After eight months of inactivity -- and life-saving liver transplant surgery -- Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh will return to the stage for a three-day run at San Francisco's Warfield Theater beginning on April 15 and extending to April 17. But he won't be alone.
The concerts, which are benefits for Lesh's non-profit Unbroken Chain Foundation (named after the song he penned for the Dead's Mars Hotel, the organization benefits a variety of community outreach programs), are billed as "Phil Lesh and Friends," and insiders tell us that Lesh's famous friends will include Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell from Phish as well as Zero's Steve Kimock and former Bruce Hornsby drummer John Molo.
"We can't confirm the line-up, and we won't confirm it," said Tom Kirschner, a member of the Unbroken Chain Board of Directors. "We like to keep the mystery," he added impishly. When queried whether Lesh will follow these three dates with shows in May and June, he said, "*Everything* is a possibility. The future is bright."
The three shows in April represent a return to the series of Phil & Friends concerts that Lesh introduced last year. The final performance of that series was August 8, and since then Lesh has been dealing with the effects of Hepatitis C, which resulted in a liver transplant operation on December 4. Kimock, who played with Lesh in the Other Ones, participated in the last Phil & Friends concert, and a Zero newsgroup released the name of Phil's friends last night. It included Anastasio, McConnell, Kimock and Molo, but Phish's management wasn't talking. "We had an office meeting this morning about this and we won't confirm it," a spokesperson for Dionysian Productions said. But a source close to the band insists that it's a fait accompli.
Some Deadheads resent the implication that the Vermont-based group now wears the crown of the preeminent jam band in the aftermath of Jerry Garcia's death on Aug. 9, 1995. The various Internet newsgroups which cater to Dead discussions have been filled with praise and barbs from fans and detractors of both groups. Oddly enough, Phish themselves have (until recently) felt reluctant to endorse the comparison, especially since the transfer of the mantle seemed to have occurred more due to media linking of the two bands than anything Phish have done on their own. While the members of Phish are self-proclaimed Dead fans, they've studiously shunned covering Grateful Dead songs to avoid engendering any comparisons or ill will. Last summer's performance of the Dead's "Terrapin Station" by Phish on the anniversary of Garcia's death broke with this tradition. Trey Anastasio moved closer to musically acknowledging the connection by performing Garcia's "Row Jimmy" earlier this month at the Vermont club Higher Ground, as a warm-up show for his appearance at the Benefit for Tibet House on February 22. Come April 15, this self-imposed moratorium on Dead tunes will presumably be off.