Blair’s Golden Road Blog — Going Furthur at TRI
I remember back in the late ’80s, when the big invasion came after “Touch of Grey,” Garcia used to talk about the Dead possibly being shut out of many venues because of bad fan behavior. He thought the band might have to come up with some alternate way of getting their music to the people — including the notion of setting up shop in theater for a week or two and perhaps broadcasting concerts to movie theaters (as they had for their Halloween Radio City show in 1980).
Through the years, a handful of Dead shows were televised, including the epic Closing of Winterland in ’78, New Years ’85 and ’87 and the Summer Solstice show from Shoreline in ’89. But for some reason, the Dead and live telecasts never felt like that good a mix to me. It’s as if they added a whole ’nother layer of stress to the musicians and it became more difficult for them to relax and play their best. It wasn’t merely the presence of cameras, though, as the band certainly became used to that on their late ’80s tours, which often had a live in-house video component — but were not broadcast.
Ah, but things are so much different now. “TV” is just as likely to be the Internet today, with niche audiences of varying sizes watching on their home computers — from laptops to mega-models — or hooked into their big-screen televisions and enormous hi-fi systems. I first got into watching concerts online a couple of summers ago when iClips.net broadcast a slew of great festivals over the Internet, free of charge. Besides a show by The Dead, I saw sets by everyone from Govt. Mule to Jackie Greene to Yonder Mountain String Band, and also a whole bunch of bands I’d barely heard of, some of whom were quite good. Then there was the fantastic all-star 70th birthday celebration for Levon Helm a year ago — I watched that from beginning to end in the privacy of my little home office, cranking it up as the mood hit me. Good times!
Video is becoming an increasingly important medium for many bands, both as a keen promotional tool and also as a way to further “monetize” (one of my least favorite words) concerts and whole tours. Take Widespread Panic, for example: On June 14 and 15 they are streaming concerts from Austin for just five bucks; and June 24-26, the group’s three sold-out shows from Red Rocks will be available for streaming through iClips.net for $9.99 per night and all three shows for $24.99. If the Grateful Dead had done this, I probably would have bought every show of every tour (and been even broker today than I am).
Which brings us to Furthur and their big Internet experiment of June 7. Broadcasting from Bob Weir’s new state-of-the-art TRI (Tamalpais Research Institute) Studios complex in Marin County, Furthur laid down a very impressive two-and-a-half-hour set for folks who plunked down $19.95 for the privilege of seeing the group way up close (in HD!) and with clear and powerful sound.
I was particularly interested to watch the TRI Furthur show, because it came right on the heels of my seeing the band’s two nights at Shoreline Amphitheatre (south of SF) just a few days earlier, so the real concert experience was still fresh in my mind. I LOVED both of those Shoreline shows, with the first of the two (6/3) probably the best I’ve seen the group play. (Check out the “Playing > Uncle John’s > Morning Dew > UJB reprise > Playing reprise” sequence—a most worthy 21st century descendant of its few early ’70s forebears. You can hear a version here.) They were locked-in and having a great time, and their energy, passion and obvious affection for each other and the music they created together was downright infectious. Have I mentioned before that I kinda like this band?
However, I was a tad concerned that watching a show on my 20-inch flat-screen computer monitor and listening through my small (but decent) desktop speakers would be a bit of a bring-down. An hour or so before show time, I tried to hook a laptop into my much larger living room system (42-inch flat screen, excellent hi-fi) with an HDMI cable I bought earlier in the afternoon, but for some reason I could get picture but no sound. (I am, frankly, a moron when it comes to such things.) Given more time and a couple of phone calls I probably could’ve worked it out, but with the minutes and seconds literally counting down on my screen until the concert was set to begin (at 6 p.m. West Coast time), I panicked and decided to watch on my computer instead. I’ll figure it out for the next one.
Once the concert started, I found I didn’t miss the big screen and booming sound too much. The close-up camera work was stunning (the show was directed by Justin Kreutzmann, Billy’s son, who has done much fine video work through the years) and the sound mix, by Dennis “Wiz” Leonard (a Dead scene veteran dating back to the dawn of the ’70s) was just about perfect. In fact, the experience reminded me a lot of the Friday Shoreline show where—ticket goddesses be forever praised!—I had second row center seats; my closest ever at that venue.
The Webcast was so incredibly intimate, showing us in amazing detail how these guys interact with each other musically, what each person adds to the gestalt, how they communicate with little glances and nods and smiles. It was illuminating to see how the Phil-Bob-John front line effortlessly weaves their parts in and out of each other, and also to finally be able to watch the wondrous Jeff Chimenti in close-up, rippling across the ivories as he moved from piano to organ to Rhodes to synth. Drummer Joe Russo was, as always, all over his kit—like two drummers rolled into one at times. And though I felt singers Jeff Pehrson and Sunshine Becker were mixed slightly low, their contributions to the big-chorus tunes (“Uncle John’s,” “The Wheel,” “I Know You Rider,” etc.) made for a beautiful vocal blend. (It’s interesting to note that because the concert was in a controlled studio environment rather than out on the road somewhere, more fragile high-end studio microphones could be used, making the vocals that much better.)
I found the 13-song set to be extremely satisfying, and as consistently well-played as the Shoreline shows. The combination of “Crazy Fingers” and “Jack Straw” got the group up to full speed quickly, and Bob’s recent “Big Bad Blues” was a pleasant surprise early on (I’d never heard Hunter’s words so clearly). There was inspired jamming before and after “The Wheel” (which was great, as always) and also inside “Unbroken Chain.” It was a privilege to get the full “Terrapin” suite (denied us at Shoreline!)—in the old days we waited breathlessly for the big “Terrapin Station” instrumental bombast; now I’m always most anticipating Joe’s drum wizardry during “Terrapin Flyer” (and he never disappoints). Another treat was the nicely sung and evocative “Black Peter,” which contained long guitar and organ breaks that added much to the mood of the song. (I am, however, voting NO on reprising the bridge after those solos—once is quite enough!)
OK, I didn’t give the concert my full attention every second. We had a barbecue going during the first part. I would wander into the kitchen for this and that. During “The Wheel” and “Unbroken Chain,” I faced my speakers out the back window and listened in my sunny back yard (at last—the golden warmth that had been promised during the opening Friday Shoreline song, “Here Comes the Sun”!). My wife, a friend and I ate strawberries and soaked in the rays as the music blared. That’s just one of the luxuries of “watching” on the Internet—you don’t have to see it. Another is not having idiots in front of me with cell phones taking pictures of the band and each other every second.
My backyard idyll ended when, in the middle of “The Other One,” the sound suddenly vanished! There had been one or two split-second drop-outs previously, but this was serious. I ran into the house and was greeted by a message on the screen telling me that the connection had been lost. Yikes! After waiting in silence a couple of minutes for it to come back on its own, I simply rebooted and picked up the connection again. (I know some other folks had more constant and serious sound problems. With the diversity of computers and connections out there, that does not surprise me. It’s a much more fragile ecosystem than broadcast TV, to say the least.)
To their credit, the musicians’ energy was unflagging for the entire two-and-a-half solid hours of music. The sound was studio-quality throughout. Visually, one of the built-in frustrations of televised music for me is that my brain always has its own idea of who it wants to be seeing at a given moment based on how I’m listening, but the director’s choices don’t always match my brain’s (and the director always wins!). Notwithstanding some strange camera chaos during “Terrapin” (I think it was that tune…can’t check the nonexistent “tape”) and overzealous fast-cutting on “I Know You Rider,” I thought Justin K. did a superb job of showing us this hard-working and skilled band in action—moving from player to player in an artful way, but also lingering long enough for us to hone in on specifics.
All in all, I felt Furthur at TRI was a highly successful venture and worth the 20 bucks. Whether it was successful financially on the band’s end is information I’m not privy to. I hope so. It was a pretty involved production. Of course, if they wanted to “monetize” it more, they could release it as a DVD now, and I’d buy that, too. With any luck, though, this is just a beginning. They should do this more often —maybe two or three shows in a row over a weekend; invite friends to join them; play acoustic sets… the possibilities are limitless.
If you caught Furthur on the Internet, how did you like it? Have you watched much live music on the Web?
I forgot to mention that a week or two ago, My Morning Jacket put on a three-hour free show over the Internet (with guest Erykah Badu), which was very well done... So obviously these are going to be promotional ventures for some, potentially money-making events for others...
Great perspective grateful prof; that would indeed be something.
For me it would be the drummers, although the facial expressions might not be where my camera was heading...! Personally, through the beauty of psychedelics, ALL musicians, ALL angles, ALL of the time at ALL moments, in ALL detail would be the ideal. Development of superior visual image mapping, exploding the retina into ultra-conscious perception, would render those ganglion cells capable of a an all encompassing dimension; regulation be damned! Come out to play, the inferior oblique!!!
A conductor that having access to minute detail? Hamper or enlighten? Too many choices that leave you swimming in an endless sea of possibilities, or cataclysmic breakthrough? Are we tampering with nature and "real time" or achieving liberation? Genesis P. Orridge and Lady Breyer's "pandrogyne" or "God's" creation?
Makes the heart race to even think about it!
Well, i'm along for the ride, you can count on that.
Oh, and as i find mice elf here again, another five cents (or pence/yen as i'm here/going to) in your direction; i would like to discourage the idea of making any shows available on DVD. I think we have enough physical product floating about in this world that is non-biodegradeable, without contributing any more.
As it's an online project essentially, why not keep it that way? Maybe available to download at a slightly reduced price, six months or so later would be good.
Guessing they've thought of all this already folks; doubt they'd jump into a project like this without some kinda plan. Or......................
I personally have little interest in live video feeds, and find the cost way too much for, in effect, watching a movie. Thats not to say I do not watch video of the Dead etc., it is just that, for me, there is little "value added" in it being live, for me I would not pay extra just because what I am watching is actually taking place in real-time. Unless..... Here is the big "unless," Telemetric performances and video have taken huge leaps forward recently. Now a conductor on the east coast can conduct an ensemble on the west coast, and actually have greater access to information than she would have were she there in the room with the ensemble. She can zoom in, say, on the fingering of the oboe player, and make suggestions, she can isolate the sound of one or more performers for analysis, and so on. I would be interested in a live feed that allowed me, both in real time, and after the fact, to chose the camera angles I was interested in, and so on. Perhaps I am interested in seeing, in detail how Bobby is voicing his chords, while you rather see the facial interactions, at that same moment, of the drummers. We should each be able to access what we want. (For me, I hate that so many Dead videos, just when the "heavy" jam begins decide to superimpose animated graphics, I much rather, precisely then, see what Jerry is doing!). So, if, as I suspect is in the cards, TRI develops to use these new technologies in a way that lets the audience have more control, I might be interested. And was not that always the mantra of the Dead, that the audience actively participated in the music making, in ways often hard to pin down? That is what you lose in a video screens, and that what new technologies can help bring back into the experience.
Congratulations to Bob Weir and TRI for for being innovators. All hail John Meyer, eh?
Nothing but good can come from this venture as far as i can see (once the lil' bugs have been ironed, but early doors for sure). Especially for those of us outside the US; only way we'll get to see these musicians it seems.
Unfortunately, i wasn't able to catch the Furthur broadcast but the footage posted of performances so far on their site is wonderful. I agree about the intimacy and the chance to see the interaction; adds a whole other level to the music created.
Personally, i watch a whole heap of concerts online. From iClips to the awesome davidaron Grateful Dead page on livestream - http://www.livestream.com/davidaron
(scroll down for the video library; what an archive), as well as choice uploads on Vimeo and Youtube. I'd recommend these for an eclectic mix of shows - http://www.youtube.com/user/BibiAudiofil
The excellent Moshcam - http://www.moshcam.com/ - a fantastic collection of complete shows from concerts in Australia. Free to join too! (sometimes you can watch straight away, other times it asks you to sign up, not sure why). I'd heartily encourage these - Clutch (never a bad show), Afrirampo, Ben Harper, The Cinematic Orchestra, Horace Andy, Justin Townes Earle, The Necks, The Magic Numbers, Mark Olson & Gary Louris, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Royal Crown Revue & Silver Apples, upcoming from Los Lobos, Primus and Melvins should be great too!
http://vimeo.com/theholyfilament/videos (Kid Koala, Dengue Fever, Secret Chiefs, Orange Tulip Conspiracy, Masada).
This performance from Secret Chiefs at Vimeo from Grrrnd Zero's channel is good too - http://vimeo.com/6942562
So, yeah, i watch a few..........!
As for TRI, way to go boys and girls; it definitely deserves everyone's support. Picture and sound are fantastic. Be interesting to see how the Constellation system pans out; my only slight caution is the way in which it allows the sound to transform into any acoustic space (if i've understood it correctly!); why would you want to "generate" the acoustic of Carnegie Hall if you're not playing there? all a bit "genetically modified" for me, although technologically fascinating, certainly. Are we getting the "true" sound of the performance or a particular "version"? Does it really matter? I'll be sticking around to find out, that's for sure.
I wish them every success with this venture, i really do. I also hope everyone goes easy with them while they find their feet. Unchartered territory deserves some major slack to be cut. I'm sure they'll offer us some greatness in the years to come, plenty for the faithful (and the uninitiated too!!), so lets see what happens.
So all join hands and lets get on that bus; it's going to be long, hopefully strange, and definitely a trip.
Triday the 13th was my first internet concert. I had no idea anyone else was doing it so thanks for mentioning iclips.net. What I would like very much is if maybe some awesome guitarists will come to Tristudios and maybe give guitar lessons for an hour and then take questions from the audience about stuff for an hour, maybe charge $10 or something. And of course, more awesome concerts ! The sound was great with headphones.
It wasn't perfect, the feed I mean, but most of the shows have a few bugs as well. $20 is a bargain for me as opposed to travel, tickets and the time away from work. The stream did whet my appetite for a live show and barring something unforeseen, I'll be at Red Rocks.
Yes, in the olden days we would dream of the band releasing shows on cassette or some other medium, and receiveing them in the mail a week or so after the show. And then the video for the big screens, perfect for release on VHS/Beta or some other media, then One From the Vault, and Dick's Picks came then Road Trips and the box sets plus Views so this was always in the cards, kudos to Bob and the TRI crew, I saw the first "experiment" and the mix was amazing the video crisp and clear, but as you said there were momentary dropouts and at the end the signal was dropped and had to reboot but it was over by the time I was back. Because of this and the advise on the tristudios site about my download/upload speeds I choose to pass on the 19.95 for perhaps an unpleasent experience if I got dropped during some cool jam or such ~ just me I guess but I would replace vinyl with skips or pops and return new with warps ~ also since Furthur sells the shows on cd and such after the fact I thought that they would continue with this show, but .. so far no announcement or anything,
So Here Is MY Plea
Loved the TRI deal, many problems with video and sound,
Please release cd/mp3 or flac or ? version of the show.
This was a legendary performance.
Consider releasing DVD also.
Hey more $ for the studio at least.
A Dead-i-cated fan since (78)1983
The Sky Was Yellow And The Sun Was Blue
People Stopping Strangers Just To Shake Their Hand.
I feel like Iclips did it right...let the fans stream for free as you work out bugs, build loyalty, etc...don't "monetize" until you *know* you're able to treat your fans right and provide the service they paid for and expect.
Plus 20 bucks is a tad high compared to the other bands providing the same service...not to say it's not worth 20 bucks...it's just not a fair market price.
Maybe charge $30 or so and also mail a DVD of the show to the customer to set yourself apart from the crowd...all the while still monetizing and giving the fans a copy they can enjoy at their own leisure without the buzzkill buffering/drop-outs, etc.