My expectations weren't that high going into the Phil & Friends show on Saturday night. I was a bit disappointed there would be no Ryan Adams appearance and wasn't that thrilled with the line-up he had pulled together - no real lead singer. Despite all that I was ready to hear some Grateful Dead music and to have an interesting cab ride home in a blizzard - which is always a good time.
The first set started off in typical P&F fashion with a warm-up jam that lead into China Cat -> Rider - which was sort of uninspiring. Scarlet with Phil singing wasn't winning me over much either. My mood started to change though as Barry Sless dropped his guitar and moved over to the pedal steel as Scarlet segued into The Wheel, this is when things really started clicking and the band found their groove. They nailed the rest of the country/americana tinged set. Ryan Adams Let It Ride off of Cold Roses fit in nicely and might have been the highlight of the set, until they absolutely nailed Cumberland Blues - a song that may be my favorite of the Workingman's/American Beauty era Dead. The UJB closer put the cap on what ended up being a stellar first set.
As an empty microphone stand on stage went unused in the first set a roadie brought out another guitar during the break and we knew Phil had something up his sleeve for set two. Well as the lights went down the familiar (and a bit slimed down) Warren Haynes made his way to the stage. Probably the easiest of guests to predict to be sitting in during this run, but always a welcomed sight. Set two had more old school P&F show feel - meaning it was much more jammy. Where as Phil was calling the shots in the first set, Warren was at the helm in the second. Set two opened with Shakedown which eventually moved into Viola Lee Blues - the jam vehicle for the set. This set had a more blues-y feel and saw Joan take center stage a couple of times while channeling her best Janis & Pigpen with some great blues raps during Hard To Handle & Caution. Have to admit I was quite impressed with her performance throughout the night especially during these songs. The band weaved in and out of Viola Lee and eventually leading into a sped up version of Bertha. Set finished out with Fire On The Mountain & Not Fade Away which is always the crowd pleaser.
Coming back out for the encore they busted out Strawberry Fields Forever - the venue's proximity to the Dakota certainly made it a fitting selection, plus the Dead always loved playing Beatles tunes too. Warren nailed Comes A Time which has become a love letter to Jerry and they closed out the night with the psychedelic freak-out of The Golden Road leaving us all to head out into the blizzard of '06 with perma-grins on are faces.
Here's the setlist in case you're keeping score at home....
Set I: Jam > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Scarlet Begonias > The Wheel> Let It Ride, Cumberland Blues, Uncle John's Band
Set II: Shakedown Street > Viola Lee Blues > Hard to Handle > Viola Lee Blues > Bertha > Bartering Lines > Caution > Fire on the Mountain, Not Fade Away
Enc: Strawberry Fields Forever > Comes A Time > The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)