Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby ugly rumor » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:41 am

willmusic wrote:
bodiddley wrote:Then you could argue there is no good or bad in the world either...only stuff that happens because it's supposed to. And I would say that's a crock of new age, mumbo jumbo also. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I know a bad show, song, solo, or note when I hear one.



I see both sides on this, and I respect everyone's views, but I have to agree w/ bodiddley on this one. I used to follow the "there are no mistakes" philosophy in regards to both life and music, then I stopped eating acid 8 times a month. I just can't go w/ crapping through the speakers and leaving it open to interpretation. Why should we even bother learning to play proficiently if we can just sound like "Bleh!" and explain it away w/ philosophy? Hope I'm not outta line by saying this, just my 2 pennies. Peace!


And there's the key! I'm not saying that there is no good or bad (although, regarding the world, you certainly cannot take the ingredients of a cake, put them together in such a way thjat you have a cake, and then complain because you have a cake!), nor that there are no mistakes. If you were to listen to John Cage's "Four Walls", you would understand my point. I doubt you'd listen to it twice. And certainly without talent and a deep understanding of music, there would be nothing there that most people would want to hear. I certainly know when I reach for an objective and fail, musically. But I have way more respect for the musicianship of Phil Lesh and Jerry, Billy, Mickey, Brent, Keith, Tom, etc., than to give them disrespect by saying that they don't know what they're doing. I met Phil once in Philadelphia...he signed my bass at that time... and we had just this conversation. He said "You get it! You get it!" and my head popped up to about double. Do I always like everything they (collectively and individually) do? Of course not. Do I always like Miles or Coltrane? They were aquired tastes. Phil's background and stated influences are Stockhausen, Berio, and other avante-garde musicians. In my search to understand Phil's playing, I researched this music fairly extensively. (I would be glad to make copies, as it was VERY difficult to find, for anyone who wants them.) I don't think that without understanding his roots, you can understand how he became the most innovative and creative bassist ever. Do I like THAT music? That taste is as yet unaquired! I have aspired to understand Phil and carry the torch. Not BE him, but understand his approach and make it work.

I quit acid in 1977, so that can't be it! My approach to playing and to music goes unappreciated by those who don't understand it, and that includes Dead cover bands, partly because I lose some in proficiency. Phil doesn't have that problem. He plays more than I do, and always with that
approach. I hope I am becoming clearer!

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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Tue Mar 09, 2010 11:46 am

Cake is a good example - there are lots of different qualities of cake, all made by the same ingredients, and even by the same baker, yet the outcome is infinitely variable in quality.


As far as other music:

I got lucky in that I had a good education in 50's/60's avant garde composers long before I started to seriously study Phil.

Cage to me is far more important as a musical philosopher than as a musician or composer. He crossed over ideas from abstract art into music and made people think about music and sound in new ways. Exactly the kind of heady stuff that Phil loves.

Stockhausen was innovative in that he made music by splicing tape very early on. It's not very listenable and rather quaint by today's standards IMHO, but again I can see why Phil liked it at the time. Technology mixed with music for the first time, a precursor of things to come.

Shoenberg should not be overlooked as well... he only gets a passing mention in most discussions of Phil but he and his followers wrote very cool 12-tone music - music specifically and mathematically designed to avoid establishing a tonal center. Personally I prefer it at it's most basic level, and not as much when they started attempting to integrate a vertical approach - but I applaud the attempt as a very interesting approach to music.

I love Trane and Miles, especially Trane with his classic quartet. I'll never get tired of them. Unlike the above composers, they made music that was fun to listen to! And that is where the avant-garde artists and composers break from my worldview.

If you hold all music and art to be equal you devalue true greatness. The Dead IMHO represent true greatness, which is why we're still talking about them today - but not to the point that every note they ever played was great, or equal.
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby tigerstrat » Tue Mar 09, 2010 1:40 pm

I say that anyone can have an off night. Check out set II of http://www.archive.org/details/gd78-04-07.sbd.connor.10208.sbeok.shnf, esp. Jack Straw, Good Lovin, Terrapin...
Last edited by tigerstrat on Tue Mar 09, 2010 2:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby willmusic » Tue Mar 09, 2010 2:05 pm

Not the worst but?.... Sounds like the Jack Straw we played a couple weeks ago. Unlike the Dead though, we only had a couple handfulls of folks out to see it.
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby ugly rumor » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:26 pm

Rusty the Scoob wrote:Cake is a good example - there are lots of different qualities of cake, all made by the same ingredients, and even by the same baker, yet the outcome is infinitely variable in quality.


As far as other music:

I got lucky in that I had a good education in 50's/60's avant garde composers long before I started to seriously study Phil.

Cage to me is far more important as a musical philosopher than as a musician or composer. He crossed over ideas from abstract art into music and made people think about music and sound in new ways. Exactly the kind of heady stuff that Phil loves.

Stockhausen was innovative in that he made music by splicing tape very early on. It's not very listenable and rather quaint by today's standards IMHO, but again I can see why Phil liked it at the time. Technology mixed with music for the first time, a precursor of things to come.

Shoenberg should not be overlooked as well... he only gets a passing mention in most discussions of Phil but he and his followers wrote very cool 12-tone music - music specifically and mathematically designed to avoid establishing a tonal center. Personally I prefer it at it's most basic level, and not as much when they started attempting to integrate a vertical approach - but I applaud the attempt as a very interesting approach to music.

I love Trane and Miles, especially Trane with his classic quartet. I'll never get tired of them. Unlike the above composers, they made music that was fun to listen to! And that is where the avant-garde artists and composers break from my worldview.

If you hold all music and art to be equal you devalue true greatness. The Dead IMHO represent true greatness, which is why we're still talking about them today - but not to the point that every note they ever played was great, or equal.


Shoenberg...I almost mentioned him, and probably should have. He was brilliant, and definately innovative. Probably a lot closer to Phil's approach to bass, as he was maybe a little more structured. I also love Miles and Coltrane. My first exposure to Miles was "Bitches Brew", and to Coltrane was the "sheets of sound" era "My Favorite Things". So that was new to me, at 17, and that was the period I had in mind, not "Kind of Blue". It did take a little getting used to, as I had not been exposed to that before. King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King " and John Mclaughlin's "Birds of Fire" were new then, too, and also an acquired taste. But I would still rather listen to Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Freddie Green, or Jerry Garcia. I can appreciate Robert Fripp, John Mclaughlin, et. al., but if I listen, I want the music to take me somewhere, not just impress me with its virtuosity, (which I cannot deny is there). That is part of what I don't like about Jimmy Herring or Warren Haynes, or even Larry Campbell. The John Scofield shows were the same. They played on top of the music, not in it. John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders had an album, virtuosity incarnate, but I'd rather listen to Sidney Bechet or Lester Young.

As a bass player, I have played in bands where the bass and drums were expected to be the "floor", off of which the guitars improvised, similar perhaps to moe. This to me is not improvisational music, where the bass has a looped riff and the drums are kept repetitively "in the pocket". I think part of the key to playing the Dead's music is that all of the other musicians are the floor for each individual musician. That allows each to improvise within the framework of the song which results in collective improvisation. And that is what I learned from John Cage. The floor can be anything, even silence. Joe Pass did a couple of albums solo where he improvised and carried the whole feeling by himself. He also did some with my favorite jazz bassist, Niles Henning-Orsted Peterson. Incredible music.

Now I am playing in another blues band. Learning "Tightrope" (SRV). Not what I like, but at least I'm still playing. It is hard to find other musicians who understand what we've been discussing, and it is a real pleasure to have this conversation.

For a really bad show, check out Roanoke, Virginia, 1974. I can send it to you if you would like. It was also my first show. I don't have the "Seastones" part, but, even simple songs like "Bertha" got the treatment!

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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:07 pm

Personally I love Trane's Sheets of Sound playing... it was virtuosic but without sacrificing physical energy or musical complexity like so many other instrumental virtuosos.

Kind of Blue bores me a little.. it's great music and was very important as a reaction to the Charlie Parker & Dizzie Gillespie Bebop era, where they took bigband swing licks and sped them up and combined them into new style, dominated by extreme speed and technical skill.... but I've absorbed Kind of Blue so thoroughly that when I hear it again I don't discover anything new anymore. I'd much rather listen to A Love Supreme or Bitches Brew.


Playingwise I don't mind holding down a groove... it's kind of the sacred honor of a bass player in a way, holding the universe together. My natural style is usually sort of the Mike Gordon approach... get into a groove, and from there you can evolve it slowly, changing it just slightly over time, or you can play around with it, hitting the main points of the pattern but filling or omitting notes around them, or sometimes it's fun to really stay static with the pattern - if you do it right you can sort of hypnotize the audience into a trance.

The Phil approach is new to me... never play any kind of pattern, make each note unexpected. It's a very interesting way to play it. I've found that I can still fill the bass role, suggesting the next chord when needed, hitting beat 1 strongly to hold things together at times... but always keeping the mind moving, roaming, searching.

No matter what style you play, your band should always be listening to you and you should always listen to them. That's improvisional IMHO. It doesn't have to be the purely linear and independent style of the Dead to be a good jam.. but it sure doesn't hurt!

I'm jealous that you got to see them in 1974 and meet Phil! :hail:
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby zambiland » Sat Apr 10, 2010 10:26 pm

jeffm725 wrote:what constitutes an off night? Hitting clams? Something else?

To me a Phil off night was not about hitting wrong notes. It was about his level of investment into the collective creation of the music.
In the early 80's in what Phil self-describes as his "Heineken era" he would often not care to insert himself into jams in any meaningful way. Part of it was he was messed up, part of it was he was disillusioned because Jer was messed up.
I was at some shows (spring 84 east coast comes to mind as one) where Phil actually sat down on the edge of the drum riser in total disinterest.
I saw him do it during The Other One (of all songs! you think the other one would engage him) at New Have Coliseum in spring of 84, and saw it a couple other times in that time frame as well.



Phil had gout. It is very painful in the feet. Alcohol exacerbates gout and given the Heineken intake and the fact that he was at his heaviest, it's not surprising he needed to give his feet a rest. He might not have been at his most interested and with Jerry's mental condition it's not surprising he'd not be as compelled to give it his all, but I think this behavior was more complicated than it might seem.

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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby KCJones » Tue Dec 06, 2011 9:15 am

Was listening to Dick's Picks Vol 15, 9/3/77. Phil was definitely off his game. Or, should I say he was never on his gave when it came to Fretless Bass. On this particular recording anyway, on pretty much every song, Phil is missing notes left and right. Of course it's attributed to him attempting to play a Fretless bass. He's clearly heard playing a half step or more off in many places. He also was attempting a lot of slide-ups/dwns to accentuate the fretless, which wasn't working very well either. Maybe this was the reason the fretless didn't last very long; he couldn't quite get the hang of it.
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby Charlie » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:36 pm

One of the legacies of the Dead is that just about every note they played is availble for scrutiny. I don't know of any other band from that era that would be in the same position.

I shudder to think if that criteria applied to me. I really savor my occasional 'on nights' when I'm a bit in the zone.

"Wow on 7 May 1983 Deano played a bum note in the middle of Turn on Your Lovelight." :lol:
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby dancingrizz » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:45 pm

Phill would have an off nite as-often as Jerry remembered all the lyrics. I'm sorry in advance.
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby tigerstrat » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:38 am

What's all this about a fretless bass?
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Wed Dec 07, 2011 12:12 pm

tigerstrat wrote:What's all this about a fretless bass?


Thanks, TS, I was wondering this as well. He did a lot of big swoopy slides in 77 (see early May Estimateds and Scarlets) but I've never yet seen evidence that he ever used an actual fretless on stage. Really I think he was just drunk. :lol:
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby jeffm725 » Wed Dec 07, 2011 12:45 pm

Rusty the Scoob wrote:
tigerstrat wrote:What's all this about a fretless bass?


Thanks, TS, I was wondering this as well. He did a lot of big swoopy slides in 77 (see early May Estimateds and Scarlets) but I've never yet seen evidence that he ever used an actual fretless on stage. Really I think he was just drunk. :lol:


Yeah, no fretless, but I can definitely see why people thought he was playing one in 77. He would do slides all the way to an octave at times!!! When it worked (see 5/8/77 Scarlet) it was pretty damn cool imo, but when it didn't it was pretty messy.
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby Grant » Thu Dec 08, 2011 4:48 am

so here's the thing about phil's playing, and it's just my opinion, but this is how i see it

phil's playing style lends itself to making mistakes and getting away with it. i'm not discounting his proficiency, but he can get away with making mistakes where other players never could.

it's mainly because he knows that it's not the note you play, it's the note you play after it. there are many many recordings of phil where i think "he really didn't mean to go to that note", but then he resolves it and moves right along. it's particularly on important beats - lets say the one for example - where the whole band hits the root and he hits something else and the moves to the one on say the one-and.

now i realise this is part of his style, and phil is anything but one of those bass players that sticks to the root (and i like that), but i do think he covers up a lot more than we realise
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Re: Any recordings where Phil ever had an off night?

Postby Grant » Thu Dec 08, 2011 4:52 am

and the thing about phil freezing up and jerry pushing him down the stairs after - from memory he was dwelling on Neil Cassady's death
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