For Deadheads of an open-earned persuasion (and prone to the more feedback-drenched versions of the Grateful Dead's epic "Dark Star"), Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin's Seastones is something of the holy grail of Grateful Dead side projects. Experimental music lovers will find a lot to love, too, though more pop-oriented Dead fans might take it as the height of lunacy. Bassist Lesh, a former student of serialist composer Luciano Berio, and Lagin, an MIT dual major in molecular biology and music, convened a five-year partnership that resulted in perhaps the most bizarre San Francisco psychedelic super-session LP of them all, and a series of equally bizarre live performances.
As an MIT student, Lagin saw the Dead play in Boston in 1969, and wrote guitarist Jerry Garcia a letter. When the band played MIT in May of 1970, they sought out Lagin, hanging out with him in his dorm room before their show. The group encouraged him to move west. When Lagin arrived in San Francisco a few months later via Greyhound, he immediately went to Wally Heider's Pacific Studios, where Garcia put him to work adding piano to "Candyman" for American Beauty.
Over the next year, Lagin appeared occasionally on-stage with the Dead, and struck up a collaboration with Lesh. The first result was an early homemade synthesizer, used on 1973's "Unbroken Chain." In November of that year, Lesh and Lagin performed at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts with Garcia and then-on-hiatus Dead drummer Mickey Hart. The result was something genuinely avant-garde and, with the addition of Garcia's always melodic improvisation, effortlessly conversational.
Though Lesh was initially hesitant to perform the material in front of Dead audiences, throughout 1974 he and Lagin provided set-break bleeps, buzzes, and glitches to freak out Deadheads, music that sometimes seems a forerunner to the more fractured abstractions musicians like Richard D. James would explore in the '90s. Joined occasionally by Garcia, the Seastones sets would often segue seamlessly into the Dead's performances, resulting in some of the most consistently out music they performed. (One such jam can be heard on Dick's Picks, Vol. 13.)
During the Dead's 1975 hiatus, Lagin and Lesh created a Seastones album, featuring Garcia, Hart, David Crosby, the Jefferson Airplane's Spencer Dryden and Grace Slick, and others, and performed several more shows. The Dead's own Round Records released the Seastones disc, though it got lost in the shuffle of the new label's overambitious production schedule (then featuring Robert Hunter's Tiger Rose, Jerry Garcia's fabled Old & in the Way, and others). Afterwards, Lagin and the band drifted apart.