Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, two of the surviving members of the legendary jam/psychedelic band The Grateful Dead, have been out on the road the last few years under the guise of Furthur, playing classic Dead songs as well as interesting covers, keeping the spirit of the band alive for the hundreds of thousands of fans who still clamor for the music. Along with keyboard player Jeff Chimenti, guitarist/vocalist John Kadlecik, drummer Joe Russo , vocalists Jeff Pehrson & Sunshine Becker, and guests Larry Campbell (fiddle, guitar, vocals) and Teresa Williams (vocals), the band made their stop in New York City at the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo was on hand, and brings this concert report.
This was the second time I'd caught Furthur this year, the first being at Bethel Woods over the summer in Upstate New York (the original Woodstock site), but with a pretty massive turnout and electricity in the air, the MSG show was a safe bet to top my previous experience with the band.
With easily 15,000 + in attendance at the newly renovated MSG, the band took the stage with "Sugar Magnolia", and the party was underway. As Furthur segued into "Scarlet Begonias", it was clear that everyone was having a blast, both band and audience, as the weaving guitars of Weir & Kadlecik meshed with Chimenti's classy keyboard explorations, helping to prompt plenty of undulations from the thousands in attendance. Vocally, you could tell it was going to be a solid evening, as the lead vocals of Weir, Lesh, and Kadlecik were in fine form at the outset and it continued throughout the evening. A nice surprise was Campbell adding his soaring fiddle to "Uncle John's Band" and "Box of Rain", and when paired up with Kadlecik's liquid guitar lines the results were magical. Stellar renditions of "Eyes of the World", the funky "Shakedown Street", a hard rockin' "The Other One", and a jubilant "St. Stephen" kept things flowing smoothly from set to set, making way for an emotional "Unbroken Chain" and an upbeat "Fire on the Mountain" before "Sunshine Daydream" closed out the second set in grand fashion. For the encore of "Attics of My Life", Teresa Williams came up to center stage and delivered a stunning vocal that had many in amazement at her commanding talents.
Through it all, there was plenty of instrumental virtuosity on display, with lengthy guitar & keyboard passages that have long been a trademark of Grateful Dead shows. Chimenti provide a wealth of layers on the piano and synth, but really perked up the ears of this writer when launching into funky and often times aggressive solos on the organ. Kadlecik is an amazing guitar player, and despite needing to play Jerry Garcia's parts as closely as possible to the late legend, he adds in plenty of his own personality which is a good thing. Russo is a fine drummer, always keeping the beat but throwing in plenty of exciting fills, providing for a rock solid rhythm section alongside the always dependable Lesh. And of course, Mr. Weir is always at the center of just about everything, adding his signature vocals and layer upon layer of the intricate rhythm guitar work that makes these songs tick.
It was a fun evening that was no doubt enjoyed by all, and as Furthur wind down their touring schedule for 2011, only time will tell what the future holds for this current incarnation of The Grateful Dead.
Ramble On Rose,
Uncle John's Band
Eyes of the World
So Many Roads
Box of Rain
The Other One / Spanish Jam / The Other One
Unbroken Chain /The Wheel/ Days Between / Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
Fire on the Mountain
Encore: Attics Of My Life