I went to see the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh last year at the Brooklyn Bowl in Greenwich, part of the O2 complex which was formally the Millennium Dome. I’d bought the ticket ages ago, when we went on holiday in April but at the time I wasn’t sure about the gig which was why I only bought a ticket for the second night. Now don’t get me wrong as bassist for the Dead I love Phil’s work – he’s probably one of the best rock bassists around. However since the passing of Jerry Garcia in 1995 Phil has been playing with his friends and I’ve not had as much interest in his stuff as I’ve had in Bob Weir’s Ratdog. The main reason for this was, and still is, Phil’s singing! It can be bloody painful at times!
Still he was a member of the Grateful Dead and we moan about how infrequently they’ve played over here so I felt I had to go.
Then of course there was the second problem! When I bought the ticket our house wasn’t even on the market! Since then it’s all changed and we are moving next week so I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to go. Until Sarah asked if I minded if she went out for a meal with her former work colleagues one night this week and quick as a flash I said As long as I can go out on Tuesday. Which was silly as the gig was tonight (Wednesday!) Still I got here and that’s the main thing!
I knew some friends were meeting up in a local pub so once I’d parked my car and got changed in the car park I headed off to find them. I had planned to put a tie-dye Dead shirt on but in the end decided to stick with my Grateful Dead Hour t-shirt. This turned out to be a mistake as one of my friends was wearing exactly the same t-shirt! Still never mind. The pub was a nightmare to find anyone in as it was rambling both inside and out. I did eventually find them and sat and had a pint with them. They decided to set off to the venue as they were taping and wanted to get in early to nab the best spot. As other friends had turned up by then I stayed on and chatted till we set off to go to the venue.
We walked through the park as the sun was starting to sink in the sky and eventually reached the front door of the O2. The actual venue was right round the far side so we had to walk for ages to get there. We were a little disconcerted to see security with sniffer dogs on the concourse but can only assume they were looking for explosives! We did eventually get into the venue which is a bowling alley with a stage at the other end of the room. I saw lots of people I knew in there but as usual I sloped off to watch the band on my own. This is what I prefer to do – during the support band the same person told me four times how much he liked them!
Phil’s band tonight weren’t the Friends he usually plays with. In stead they were the house band from Phil’s club in San Rafael, California – Terrapin Crossroads and included his son Grahame on guitar. The rest of the line up was
Grahame Lesh (guitar/vocals)
Ross James (guitar/vocals)
Phil Lesh (bass/vocals)
Alex Koford (drums/vocals)
Jordan Levine (drums)
Emily Sunderland (vocals)
Scott Padden (keyboards)
The gig got off to a great start with the opening jam turning quickly into Uncle John’s Band. Even Phil’s singing didn’t seem too bad! This was followed by West LA Fadeaway sung in part by part time vocalist Emily Sunderland (great name!). The next song was a Wings cover! Let me roll it, followed by a song from guitarist Ross James. Briefly back to the Dead for a favourite of mine Ramble on Rose before going off again for the Band’s the shape I’m in and then a Grahame Lesh song. I was starting to get a bit restless, after all you don’t go to see a member of the Grateful Dead to hear them play cover versions all night! (Well unless they were the one’s the Dead were famous for!) The next song was, would you believe it, a Fleetwood Mac cover – Gold Dust Woman. This would have compounded my feelings if it hadn’t been such a good version with Emily Sunderland belting out the vocals.
The gig really took off at this point and as she left the stage at the end of the song the familiar riff of Viola Lee Blues rang out. Then a strange thing happened, after the first verse they changed tack and launched into Friend of the Devil. I was thinking it was strange that they’d only done one verse of Viola but the answer came when at the end of FotD they sang the second verse. There was then a very obvious jam that I knew exactly where it was going and sure enough the opening bass riff of the Other One rang out. Phil standing there playing it only a few feet away from me. That moment made the night for me. During the second verse a strange thing happened. Phil sand the first two lines but was the interrupted by a guitar solo from his son! He returned to finish the verse once the solo was over!
The band then finished up Viola before Emily Sunderland came back on to finish off the set with Sugaree. The band went off and didn’t return for what seemed like an age. This was unfortunate as a lot of people had to leave to catch the last tube to get home. When the band did come back on Phil was carrying a bucket of red roses and he went to the microphone to announce that his son had chosen the trip to Europe to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Champagne was opened on the stage and they all toasted the happy couple.
The encore itself was stella. The first song(s) I ever saw the Dead play was the wonderful Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower so it seemed fitting that this show should end this way, albeit with a Ross James song called El Paso dropped in there somewhere!
Afterwards I wandered back out of the venue and headed back to get my car from the car park. It had been a good night – better, I’m told, than the previous night. It was the last gig I’d go to while living in the South and I had finally got to go to the Dome even though it had taken me over 14 years to do it! I hope Phil comes back soon and hopefully he’ll bring Furthur with him next time – but we always say that don’t we!
Set List from Grahame Lesh’s website
Uncle John’s Band – All
West LA Fadeaway – RJ/ES
Let Me Roll It (Paul McCartney cover) – AK
California Skies (RJ original) – RJ
Ramble On Rose – AK
The Shape I’m In (The Band cover) – RJ
Turnaround (GL/Midnight North original) – GL
Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac cover) – ES >
Viola Lee Blues – All >
Friend Of The Devil – PL >
Viola Lee Blues – All >
The Other One – PL >
Viola Lee Blues – All
Sugaree – ES
Help On The Way – GL >
El Paso (RJ original) – RJ >
Franklin’s Tower – PL
If you haven’t bought your tickets yet – why not?
Best album I’ve heard in ages!
I went to see them perfom it live at the Union Chapel a few weeks agoI was really excited about it – in fact I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about going to a gig – possibly Sproatly Smith last summer or even Ratdog back in 2002! I’m pacing around all afternoon willing it to be time to leave which is partly the problem as I’m taking Sarah to her mum’s first.
While we were away last year we left Lissi and Ben with Sarah’s mum and they went to a curry and quiz evening at Sarah’s mum’s church and really enjoyed it! So we said that we’d like to go sometime but unfortunately the next one was this evening so I’m taking Sarah over to her mum’s and catching the train up to London. In an ideal world we’d have gone over early this afternoon but of course Lissi is at work until 4:30 so we can’t leave till then making it a really tight thing to get to the gig in time, It’s further hampered by the fact that we have to pick Bex up from Caterham station on the way!
So the whole getting to the gig on time is based on split second timing and any delay could end in disaster – I’m already resigned to the fact I might miss the support act but a major delay could mean missing part of Current 93 which I obviously don’t want to do! So off we set and the first part goes ok we’re at the carpark in time to pick up Lissi and to my surprise we sail round the M25 despite the awful weather and arrive at Caterham early so we had to park up and wait for Bex whose train is apparently delayed by 5 minutes. We do however find her and set off to Sarah’s Mum’s house. We get there at 5:50 and I empty the car and dash to the loo because I know I’ve only got 25 miutes to get to Coulsdon South station, park the car, buy a ticket and get on the train – if I miss it I’d have to wait another 30 minutes or go via London Bridge and catch a tube to Highbury & Islington.
I had planned to go to Whytecliff station but the floods around that area made us nervous and while I was looking at train times I discovered I could get a train from Coulsdon to New Cross gate and then catch a train all the way to Highbury and possibly shave about 25 minutes off the journey time so that becomes my plan! I find the station ok but it’s wet and freezing and making the ticket machine work becomes difficult – I also struggle to remember my registration number for the car park ticket. Eventually I get the tickets and dash back to the car to put the parking ticket in. I get to the station just as a train pulls out but thankfully it’s not mine. There end up being delays on the way to New Cross but luckily I can see from the National Rail App that the Highbury train is also late which is just as well and I discover I only have 1 minute to get over the bridge to platform 5. Luckily I make the train and things are looking good. One classic moment on the train is when this woman gets on and goes to sit in the chair next to me but clocks me first and then decides to sit opposite!
Personally I can’t see what is wrong with the way I’m dressed! I’ve got my black trousers on with the shirt I bought off eBay for £1.65 and a black waistcoat. I’m also wearing my tweed jacket, my orange scarf I got off Gillingham market for a quid and my black hat. My moustache is tweaked (but not waxed) into a naissant handlebar above the pointy grey beard! As I’m standing outside the Union Chapel queuing to get in the man behind me admires my hat and then follows it up with “the beard is cool too” – I tell him the story of the lady on the train and as I do the girl that is with him turns and says “oh I like your scarf and hat”. He said I just said that so I pointed out that he said scarf and beard to which he replies it’s all cool oh and the jacket as well! I think I’m happier to take the opinion expressed by someone going to see the same gig as me to one unspoken by some boring old bag on the train!
Eventually I get in after having my ticket scanned – they didn’t ask to see ID but it’s probably just as well or we’d never all get in on time. I walk into the main arena and look round to see if I can see my friend David but I can’t. I dash to the loo and then go to the merchandise stand where I buy the new album on vinyl and a t-shirt. As I’m standing waiting I look up just in time to see Jim Hill from Hand of Stabs turn and disappear into the crowd – shame it’d have been good to say hello. I wander back down to the front and find myself a pew three rows from the front but off to one side – the centre block is full but curiously these seats were empty. My bum has barely hit the seat when the lights go down and the support act MacGillvray came on stage. I really enjoyed her brief 35 minute set which involved her singing and playing either the autoharp or piano. At the end of her set she set up a backing loop rather like You are Wolf does and when she finished singing walked off stage with the loop still running which faded out after a few minutes.
What happened next was totally unexpected – I wasn’t really paying much attention but suddenly realised that someone was speaking from the stage and my ears tuned in just after the words “hasn’t appeared on stage for 35 years” and just in time to hear the words Shirley Collins! At that point my brain was working things out backwards and it came to the conclusion that he had said what I thought he said and onto the stage walked the 78 year old folk legend! She sang two songs accompanied by Ian Kearey from the Oyster band on what looked like a mandolin for the first song and a guitar for the second. She announced that she wouldn’t have done this for anyone else but David Tibet and he mentioned later that he’d been trying to get her to do it since he first met her in 1994! She sang All the Pretty Little Horses and Death and the Lady which she stumbled over the lyrics on but soon got back on track. Unfortunately I can’t really see her as my view is blocked by Kearney but she sounds wonderful for her age. At the end of the second song she takes a bow and then sits down again and introduces Current 93.
The band come onto stage and start moving stuff round so it’s about 5 minutes or so before they start to play. The plan tonight as we all know is to play the new album in it’s entirety and so as the opening notes that had been put on the Coptic Cat website start to ring out Tibet enters to a round of applause just in time to start singing. I’m am totally mesmerised for the next 80 minutes or so. I recognise some of the band – there’s a couple of Comus members Bobbie Watson and Jon Seagroatt and although it’s been 35 years since I last saw him I’m guessing that is Tony McPhee of Groundhogs fame playing guitar on the other side of the stage. There’s a hurdy gurdy and out of sight to me behind the piano there’s a theremin too by the sounds of things. David Tibet is front of stage barefoot and wearing what looks almost like a ill fitting tweed suit and hat recites and sings the words into the microphone whilst directing the band or dancing around the stage. Sometimes he goes and sits on the monitors and at another he bends down to kiss someone! The songs run into each other and it’s about 5 songs in before the audience get a chance to clap!
A little way into the gig I start to pick up on a disturbance behind me. There’s someone who keeps either laughing or randomly clapping or talking loudly. I can’t work out is he is drunk or has tourettes! It seems to get worse the longer the show goes on but thankfully not too bad to take away from the music unfolding on the stage. However at one point someone finally snapped and I could hear him shouting “shut the fuck up” but it didn’t seem to make any difference. I couldn’t understand what the guys problem was – maybe he wasn’t expecting what he got. In some ways it reminded me of the guy at the Neil Young Greendale show who kept clapping and we could never work out if it was a slow handclap or he was just clapping hopelessly out of time – could even have been the same bloke. I guess it serves to remind me why I prefer to go to gigs on my own because if I’d been with the twat I’d have either hit him or moved to somewhere else in the auditorium. At the end he was shouting for us all to stand up and then as the lights came on he started shouting you’re all c*nts – well takes one …….
One of the things I wondered about was if they would play anything other than the new album and when they’d finished playing it they all went off stage. I could see from Bobbie Watson’s music stand that there were still lyrics on show but they were gone ages. It seemed really weird that they didn’t come back nor did the lights come back on! It got to the point where even the most ardent of clappers were starting to get bored. Eventually they did come back and Tibet proceeded to thank everyone expressing how happy he was to have Shirley Collins here and the same went for Tony McPhee who he said was a childhood hero. By the time he turned to introduce the pair from Comus he just said “don’t even get me started on my Comus obsession!” The band then proceeded to play about 4 or 5 more songs which to my surprise included two songs I actually knew – Black Ships ate the Sky and Lucifer over London. They finally finished with an old Groundhogs song during which Tibet left the stage after he’d finished singing and left McPhee and the band to finish the night just short of the 10:30 curfew. Incredible was the only word for it.
Afterwards I decided to go and stand outside to see if I could find my friend – I didn’t but I did meet the man from the queue again. It was freezing so I decided to pop back in and look for him and go to the loo before the journey home. As I had been wandering round I saw two people with really cool waxed moustaches which made mine feel like a bit half hearted but at least I knew what I was aiming for – wonder if I’ll ever get there! I have to say that it’s probably the best dressed I’ve ever been for a gig! I did stop short of the pocket watch because I knew I’d be coming home on the tube late at night and didn’t want to take the chance of losing my 50th birthday present from Sarah. I did manage to get a poster off the wall in the foyer – I was about to grab it when I spotted a bouncer so I asked if it was ok and he said yes! When I got it home it turned out to be for the Glastonbury show which is cool! I’d forgotten how difficult it is to carry a 12′ vinyl record under your arm – I must have carried load home over the years but tonight it felt really awkward! It was especially so on the tube which was quite crowded!
I caught the tube down to Victoria station and then tried to find the right train on the departure board – which I did and found it left at 23:10 from platform 16. I was standing there contemplating getting something to eat or drink as I hadn’t had anything since I left home when I suddenly looked at the clock and realised that the train left in 6 minutes and that platform 16 was one of the ones right down the other end of the station so I had to dash down to get on the train. Otherwise I’d have had to wait another 30 minutes for the last train and I really didn’t fancy that no matter how hungry and thirsty I was!
Once back at Coulsdon South I found the car and jumped in after putting my record safely in the boot. I took my hat off and fastened my seat belt, started the engine and put the lights on – I was sure there was something else but couldn’t think what it was until I got to the first roundabout and remembered I should have put the Sat Nav on! I ended up going the wrong way and disappearing into Coulsdon so I had to pull up and set the thing and then go round this huge triangle to get back where I started from! Eventually I got back to Sarah’s mum’s but didn’t find anywhere open to get milk as I’d been asked. Still I had a cup of tea and some toast and a glass of red wine before Sarah and I went to bed – I slept like a log!
Available from David Tibet’s website
The SoL party is now in it’s eighth year and we’ve got another brilliant line up for you this year!!
Syd Arthur at SoL 7 – 26th July 2013