Maximum Overdrive

Phil Lesh - Bob Dylan - Steven Wright

UIC Pavilion - Chicago

October 31, 1999

First Appeared in The Music Box, December 1999, Volume 6, #12

Written by John Metzger


Concerts that are held at UIC Pavilion always seem to have a little extra magic in the air. At first glance, there really isn't anything special about this place. It's a typical 10,000 seat sports arena. Yet many bands — including Phish, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler — have given some of their finest Chicago-area performances at the venue. Halloween also tends to send an extra jolt of electricity through both performer and audience, making a co-bill of Phil Lesh and Friends and Bob Dylan quite the treat.

Since undergoing a liver transplant in 1998, Lesh has performed a series of rather successful concerts, appearing regularly with an ever-changing line-up of musicians. Until a few days before the UIC Pavilion show, the former Grateful Dead bassist's regular sideman had been Steve Kimock, who for some unexplained reason left this tour after the first night. Taking his place is slide guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks, who remarkably held his own, given he had very little time to prepare. Rounding out the latest incarnation of the group were drummer John Molo, and two members of Little Feat — keyboardist Bill Payne and guitarist Paul Barrère.

All of Lesh's bands of friends have managed to defy logic. Put together, often with short notice, they have consistently managed to deliver dynamic sets full of tight-knit jams that wander through a myriad of open-ended excursions. It's the type of music that is more customarily performed by those who play together frequently and therefore fully comprehend each other's unique style and have established an unspoken code of musical communication. That Lesh has been able to pull this off with such regularity is a testament not only to his ability as a band leader but also to his special knack for selecting accomplished, talented, and truly gifted musicians with which to work.

In a set that spanned 105 minutes, Lesh and his ragtag group of melodious gypsies demonstrated to groove rock fans exactly how a true jam-band should interact and sound. A mere six songs were scattered through the set, and each served as a comfortable resting place between lengthy musical conversations. With amazing effect, the group seamlessly juxtaposed several of the Dead's earliest recorded material (St. Stephen, Mountains of the Moon, Viola Lee Blues, and Casey Jones) with songs by Little Feat (Fat Man in the Bathtub) and Phish (Wolfman's Brother).

Starting with a blank canvas, the band painted a musical portrait with an impressionist's eye for light and mood. Each song provided a new set of colors with which to work, and the band sampled freely from their painter's palette, combining and recombining the variegated hues of blues, jazz, and funk in an endlessly fascinating array of mottled motifs.

Lesh's set would have made for a satisfying evening, but this was not an ordinary concert. Sharing the stage was just about the only person who could possibly close out the show without bringing it to a screeching halt. That person, of course, is the legendary Bob Dylan, who just completed his blockbuster summer tour with Paul Simon.

Since rearranging the format for his concerts, which now open with a series of acoustic selections, the pacing of Dylan's performances has only improved. The acoustic set allows him and his band an opportunity to gradually warm-up, building in intensity and making a smooth transition into the electric half of the show.

Opening with I Am the Man Thomas, an old bluegrass song written by Ralph Stanley and Larry Sparks, the group leisurely rambled through classic Dylan selections like It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and Love Minus Zero/No Limit. By the time the band launched into Tangled Up in Blue, they had gelled considerably, allowing the intricate triple guitar attack of Dylan, Larry Campbell, and Charlie Sexton to draw the acoustic portion of the program to a rousing conclusion.

If this part of the set was intense, once the band plugged in they were truly formidable. The overpowering magnitude of the guitar trilogy turned All Along the Watchtower into a raging inferno worthy of Jimi Hendrix or Neil Young, and they shredded Highway 61 Revisited with the muscular grit of a Chicago blues band. Just as easily, the group turned songs like Simple Twist of Fate and Not Dark Yet into emotionally haunting snapshots of life.

Adding a surreal treat to the center of the show was none other than Steven Wright. His unique comedic perspective allows him to skewer common concepts and objects, turning them into hilarious one-line observations.


Of Further Interest...

Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind

Grateful Dead - Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 3: Summer '71

Phil Lesh & Friends - There and Back Again

Little Feat - Kickin' It at the Barn


Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!


Copyright © 1999 The Music Box