Performing live at Garcia’s in Port Chester NY on February 08 2019

by Miles Hurley

The Terrapin Family Band are known as the jam scene touring act fronted by the one and only Phil Lesh, but on rare occasions, such as this weekend at Garcia’s at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, the group gigs it up without the Grateful Dead bassist. The band, which features guitarist Grahame Lesh, drummer Alex Koford, and keyboardist Jason Crosby, actually began as the house band for Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads, so performances without Phil Lesh as bassist may actually be truer to the group’s founding. That’s up to you to decide, but there’s no doubt that ‘core three’ family band shows are definitely still something to see if you have the chance.

The show this past weekend at Garcia’s was an opportunity for the Lesh, Crosby, and Koford to make some music magic in a laid back setting, and for it they featured two special guests in Elliot Peck and bassist Chris Crosby.

It seemed the goal for the evening was just for band and attendees to have fun, a goal no doubt residing at the center of the philosophy of the venue’s namesake.

“Uncle John’s Band” began with this sentiment of fun in mind, and was highlighted by two nice solos from Jason and Grahame. Grahame Lesh is a rather unspoken guitar player: there isn’t a lot of noise about his playing chops, but they’re there. Whether in a ballad or a colorful jam session, he can really hold it down (and has beside the likes of many heavy hitters of the scene). “UBJ” suggested this, the “Mr. Charlie” later on in the set proved it. Lesh really dug his heels into “Charlie,” greased out a gritty solo.

On this one, and some other songs through the night, TFB’s real americana sound came through to the front. The fact that three TFB members are also the foundation of the progressive folk outfit Midnight North may have something to do with this. No complaints here, of course. it’s a sound and style that they rock really well. They cranked out, for instance, a very fun rendition of “Mexicali Blues,” which featured as the star some hot traded licks between Grahame and Jason. Likewise, if you want to immediately elevate the vibe at any performance large or small, “Atlantic City” is always a great bet. It’s just one of those songs that brings the charm and the feels. For this Band cover, TFB brought up their first guest of the night, mandolin player Jesse Bardwell. Together with Bardwell and the nice harmonies from the rest of the band, the night hit a high point early on.

Alex Koford took his turn afterwards for vocals on “Loser,” and the TFB drummer should get mention for his voice in addition to his playing. With a uniquely surly but sweet voice, he gets up near the same level of  as Peck and Lesh. He also sang lead on the special treat of  the night, Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” and really shined on it. Here also was one of Lesh, Koford and the Crosbys’ few chances in the night to really get their improvisational fix, and they used the opportunity nicely and grooved on the song.

In an interesting move, the band headed off the top of set two, after a quick dance with Music Never Stopped, with that Merle Haggard rarity, “Sing Me Back Home.” The vocal strength of Lesh and Peck and Koford made this one stand out even as a slow number. More peculiar yet winning song choices increased the cool nature of this night. Where the four offered Zeppelin in the first set, they offered Floyd in the second: an equally moody take on “Fearless.” Then, Crosby traded keyboards for a guitar and gave a rendition of “Friend Of The Devil” set to the instrumentation of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” In this anything-goes-style kind of night, it was a nifty and welcome trick.

The Terrapin Family Band ended this blessed little night of performance on actually a pretty strong note, with a first rate version of “New Speedway Boogie.” If there were anyone born to perform this song, Elliot Peck is one of them. She channeled the raw pesona of early Linda Ronstadt, and belted the tune out with a honky tonk zest. She was the centerpoint on this very country-jam style version from TFB—again, their americana flair was what made this so good.

Check out this version of the aforementioned FoTD / Lithium that same week up in Seattle:

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