Dueling Kits and Keys: Phil Lesh Closes Out 84th Birthday Celebration with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (A Gallery + Recap)

March 17, 2024
Dueling Kits and Keys: Phil Lesh Closes Out 84th Birthday Celebration with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (A Gallery + Recap)

Dueling kits and keys were at the forefront of Phil Lesh & Friends’ final moments at The Capitol Theatre last night in Port Chester, N.Y. Steeped in collaboration, the Grateful Dead bassist began his five-part stand at the storied venue on March 4 and 6, appearing with his “Q” lineup for the first time since 2021. The frontman’s Friends lineup reemerged on March 13, adding chapters to his Capitol Theatre history over the weekend. 

After closing out his official birthday celebration on Friday, March 15, Lesh and his band of seasoned support returned on Saturday for one final show, which included Joe Russo’s Almost Dead members: Joe Russo, Scott Metzger, Tom Hamilton, and Marco Benevento. Prior to the arrival of the Dead adjacent project, Lesh welcomed Daniel Donato once again. The cosmic country guitarist remained the entirety of the night, adding riffs alongside fellow guitarists and assisting in the night’s big band feel up until the encore. 

Sticking with Grateful Dead classics, Lesh pulled prominently from the beloved repertoire of San Francisco music, beginning with the Workingman’s Dead favorite, “Dire Wolf,” which peaked with the crooned plead of “Don’t murder me.” From the timbers of Fennario, the band headed South, shifting the tempo with the arrival of “Cumberland Blues.” Next, they added the year’s first “Cold Rain and Snow” before pivoting into Bob Dylan’s intricate “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” 

Reaching into the American Beauty ether, Lesh plucked “Candyman” before a lively first set closeout, which spawned from “Jack Straw.” The band of Friends, comprised of veteran players Jason Crosby, Amy Helm, Grahame Lesh, John Molo, and Donato, proclaimed, “I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be,” igniting The Crickets original, turned Grateful Dead staple cover, “Not Fade Away.” Rather than deliver the number in full, they ricocheted into instrumentals that conjured up fan favorite “Dark Star” before returning to “Not Fade Away” and, eventually, the second verse of the typically extended Live/Dead cut. 

Moving into an emotive classic, Lesh dusted off “Morning Dew” for the first time since Dec. 28, 2022, when Phil & Friends played The Warfield in San Francisco, and stuck with the motif during the follow-up. “Samson and Delilah,” representing another bust out, last played on May 18, 2021. For the final song of the later frame, Lesh & Friends went with “Uncle John’s Band,” unleashing excitement from the sold-out crowd, which sang back the Garcia/ Robert Hunter-penned lyrics. 

No lack of energy went into the night’s encore, which saw an unexpected lineup shift with the arrival of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead members, sans Dave Drewitz, whose bass role was covered by Lesh. To start the segment, the totality of players, minus Donato, dipped into “Truckin,” propelled by double keys and drums. They kept the momentum going into “Touch of Grey.” For the finale, the group focused all their might on “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” which bled into sister tune/ the return of “Not Fade Away,” which sent a subliminal message the audience scorned into the repetitive “Love’s real, not fade away.” 

To commemorate last night’s team-up, check out limited-edition PhilRAD merch, including a T-shirt and two posters designed by Darryl Norsen. Items are available for pre-order now, including a limited-edition foil poster, edition of 84! Shop now on relixmarketplace.com.

Scroll down to view photos courtesy of Andrew Blackstein.

Phil Lesh & Friends 

Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, N.Y.

March 16, 2024

Set I: Dire Wolf, Cumberland Blues, Cold Rain and Snow, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Candyman, Jack Straw 

Set II: Lose, Not Fade Away > Dark Star > Not Fade Away > Morning Dew, Samson and Delilah, Uncle John’s Band 

Enc.: Truckin+, Touch of Grey+, Going Down the Road Feelin Bad+ > Not Fade Away Reprise+


+ With Joe Russo’s Almost Dead 

Setlist via setlist.FM.