Editor’s note: Grateful Ted had this review ready on 1/1/12 – it is all DHL’s blame it is not published until now!
Since their public debut a couple of years back at Oakland’s Fox Theater, Furthur has had enough time to work the gears, flex their collective musical muscle and evolve into a complex, fully operational entity capable of alchemizing the audience-to-band-and-back feedback loop. This energy transfer was perfected by the Grateful Dead and these lessons have been internalized by the younger members of Furthur to the point of mastery.
This New Year’s Eve show was prima facie evidence of the beauty, skill and power that is Furthur. Whoever was responsible for architecting the three nights set lists was clearly informed with the insight, knowledge and a deep sense of the history behind this music. They also knew intuitively how to connect directly with the emotional pleasure center of both the casual and passionate Deadhead.
While the pleasure of the New Year’s Eve show was profound, it was even more satisfying in the context of the set lists from all three nights as several I’s were dotted and T’s crossed that were left dangling from the previous evening’s entertainments.
Prior to the show the scene in Civic Center Plaza was very laid back with heads beating drums, jamming, “loading up,” and getting primed for the marathon evening ahead. Many seemed to be selling tickets for more than cost but there were plenty of bargains to be had. This writer lucked into a bargain ducat and is hugely Grateful for it.
This show was a textbook example of the “mastery of the jam,” possessed by this collective, but if you are reading this, you already knows of this magic. Regardless of the point, “Golden Road” was a perfect choice to jump-start the festivities. It was the 1st cut on the eponymously titled first studio GD LP, and the driving energy and message of the tune lays it all out unambiguously. “Hey hey, come right away. Come and join the party every day.” It’s the perfectly crystallized message that you are in the right place at the right time in front of the right band… “So take off your shoes, child, and take off your hat.
Try on your wings and find out where it’s at.” The final dissonant note of this number was discordantly emphasized by a potent Lesh invoked bass chord.
Following a brief moment to re-tune, another psychedelic opus from the earliest golden years of Grateful Dead Music was ignited with the signature swirling slide riff by John Kadlecik. “Cosmic Charlie how do you do?” Clearly Charlie is still happily truckin’ in style along the avenue….
Characters from the (Robert) Hunter lyrical cannon are liberally salted throughout GD repertoire and one of the most cherished is “Althea”. Since that cathartic moment when John K. stepped up to sing his first “Althea “during the first ever public Furthur show at the Fox this song has grown more potent in its impact with this band. Unfortunately for Bob Weir, who seemed to be experiencing technical issues with is guitar and signal chain, it was not the model of musical perfection but the tension of the verses was fully released with the “you know this space is getting hot,” bridge and ensuing jam.
More GD history was unearthed with the classic cover of the Junior Parker blues tune, “Next Time You See Me” which the Dead performed mostly in their earliest years. Jeff Chimenti’s melodic riffs rode on top of the Lesh/Weir/Russo rhythm section and made space for a fat JK solo or two.
The vocal harmony blend of Furthur is augmented and improved with the presence of back- up singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson and their harmony blend on “High Time” was the icing on the cake of this rarity. The JK solo was both tender and screaming and the band simply brought the goods to finish out this slice of musical pie from Workingman’s Dead.
I would guess a number of lysergified synapses may have snapped with Phil Lesh’s first profound and pounding bass note of “Shakedown Street”. The sonic impact of it was massive. This was a pretty disco themed affair but the jam went way-way outside of the normalcy of a C7 one chord vamp. The latter half of this one had a wild vocal jam and thankfully the arrangement has minimized the “shake it down, shake it down, shake it down now,” motif to only one stanza. From there, “Viola Lee Blues”, perhaps the hookiest riff from the earliest GD era scooped up the mental remnants of Shakedown Street and tossed them over the fence. This one, one of the oldest tunes in the repertoire (from Gus Cannon of the Jugband era) is at the same time super psychedelic, funky and Americana to the core. It also is a showcase for Phil Lesh whose 12 foot bass stack massaged more than a few brains as this romp of a tune rollicked and rambled over the crowd. With one set down many of us took note of just how much more quality music was in the offing.
At this point in the show we were all kid’s in a cosmic candy store and no better multi-flavored “ice cream cone in the forehead” of a song could have been dialed up than “Morning Dew”. As the signature riff locked into place it came to my mind that opening a set with this profound ballad seemed to diminish its importance in a given set list as the deep, emotional inference of its lyrics is diminished when utilized as an appetizer instead of a main course. But John Kadlecik’s heartfelt vocal treatment and massive, soaring leads provided more impact and emotion than I thought possible. It was a brilliant rendition and bears more listening. And as if AM Dew wasn’t big enough, the subsequent Jam into the signature riff -of “Dark Star” was a tell-tale sign of just how off the hook this show was to be. Lesh sang the opening verse solo as he pulled the Furthur ship into orbit.
The jams here were angular, mechanical and blazing all at the same time and a long, trippy journey ensued from the final words of the first verse of “Dark Star” to the first of the obscure but rocking “Mason’s Children”. This was another vehicle for Lesh bombs and a collective vocal chorus treatment of the verses. And yet, still more heavy duty jamming served as the transition into the 2nd verse of “Dark Star” which featured split vocal treatment between Phil, Bobby and John.
In keeping with the long standing GD tradition to mix old with new, Phil stepped up to deliver a fairly new one, “Mountain Song.” A tune put together by Phil’s son Brian Lesh with lyrical themes contributed by David Crosby and Robert Hunter. One could say that this unfamiliar song was redeemed by the massive JK led jam that concluded it and featured the classic “Mountain Jam” riff derived by the Allman’ Bro’s Dickie Betts.
At this point in this already ridiculously good show, a few of the unconnected dots from Thursday’s throw down were summoned up to the delight of the heads… “I Know You Rider” > “St. Stephen” > “Fire on the Mountain” was a hugely satisfying musical sandwich that kept us all floating on the ether – and still it wasn’t even midnight. This show was just getting going and up to this point it had gone way beyond expectations.
Due to the jammy intent of Furthur the break between the 2nd and 3rd sets was blissfully short and provided only enough time for one cocktail and a bio break leading up to the Midnight Spectacle. From the floor one could see the not well concealed, giant dragon hiding behind suspended curtains and hanging from a flying gimbal off the roof of the Civic. Before it took flight a loud, eerie soundtrack of thunder, dragon wails and rain was broadcast over the PA. From the rear of the hall a chrome tower rose up from the floor and a beautifully clad woman representing the birth of the new year mounted the flying dragon and in a massive puff of Dragon Smoke the flying beast alit for the stage with a trumpet fanfare followed by the Rolling Stones “Start Me Up,” played at full cranking volume. Meanwhile, onstage, a number of damsels tossed party favors to the crowd while Bill Walton, decked out as Father Time stood front and center. In great puffs of smoke the Dragon delivered its gorgeous cargo to the stage and with a count down from 10 to 1 Furthur exploded in the classic style with a rollicking “Sugar Magnolia” punctuated with the sound of thousands of popping balloons. Revelry happened amongst the dancing mayhem and the potency of the band’s delivery wasn’t lost on anyone, especially with the huge “Sunshine Daydream” follow through.
One of the ultimate jam vehicles (as if this show didn’t already have a half dozen of them), “Playin’ in the Band”, kicked off the deeper part of the 3rd set and in the classic style contained a dark, wandering but purposeful jam that rolled into the telltale riff of “Uncle John’s Band”. (Uncle John’s Band indeed – though more like Nephew John’s Band.) Ed Note: when a lot vending friend of mine asked JK what he would think of an UJB shirt with his image on it, John said he wareally just a nephew!
From here the unfamiliar was once again summoned up by Phil with “Colors of the Rain”, a new Hunter/Lesh composition recently added to the Furthur repertoire. This unfamiliar song diminished from the jammy themes of the night but eventually, towards the tail end of the song JK stepped up to swing the momentum back to deeper waters. Bobby stepped up for a tried and true psychedelic effort, “Born Cross Eyed”, “seems like I’ve been here before. Fuzzy then still so obscure.” The driving impact here was ridiculous and blissful… which triggered the opening strains of “The Wheel” giving everyone the opportunity to get grounded together in the familiar lyrical refrain. The sets conclusion was the obvious envelope closing “Playin’ in the Band Reprise” which was a perfect capper to this huge swath of powerfully delivered music.
Many in the crowd had low expectations of the predictable “One More Saturday Night” encore but Furthur, in keeping with the exceptionally high value set list gave us all the ultimate year-beginning gift: a full “Terrapin Station Suite” that show cased the unbelievably potent skills of drummer Joe Russo who kept lobbing home runs over the wall during the “At a Siding” portion of this opus. The ultimate conclusion of this event was a genuine and clearly heartfelt bow and group hug by all members of the band while the dragon smoked, bellowed and roared – a perfect way to send us into the New Year by giving us all a collective bond with the band.
This show was one for the ages and clearly represented Furthur at an ultimate peak moment in their evolution. Fantastic jams, incredible dynamics, pleasing, barely a clunker in the list song choices, impactful lead guitar and vocal treatments, stellar musicianship and palpable energy transfer between audience and band were all present here over the last three nights and throughout 2011 with Furthur. One can only imagine the potential to come in the years ahead.
Grateful Ted Silverman
Photos by Happycat MarkoVision for DeadHeadLand