Concert Review: Furthur – New York, NY, February 23, 2010
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Anyone who followed the Grateful Dead post “In The Dark” remembers the mania surrounding the band whenever they played Madison Square Garden. The tie dye King Kong standing next to the marquee, and 20,000 ticketless Deadheads with a single finger in the air, looking for a their miracle. Expectations were always raised when the boys played New York. These days the stakes aren’t anywhere near as high. There’s no Jerry Garcia, no Madison Square Garden, only two original members of the band left. Regardless, it’s still Grateful Dead music in New York, this time being the Furthur lineup at Radio City Music Hall for the first night of a two night stand.
The first set started off strong with an “Other One” jam that immediately had direction, almost as if we were the ones who walked in after the band started. The traditional 16-17 note Phil Lesh bass roll signaled the real beginning to “The Other One,” yet started to tread ever-so-lightly into “Dark Star” territory before weaving into a beautiful “Playin’ in the Band.” The jam here was clearly bassist Phil Lesh’s showcase, as he carefully guided the rest of the band through intricate, outer space melodies. John Kadlecik’s guitar tone was eerily reminiscent of the ’72-’74 Garcia years, at times, stylistically, seeming to summon the big guy himself. This combo would also represent the only real highlights of the first set. JJ Cale’s “After Midnight” followed, Kadlecik and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti trading licks before falling into a short groove reminiscent of something Phish would do (sans the stop-start stuff). “They Love Each Other” had the band sounding a bit more like the Jerry Garcia Band as opposed to the Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was next. Weir wasn’t in the finest form vocally at the start, but finished strong. “The Race Is On” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” were up, the former a rollicking version, the latter seeming a bit out of place, possibly because of the feeling that “Fantasy” was yet another cover song and not an original within the confines of the first set. Ratdog’s lyrics-heavy “Two Djinn” killed whatever momentum might have been left. Barely resuscitating the set was an unexpected “Samson and Delilah.” Normally reserved for a Sunday night, it sounded feisty, Weir snarling out several lyrics, Jeff Chimenti with a soulful, fantastic keyboard solo.
All in all, it wasn’t quite the set list and energy level befitting a New York audience. Nothing was played badly, it’s just nothing beyond the first jam and song really stood out. Regardless of the original Grateful Dead making songs like “The Race Is On,” and “Masterpiece” their own, the first set relied too heavily on covers. “Memorable” isn’t the first word that comes to mind after that set. Surely the mojo had to be there for the second set.
“Viola Lee Blues” kicked off the second set…that’s more like it! A funky, bluesy groove, great guitar work by John Kadlecik, the entire band lock-step with one another, a high energy opener. “Shakedown Street” was always a Grateful Dead New York favorite, and this version delivered. A very funky, groovy version, this Shakedown wouldn’t be too out of place inside a venue such as Madison Square Garden. Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” continued the streak established early on in the set. This “Handle” started off good, eventually reaching “great” as Weir brought the band into a “sock it to me, give it to me, give it to me some some” “funk breakdown sounding a bit like “Corrina.” This was a muscular version with a fair amount of teeth to it. Who cares if this “Hard to Handle” was another cover? It might not have been Pigpen at the harp with a 20 minute rap (admit it, Pigpen fans, those did get boring before long), but this still would have done him proud.
“Deal” and “Mason’s Children” continued that high energy string, but it would have to end eventually. Both the band and the audience would need a breather, and Bob Weir’s “Days Between” was just that. Average at best, this would be the last “break song” for the rest of the night. The energy would return during “Let It Grow” and stay throughout the rest of the evening. If not for Weir’s guitar tone, the “Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower” may as well have come straight out of 1975, with dashes of 1990 thrown in for good measure. Sadly, Lesh took the vocals on what was an otherwise airy, bouncy, wonderful “Franklin’s Tower.” It’s still hard to not pull for Phil Lesh when he sings, figuring eventually he’ll sound passable. “Johnny B. Goode” closed the evening in rocking form. If you headed to the aisles at the start, you didn’t miss too much. If you stayed, at least it wasn’t “Keep Your Day Job.”
Ultimately it was an uneven night. The fantastic start to the first set wound up ending with too many covers, and not much by way of the x-factor that’s made other shows memorable (Newark, Delaware excluded). With the exception of “Days Between,” the entire second set was a highlight, and worth the price of admission. I’ll take sets that look and sound like that second one any old day of the week.
The Other One Jam>
Playin’ In The Band
They Love Eachother
When I Paint My Masterpiece
The Race Is On
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Samson And Delilah
Viola Lee Blues>
Hard To Handle>
Let It Grow>
Help On The Way>
08-Johnny B. Goode