez