Today marks the ten year anniversary of three of the most significant concerts in psychedelic rock history. It was April 15th, 16th, and 17th, 1999 when Trey and Page stepped on stage at The Warfield with Phil Lesh, Steve Kimock, and John Molo for night one of the legendary Phil and Friends shows that united Phish and The Grateful Dead for the first time. Trey and Page started out covering Dead songs in college, yet spent most of the subsequent two decades carving out Phish’s musical identity while keeping comparisons to The Dead at arms reach. These shows represented a psychedelic homecoming for our two Phish heroes, both who revered the work of the San Francisco legends.
These three nights also represented the spark of Phil Lesh’s solo career in earnest, marking his first shows back from liver transplant surgery five months earlier. Although there had already been Further Festivals, The Other Ones, and a couple interesting Phil and Friends shows, many in the Dead community point to this three night run as the beginning of Phil’s return to prominence.
But more than anything, these shows marked the union of The Grateful Dead and the Phish scenes, two groups that didn’t always see eye to eye. Many in The Dead community grew bitter towards Phish and their scene, viewing them as watered-down imitators of their counter-culture gods. Additional segmentation occurred after Jerry died, as many Dead fans decided to turn to Phish, while others just turned a cold shoulder. It almost felt as if you had to have an allegiance to one band or the other- not both.
But then one night in 1998, everything changed. When Phish declared both their reverence for, and independence from, The Dead by covering “Terrapin Station” on the third anniversary of Jerry’s death, the door for this union swung open. Comfortable with their own place in music history, Phish no longer needed to shy away from the music and culture of their forebearers, And less than a year later we were at The Warfield.
As the rumor began to spread of these shows, it was hard to believe at first. Trey and Page were going to play three nights of Dead music at The Warfield with Phil?! A feeling of historical awe came with the notion, and the possibilities were endless. When the rumors were finally confirmed, the mission for tickets to this once in a lifetime event was on! Having scouted a Ticketmaster outlet and driven hours upon hours into the middle of nowhere in the central part of Northern California, our plan came to fruition as we were the as the second and third people in line at a grocery store in Yuba City. (A scalper was first. ) Leaving the store with tickets in hand to all three nights, the long drive back to Santa Cruz was one of the happiest road trips of our lives.
As the time leading up to these shows grew shorter and shorter, the question of what they would be like became the center of most conversation. With Steve Kimock, a Garcia prodigy who was known for his ability to channel the sound of his mentor, and Trey on stage together, one thing was for sure- it would be a showcase of virtuoso guitar work. But would the band gel? Would they jam coherently? Would it be intense? Sloppy? These questions swirled in both bands’ communities. Then there was the question I deemed absurd at the time- would they play Phish songs? “No chance!”, I thought- these were Phil’s gigs, we were just along for the ride. Regardless of anyone’s musical expectations- no matter how high- these three nights blew them straight out of the water.
With a sense of the historic implications, the inspriation that they represented to so many people, and ridiculous musical skills, the band created three nights of absolute, unadulterated magic. The band approached every hallowed piece from The Dead canon with similar reverence, drill-bit focus and desire to create something special- and each and every time, they did. Virtually every song over these three nights represented a sacred part of The Grateful Dead’s cultural wake, and the band members collectively treated each piece with full-on dedication; what resulted was simply remarkable. For three nights, Phil, Trey, Page, Kimock, and Molo captivated The Warfield audience beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, scripting a psychedelic fairy tale for the ages.
Stay tuned the rest of this week for the rest of a three-part series looking at these magnificent and powerful evenings! Coming Up: The Shows and The Aftermath.
“Wolfman’s -> Uncle John’s Band” 4.15 II
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.15.99 Phil & Friends @ The Warfield, SBD < LINK
4.15.99 Phil & Friends @ The Warfield, SBD < TORRENT LINK
Over the next three days I will be featuring 24-channel multitracked SBDs of these epic evenings at The Warfield. These are some of the most pristine recordings you’ll ever hear of three truly poignant and powerful evenings of music. Today we feature the first one. Before set one, Phil, his sons and Kimock on Strat sang “Hello Old Friend” (Eric Clapton) in front of the curtain to thunderous applause welcoming Phil back. Check out tomorrow’s post for an overview of the show. Fyi, “Viola Lee Blues,” and “Uncle John’s Band” are insane.
I: Viola Lee Blues, Big Railroad Blues, Jack-a-Roe, Cosmic Charlie, Wolfman’s Brother > Uncle John’s Band
II: Alabama Getaway, Sugaree, Like a Rolling Stone > I Know You Rider, Row Jimmy, Shakedown Street > The Wheel > Not Fade Away
E: Mr Tambourine Man