Meeting of the Folk Music Minds

Glen Phillips and Friends. At the Lobero Theatre, Wednesday,
February 7.

Reviewed by Michelle Drown

Glenn_Phillips.jpgIt was seven years ago when I first
heard progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek. They were touring
with Glen Phillips and I caught their show at Bimbo’s 365 Club in
San Francisco. Since then, Nickel Creek, which includes Chris Thile
(mandolin) and the Watkins siblings — Sara (fiddle) and Sean
(acoustic guitar) — has been nominated for and won several Grammy
awards and Phillips has released two critically acclaimed albums,
Winter Pays for Summer and Mr. Lemons.

Last Wednesday night at the Sings Like Hell series I had the
pleasure of seeing Phillips and the Watkinses onstage together
again. (Thile was not in attendance.) It struck me years ago how
well Nickel Creek and Phillips complemented each other musically;
Sara’s fiddle playing and delicate harmonies, Sean’s impressive
guitar prowess, and Phillips’s gorgeous voice swirled together to
create an extraordinary aural experience. And so it was again this
night.

The Watkinses weren’t the only friends to join Phillips on the
Lobero stage, however. The evening also included performances by
Grant Lee Phillips (no relation), whose songs were dynamic and
engaging; Luke Bulla played a touching rendition of Rodney
Crowell’s “Adam’s Song,” which he dedicated to his brother who’d
passed away; and Gus Black, an L.A. singer/songwriter, did a
terrific version of REM’s “You Are the Everything.” Other guests
were Sean McCue on guitar, Grant Lease on pedal steel guitar, and
Benmont Tench on piano.

The round-robin evening saw all combinations of the musicians
performing, with Phillips popping on and off the stage frequently.
He took lead on some numbers, singing such favorites as “Waiting,”
“Blindsight,” “Train Wreck,” and “Released.” Highlights of the
night included a celestial version of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s
“Windmills” by the Watkins siblings and Phillips, and an ethereal
rendering of “Last Sunset,” on which Grant Lee Phillips added rich
harmonies to the airy number. The Toad pop/rock song “Whatever I
Fear” translated effortlessly to fiddle, acoustic guitars, and
three-way harmonies — a testament to Phillips’s dynamic
songwriting.

Although he was billed as the headliner, Phillips generously
shared the stage with his über-gifted friends, thus treating the
audience to some new and unfamiliar artists. But despite the
sizable talent on stage, Phillips rose to the top with his
remarkable voice, brilliant songs, and charming banter. It would
have been nice to hear more from Santa Barbara’s favorite son, but
Sings Like Hell’s mission to introduce audiences to “the greatest
music you’ve never heard” was duly achieved and overall it was a
delightful evening.

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