Continuing my Grateful Dead kick in Boulder once again, I attended a Sunday (never miss one!) show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, a venue which I have since learned has a capacity of 625 attendees, slightly less than the estimate of 700 I mentioned in my last show review. It somehow never seems crowded, though, as our crew found a familiar place on the 2nd tier of the open floor, near a railing for protection on one side.
Phil Lesh and his band came out around 8:30, a late start for a Sunday evening show. This was intentional, as we’d find out in the 2nd set (Widespread Panic had an early evening show at Red Rocks, and needed to allow travel time for a sit-in.) The opening set featured some familiar Grateful Dead favorites, including lively versions of “Jack Straw”, “Uncle John’s Band”, and “Tennessee Jed”, as well as a gentler rendition of the classic ballad “Friend of the Devil”. Another highlight of the first set was a cover of the Dylan classic “Like a Rolling Stone” with admirable vocals from guitarist Ross James. There was also some touching interplay between Phil and his son, Grahame Lesh, who picked up rhythm guitar duties in his father’s collective ‘Family Band’.
There were additional treats in the 2nd set, with rumors abound regarding special guests. Insiders confirmed that legendary Widespread Panic guitarist (and former Phil & Friends member) Jimmy Herring was slated to join Phil and Co. on stage during the 2nd set, and he showed up to great fanfare after a raucous intro to the 2nd set that began with a cover of The Band (“The Shape I’m in”) and a Grahame-led vocal combo of “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes of the World”, at which point Herring entered from stage right. After a brief introduction, the band delved deep into the highlight of the evening, an extended version of “St. Stephen” with guitar jams galore, including a brief segue into the Zeppelin II track “Whole Lotta Love” and then into “The Eleven” before finally settling back into the “St. Stephen” refrain. Herring’s bright and powerful lead tone sliced directly through the twang of the two Terrapin Family guitars carving a melodic path through the remaining blues-folk numbers in the set including the Grateful Dead mainstay “Not Fade Away” (originally penned by Buddy Holly) and the set closer “Turn on Your Lovelight” with its bouncy, knee-slapping rhythm driving more energy into the crowd as the 2nd set concluded. An extended encore break left many hungry fans wondering whether the band would return at midnight on a Sunday for a final tune. They did not disappoint, and after a brief PSA from Phil himself on the value of organ donation (he received a new liver and a new lease on life several years back) the band unrolled a poignant version of the Lesh/Hunter composed “Box of Rain”, the only song of the night sung exclusively by Phil.
Overall, a fantastic show that was only augmented by the addition of a very special guest for about half of the 2nd set. That’s why they say Never Miss a Sunday Show!