052716 Phil & Friends, Port Chester, NY

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Anyone who has read a handful of these dispatches knows that I have a thing for Phil Lesh’s bass playing.  His unique style invariably invigorates me and is one of the main reasons why I covet the low end of any rock band.  Phil Lesh opened my eyes to the possibilities of rock bass and I’ll forever cherish him for that.  It’s a total bonus that he retains his astonishing skills even into his late seventies.

If one has delved a bit deeper into these paragraphs they would also know that the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York is one of my favourite venues in North America, so you’d think this Phil & Friends show at the Cap on May 27th, 2016 would be a slam dunk, right?

Nope.  Warren Haynes was there.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Despite the dozens of times I’ve slagged him in these ticket stories and the countless times I’ve explained how the young Derek Trucks just buried the big man every time they stood together on an Allman Brothers stage I think Warren is a really solid guitar player and a good blues singer taboot.  

But you know what?  Warren Haynes ruins the Grateful Dead.

He was great with the Southern rock beer-swilling sound of the Allmans and the grindy-blues of his own Gov’t Mule, and it’s usually a treat when he sits in with…well, everybody (I do appreciate a player who gets out and around and Warren Haynes definitely gets out and around).  But when it comes to the soft-psychedelic poignancy of the music of the Grateful Dead, having a gravel-voiced giant who plays vicious blues leads with his head down and his volume up just does not fit the bill.

It certainly didn’t at this show, that’s for sure.

Which is really too bad.  There was a great lineup onstage with Phil, including Eric Krasno and John Medeski.  All the players were looking around at each other, watching for cues and clues to help them through their improvised journey.  Meanwhile Warren kept his eyes on his feet the whole time.  I suppose he had to; his feet were so busy dancing on effects pedals making his sound progressively louder and more aggressive I guess that he felt like he should pay attention to them.

I ended up getting pretty angry at the guy.  His guitar playing was so loud I couldn’t even hear Phil Lesh.  I checked my ticket; nope, it distinctly did not read Warren Haynes & Friends.

When the band first hit the stage the crowd cheered and surged.  Midway through the first set the energy level had dropped considerably.  By the second set the crowd just stood there; everyone could tell that something was amiss.  I wonder how many realized it was Warren’s overplaying and under-interacting that was throwing things off?  People in the jam scene love Warren Haynes so much.  I’m sure many walked out of the show raving about his playing but thinking the band just had an off night.

And maybe they did have an off night.  If so it probably started when everyone onstage thought, “why is Warren Haynes ignoring me?”

Luckily I only had tickets to this single show in the run.

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