All signs pointed to go before the doors to the venue even opened. It was the first day of fall, a beautiful day, and all four of Red Rocks' main parking lots were filled up by 5:30 p.m. Deadheads were parked out on Highway 93 and trekking their way up to the party scene going on closer to the venue. Shakedown Street was packed in with pipe vendors, hippies burning sage, people selling beer behind the backs of the not-so-watchful cops. Dozens of people milled around with their fingers in the air or holding up wads of cash in hopes of finding an elusive extra ticket for the show.
Doors opened at least an hour and a half before the announced 7:30 start time, but within a few minutes the die-hard crowd darted in, tarping down their zones in the front general admission section that they earned waiting hours in line while everyone else stayed back and tailgated on the beautiful, cool Colorado night.
The band took the stage close to 8 p.m., with Grateful Dead guitarist, singer and songwriter Bob Weir plucking out the opening notes to the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" -- an interesting choice considering the sun had set. But in retrospect, it was the best way to announce the rising inferno of music that was to come from the stage over the next three hours.
Weir's "Cassidy" came next, with a melody that cruises and curves like the Cadillac on the country roads that Weir sings about. Despite the tune's ballad-like nature, the band picked up the tempo right away and fell in right behind drummer Joe Russo's force-of-nature drumming. It might be an overused cliché about the man, but Russo's thunderous style sounds like it is coming from more than one person most of the time. Any issues Furthur faced regarding speed and energy the last time they were at Red Rocks last October were completely gone, and the band seemed more relaxed, more at home on stage together.
The place went nuts with lead guitarist John Kadlecik's speedy, bouncy opening licks for "Scarlet Begonias," which set off a noodle-dance party that spilled people out to pack the stairwells beneath Creation Rock some thirty rows back. Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti shined through the jam section of "Scarlet" and took off on the Hammond organ as the band transitioned into "Good Lovin'" (video below) instead of the (somewhat) usual "Fire on the Mountain." The band still has some tricks up its sleeves, and fans should know better than to expect the expected anymore.
Continue reading for more from the show.
Chimenti is a chameleon on the keys, at times playing around in Pink Floyd-esque reverb on a Rhodes and at others nailing the huge sound of deceased Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland -- namely in the massive swells during the "Morning Dew" encore. A nod to the alpine surroundings was up next with the pairing of Ryan Adams's "Peaceful Valley," followed by a powerful, Phil Lesh-filled "Mountain Song." There's an almost gospel element to this tune towards the end, especially with the wall of vocal sound created by the soaring tones of backup singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson over the gruff, road-hardened voices of Lesh and Weir.
The cap of the set was a version of "So Many Roads," which moved into a blistering version of "Sugar Magnolia." It might as well have been Jerry Garcia beamed in from whatever planet he currently lives on to the stage during "So Many Roads." Even after this many years, it never gets old how Kadlecik is able to channel Garcia's emotion and sound.
Weir continued to sound strong and shine during the band's second set, opening things up with "Playing in the Band" and smoothly transitioning into the moody, bluesy tune "No More Do I." Lesh and Kadlecik really began to connect on the latter, as Lesh's basslines punctuated Kadlecik's searing guitar lines through the jam of the song. The two smiled away at each other as Kadlecik started to tease at the intro to "China Cat Sunflower."
The crowd lit up when the band followed along, and before long everyone was bouncing along to a thumpy, joyously psychedelic "China Cat." Weir and Kadlecik's intertwining guitar work as the band shifted to "I Know You Rider" was uplifting and led to the wonderful drop in the opening verse.
Lesh's bass rolled around between the monoliths through the song, only outdone by the roar of the crowd after the line: "I wish I was a headlight on a north bound train/I'd shine my light through the cool Colorado rain." The band was killing it and they knew it.
So did the thousands of people in front of them, for that matter. By the time "Dark Star" -- a Dead song to top all Dead songs -- began, it wasn't so much a mind-blowing selection as it was fitting with the already amazing evening. Notes started to get hazy at this point as dancing and enjoying the show became top priority, but sandwiched in the middle of "Dark Star" was a rousing "St. Stephen" and Lesh's "Unbroken Chain".
Bringing things back around nearly full-circle to the first set, Kadlecik plucked out the signature Garcia opening to "Fire on the Mountain." Lesh followed and lended a '70s-era gusto and pep to his signature bass lines. It was the perfect way to end the second set: Leave the peoples' ears ringing and their feet hurting from dancing so hard. Hopefully they all have tickets, though: Night three is sold out.
Page down for a Critic's Notebook, video and setlist.
Personal Bias: This band clearly knows Red Rocks is the best place in the world to see live music. It's not just my bias.
Random Detail: Joe Russo does yoga-like stretches backstage before the band goes on. And plays in his socks.
By the Way: When did the cost of a single lot burrito go up to $5? What happened to one for three, two for five?
Furthur Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO 9/22/12
01. Here Comes the Sun 02. Cassidy 03. Scarlet Begonias 04. Good Lovin' 05. Peaceful Valley 06. Mountain Song 07. So Many Roads 08. Sugar Magnolia
09. Playing in the Band 10. No More Do I 11. China Cat Sunflower 12. I Know You Rider 13. Dark Star 14. St. Stephen 15. Unbroken Chain 16. Dark Star 17. Fire on the Mountain
18. Morning Dew > 19. Playing in the Band (reprise)
Video of "Good Lovin'":
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