ALPHARETTA - The spirit of the ‘60s and the intrepidness of Deadheads will never seem to die out, at least for a certain segment of the population. Thousands of people fitting this mold made their way over to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park Sunday Oct. 5 for a co-headlining show from jam band stalwarts the Black Crowes and Phil Lesh and Friends.
The Crowes are making their way across America as part of their “Euphoria or Bust Tour,” but the stop in the north metro area was of particular significance as it served as a homecoming date for the band that got its start in the Atlanta area. Lead singer Chris Robinson proclaimed the night a “hometown extravaganza,” welcoming the band’s family and close friends to the show.
But while it was set as a local affair for the Crowes, the crowd was not partisan in the slightest. Numerous tie dyes depicting the famed Grateful Dead skulls and dancing bears were seen on audience members, who were no doubt there to see Phil (as most fans simply refer to him) jam along to a collection of Dead originals and covers, much like how he’s been doing since Jerry Garcia passed in 1995.
Phil Lesh and Friends has been a steadily-changing group over the years, with Lesh bringing in all kinds of noted musicians to tour with him. Past lineups have featured members of the Allman Brothers Band, Phish and Widespread Panic, but this version is certainly no slouch.
The star of the show (other than Lesh himself, of course), is Jackie Greene, a renowned solo singer and guitarist who offers up a soulful take on the numerous songs sung by Garcia. Rounding out the two-pronged guitar attack is Larry Campbell, better known as the axe-man to the stars, having also served in Bob Dylan’s and Levon Helm’s (of The Band) bands.
The band moved quickly through their nearly two hour show, with a set short on the number of songs, but very long in terms of jamming them out.
Two immediate highlights from the show are the take on the Dead’s “Sugaree” with Robinson joining in to sing and even play a little guitar. To close the set, the band rolled through the medley of “Help on the Way,” into the instrumental bridge known as “Slipknot!” before finishing it off with “Franklin’s Tower.” This medley was standard at many a Dead show, and was an absolute joy to see in person.
Following their encore break (how many opening acts are great enough to get one of these?), Lesh went into his trademark “Donor Rap,” where he tells people at the concert the importance of becoming an organ donor. Lesh has made it his personal crusade to inform people of the importance of donation, after he himself received a life-saving liver transplant a few years ago.
After the brief band introduction, fans were treated to one last song, the quintessential Lesh tune, “Box of Rain.” Perhaps the shortest ending to the night, but gave fans the chance to let their hero sing.
A prolonged set break led to an electrifying Black Crowes set. The band has gone through a slew of lineup changes over the years, but has always been flanked by the Robinson brothers, with Chris joined by his brother Rich on guitar and the occasional lead vocals.
This time they add to the mix one of the most adept slide guitar players around in Luther Dickinson, who has made a name for himself with his own group, the North Mississippi All Stars. Dickinson joined the band on their latest album, 2006’s “Warpaint” after former guitarist Marc Ford quit via fax.
Dickinson brings a scintillating electric blues sound to the band with his patented slide licks and finger picking. Rich is a pretty adept player in his own right, and it is certainly music to the ears when both bust out their slides on a song.
The Crowes have made a living fusing the hard rock of the ‘70s with the jam band sensibilities of the Dead or Allman Brothers. This was on full display when they rolled through the set, mixing in numerous covers and originals.
A slow start with “Move it on Down the Line” soon amped up and the energy didn’t stop until the final notes of the show.
In between the band delved into their catalogue to bring out some old classics, like the 1990 hit “Jealous Again,” which was immediately followed by maybe their signature song, the high energy cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.”
But the covers weren’t done, as the Crowes wear their influences on their sleeve by busting out renditions of Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo,” and the blues staple “44 Blues,” both sung by Rich. Fittingly enough, the night ended on a cover with the band giving its version of The Band’s “Night They Drove Dixie Down,” with Chris Robinson doing his best Levon Helm impersonation.
While both shows last weekend at the amphitheatre offered homecomings for the acts involved, each show was remarkably different from the other. The good times vibe of a country show with Alan Jackson gave way to the mellow jams of the Crowes and Phil Lesh and Friends, which just goes to show the tremendous variety of acts Atlanta has produced over all these years.