Phil Lesh celebrates his birthday today. As he rounds into his 79th year, the former Grateful Dead bassist shows no signs of slowing down. Since the iconic rock act’s disbandment in 1995, Phil has become a staple of the jam scene, continuing the legacy of the Grateful Dead with various supergroups and side projects. A celebrated musician, vocalist, songwriter, grandfather and venue owner, Lesh most recently has focused in on his work with The Terrapin Family Band, collaborating with his son, guitarist Grahame Lesh, in addition to continuing his longstanding tradition of inviting high-profile artists for his Phil Lesh & Friends sets.
To honor Phil’s birthday, we’ve revisited the Grateful Dead’s archives to find a performance that appropriately honors the near-octogenarian: the band’s show at Cape Cod Coliseum on October 27, 1979. For the pre-Halloween stop in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, the group was coming out of a time of transition, adjusting to the major lineup changes of Godchaux’s departure and Brent Mydland’s arrival earlier in the year. By the fall, the group had settled in with the new keyboard player, using his entrance to dive deeper and explore and reinvent classic numbers.
Positioned half a year before the release of 1980’s Go To Heaven, the Cape Cod Coliseum show stands out as one of the highlights of the Grateful Dead’s Fall Tour 1979. Energetic from the show-opening “Me and My Uncle,” the band offered up a stellar performance, with the second frame debatably earning the title of the best set of the tour, if not entire year. Despite this, the first set was nothing to scoff at, with a jubilant nine-and-a-half-minute “Big River” toward the start of the show. Notably, from later in the set, the combination of “Lost Sailor” > “Saint of Circumstance” appeared after being debuted only two months prior. This show’s specific rendition appears on the 2015 archival collection, 30 Trips Around The Sun: The Definitive Story (1965–1995).
The show begins to truly shine during the second set, weaving together an enviable setlist solidified by tight jams and high-energy playing. Starting with a 14-minute “Dancin’ In The Streets,” Lesh and Bob Weir off the bat are dialed into one another, gracefully playing off one another’s lead. From there, the group deftly transitions in “Franklin’s Tower,” a rendition buoyed by its bounding bass line that spans almost 20-minutes and has become a veritable classic.
After over 30 minutes of their fast-paced opening segment, the band cools off with a slow and steady take on “He’s Gone.” Evidence of the energy from the night, after a dozen minutes, the group sheds their savory tempo, speeding things up with a sparking jam that leads into a frenetic “The Other One.” From there, the majority of the band departs the stage for the perennial drums segment. However, on this night, Lesh stayed on, sitting in with the Rhythm Devils for the explosive percussion solo before rejoining on bass for a powerful take on “Not Fade Away.” To close out the show, the Grateful Dead offered a slinky “Black Peter” ahead of a set-closing cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” and an encore of “One More Saturday Night.”
Take a listen for yourself below in honor of Phil Lesh’s birthday, courtesy of Charlie Miller and Jonathan Aizen:
Set One: Jack Straw, Candyman, Me & My Uncle-> Big River, Brown Eyed Women, Easy To Love You, Minglewood Blues, Stagger Lee, Lost Sailor-> Saint Of Circumstance-> Deal
Set Two: Dancin’ In The Streets-> Franklin’s Tower, He’s Gone-> Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) Jam-> The Other One-> Drums-> Not Fade Away-> Black Peter-> Around & Around
Encore: One More Saturday Night