In some way or another, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead have kept things alive for the last fifteen years. Bassist Phil Lesh has been the hardest touring, with his ever-evolving lineup of Phil and Friends. Guitarist Bob Weir also took a few tours with his band, Rat Dog. Infrequently, the two would come together for versions of the Dead with various people filling in the role of Jerry Garcia on lead guitar. The newest version of the Dead, Furthur, with Garcia-clone John Kadlecik on guitar, stopped through Red Rocks last weekend for a three night run.
The band kicked off Saturday night with the trio of "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Franklin's Tower," slowly easing into the slinky melody of the first song with Weir and KAZ trading off lyrics throughout. Kadlecik noodled his way around the first guitar solo, hinting at the fat guitar tones that Garcia relied on through his career without completely mimicking Garcia's sound. Gray heads really started to bob up and down when Lesh's thumping baseline of "Franklin's Tower" emerged out of "Slipknot." Lesh's voice sounded strong, especially for a 70-year-old liver-transplant survivor.
After a mellow "Alabama Getaway" and the Mississippi Sheik cover "Sittin' on Top of the World," the band played one of the few new original "Dead" tunes, "High on a Mountain" a rolling hippie anthem based on the classic Ola Belle Reed tune about how life has gone by way too quickly. Like any good nostalgia band, Furthur makes you sit through the new stuff to get to the classics. The real meat of the set came after, with the band dropping into the dirty blues boogie of "Viola Lee Blues" before meandering off for nearly a half hour through two more songs then landing back at "Viola Lee." Chimenti laid down awesome barroom piano while throwing out soaring organ swells from his B-3 during the first chunk of "Viola Lee" while Kadlecik led the way through the first round of jamming in the tune. As the song morphed into the opening chords of Bertha, KEYs once again took the lead on the Hammond organ, with a sound reminiscent of the late '80s-era Dead when Brent Midland was on keys.
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The beautiful sound whirring out of the Leslie speaker was interrupted frequently, however, by the middle-aged deadhead woman directly behind me constantly screaming "YEEEEE!" at the top of her lungs. Like the cries of a banshee, this woman repeatedly violated my eardrums throughout the first set. The band briefly went back to the theme of "Viola Lee" for a few minutes before noodling into the hippie shuffle of a nine-minute "Cumberland Blues." Kadlecik really flexed his Garcia chops throughout, nailing the neck-walking scales and solid-body guitar twang over Weir's grinding, chanky tone.
At set break, I wandered around taking in the crowd, in part to get away from the smell of burning sage and DMT from the group sitting in front of us. I saw a lot of loose twentysomethings with bug-eyes smiling wildly (LSD will do that), drunk teenagers in crisp, new tie dyes, and smiling baby boomers in their Patagonia fleeces - all buzzing about the music. I grabbed a Philly cheesesteak and stood around eating it, likely garnering sneers from unseen vegans.
Second set opened up with another new song about mountains, "Mountain Song." Both the chorus ("I'm going to make the mountains my home") and the melody came from a David Crosby studio outtake. The song has a dark, Neil Young chord progression to it that is made even more haunting by Lesh's deep baritone. Thankfully, background singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson round out the harmonies while Weir squawked out the choruses, as only he can manage to do. As the song wound down, Kadlecik injected a noodling and uplifting guitar solo that led the band into an early-'70s-era sounding shift to "I Know You Rider." The transition historically came after "Fire on the Mountain," but managed to seamlessly blend the new "Mountain Song" with the classic folk tune. The crowd erupted during the line "I wish I was a headlight on a north bound train/I would shine my light through the cool Colorado rain," as keys tore through the song with Lesh's bass line acting more as a lead guitar behind. The song ended with a beautiful chorus of voices and piano before the intricate composition "Terrapin Station" emerged.
The 25-minute epic is one of my favorite Dead songs, but I was lost in this version at times. The slower-than-usual tempo mixed with the completely spun-out girl in a thong grinding on the row behind us really took my focus away from what is normally a beautiful tune. Things got interesting, however, with Joe Russo speeding things up and adding an almost reggae feel to the ending segment. Russo is an amazing drummer: he has energy and force like Galactic's Stanton Moore, but with the subtlety and ability to sound like more than one drummer that Furthur needs. The rest of the set was accented by a 16-minute version of "Unbroken Chain," with Lesh marbling the vocals through most of the song before it spaced out into a verse or two of "Dark Star." Playing later than I expected, the band came out around 11:30 for an encore of (appropriately) "One More Saturday Night." I ended my night walking down the ramp through the burrito salesmen and dollar waters, stupidly purchasing a "heady" veggie burrito that came back to haunt me the next morning.
I moved in closer on Sunday night for the earlier start time. A good friend's father, Paul, flew in from the Bay Area for the Sunday show. Paul is an encyclopedia of Dead knowledge, and saw well over 100 shows in California alone from 1973 to 1995. Before the show even started, he was making his song picks for the day, nailing the "Golden Road" opener in the process. The tune lifted off with the calliope-esque organ intro and the Haight-Ashbury '60s lyrics before dipping into the Weir-led classic, "Cassidy."
Weir sounded stronger on the third night, his voice coming through much clearer than the night before. His guitar work, on the other hand, seemed to get drowned out even more by the rest of the band. Old deadheads will tell you that this has always been the case with Weir, mostly because he was never considered to be that good of a guitarist in the first place. Russo again shined on this song, going from a soft, easy-going background to being the thundering forefront of the jam. The band played yet another new composition, "The Colors of the Rain," which did nothing for me until it melded into the Deadhead favorite "He's Gone". This tune took on greater significance after Garcia's death 15 years ago and is an instant sing-along at a show.
In fact, most of the show was a sing along, but that's part of why people keep coming back the various incarnations of the Grateful Dead that have popped up. As a friend said at set break, "I love the sing along. I mean, these are my favorite songs ever." First set dipped off into the realm of slow and sleepy for a bit through "Magnolia Mountain" into the mediocre Weir composition "Throwing Stones" before picking things up at the end with "Big Railroad Blues."
Second set opened with "Samson and Delilah," a tune based on the biblical tale. Paul told me that this song was always played on Sundays for the tongue-in-cheek religious references. In what was a real high point for both nights, the band roared through Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy." Kadlecik really showed his chops in this song, abandoning the traditional Garcia sound altogether for an overdriven fuzz while exploring a harder rock style. The background singers again provided a needed punch in the chorus, which they did again a few songs later in the psychedelic weirdness of "St. Stephen." The crowd exploded with applause during the opening solo of "St. Stephen," breaking into a mass of dancing bodies as the song picked up steam and yelling with joy at the end of the first chorus. Paul danced wildly, smiling from ear to ear. Encores were solid, with the '80s billboard hit "Touch of Grey" and the soulful gospel of "Brokedown Palace" closing out the weekend.
Furthur setlists: 9/24/2010 Set One: "Truckin'" > "New Speedway Boogie" > "Cosmic Charlie," "West L.A. Fadeaway" > "Deep Ellum Blues," "Friend of the Devil," "Ashes and Glass," "Casey Jones" Set Two: "Scarlet Begonias" > "Big Bad Blues" > "Mountains of the Moon" > "Estimated Prophet" > "Eyes of the World" > "Fire on the Mountain," "Death Don't Have No Mercy" > "Not Fade Away" Encore: "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
9/25/2010 Set One: "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Franklin's Tower," "Alabama Getaway," "Sittin' On Top Of The World" > "High on a Mountain" > "Viola Lee Blues" > "Bertha" > "Viola Lee Blues" > "Cumberland Blues" > "Viola Lee Blues"
Set Two: "Mountain Song" > "I Know You Rider" > "Terrapin Suite" > "The Eleven" > "Unbroken Chain" > "Dark Star," "Stella Blue" > "The Other One"
Encore: "One More Saturday Night"
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9/26/2010 Set One: "Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" > "Cassidy," "Colors of the Rain" > "He's Gone" > "Magnolia Mountain" > "Throwing Stones" > "Two Djinn" > "Big Railroad Blues"
Set Two: "Samson and Delilah" > "Dear Mr. Fantasy" > "Let It Grow," "St. Stephen" > "King Solomon's Marbles" > "Days Between" > "The Wheel" > "Sugar Magnolia"
Encore One: "Touch of Grey" Encore Two: "Brokedown Palace"