One of the great moments of crowd participation at Grateful Dead shows was when someone started up the chant. If enough people were on the ball, soon 20,000 would be calling out, over and over again, "Let Phil sing! Let Phil sing!" Jerry Garcia, 50 years old and not looking a day over 80, would acquiesce, stepping away and letting bassist Phil Lesh take over the mic. Maybe he'd sing "Box of Rain" or cover Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues."
But the Fat Man has died, and a great many of those chanters of yesteryear have traded in their Birkenstocks for loafers. Still, Phil answers the call -- this time fronting his own band, Phil Lesh and Friends, one of the numerous spinoff groups of the Band That Would Not Die.
Phil has put together a hippiesque Dream Team for his current Here Comes Sunshine Tour, which opens Friday at Sunrise Musical Theatre. The band includes former Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, ex- Aquarium Rescue Unit guitarist Jimmy Herring, former Bruce Hornsby drummer John Malo, and Zen Trickster keyboardist Rob Barraco.
If the set lists from Phil Lesh and Friends' recent Roam the West Tour are any indication, the band relies mostly on tunes the Dead covered often, such as "Not Fade Away" and "Turn on Your Lovelight," as opposed to songs penned by the team of Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. That said, Phil's renditions of Dead originals "Scarlet Begonias" and "The Eleven" were the definite highlights of that tour.
For musicians who rely so much on old faves, be they Dead, Beatles, or Allman Brothers, Phil Lesh and Friends put their own spin on each through exploratory improvisations and Lesh's throaty vocals. The prayers have been answered. They are letting Phil sing.