Blair's Golden Road Blog - Two Years of Furthur
By Blair Jackson
Next week, in Eugene, Oregon, Furthur begins its third year of gigs together. It is already the most stable and longest-lasting group since Jerry’s death to include both Phil and Bob. And the consensus among fans of the band seems to be that the steady touring schedule since those first Furthur shows at the Fox Theatre in Oakland back in September of 2009 and now numbering around 150 (including their “live rehearsal” gigs in Marin) has resulted in a band that has been getting better and evolving each tour, as the telepathic channels linking the musicians grow clearer and stronger, and the group continues to develop its own sound.
I’ve rhapsodized at length about how much I’ve enjoyed this band. Indeed, over the past year, I’ve spent nearly as much time listening to Furthur shows on CD and Archive.org as the Grateful Dead. Now, I am in no way equating the two—merely suggesting that I find Furthur compelling enough to want to hear what they’re up to night to night. I dig the breadth of their catalog, the way they put shows together and their gung-ho approach to just about every song they play, whether it’s one of the much-loved classics—what they’ve been doing with “St. Stephen” and “Terrapin” on a regular basis is astonishing, for example—or tunes you don’t expect them to slay but they do: songs such as “Pride of Cucamonga,” “Row Jimmy,” “Ramble On Rose” and so many others. Their taste in cover songs is wide-ranging and impeccable, and their original material is also developing nicely. Over the course of his time in the band, John K. has really learned how to deliver Garcia’s big ballads—“Morning Dew,” “Comes a Time,” “So Many Roads,” etc.— and both drummer Joe Russo and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti blow my mind a few times at every show. Phil and Bob consistently play with unbridled enthusiasm and imagination, and singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson add so much dimension to the group’s sound. This band consistently surprises and delights me.
So, as a public service for those of you who would like to hear more Furthur but don’t know where to begin, I’m listing (and linking) 20 of my favorite Furthur shows from their first two years. This was a much tougher task than I expected (my first cut was 47 shows!). My choices reflect all of my biases and prejudices—song selection, my opinion of the overall performance quality, transitions, etc. I’m sure there are many songs I’m passionate about that many of you don’t care for, and viceversa. The only shows on my list I actually attended were the two in the Bay Area, so the coolness of the venues—and this band has played many great places—did not influence my choices (except that it may have influenced them to play great).
In a couple of instances, I chose particularly hot consecutive shows from the same place, partly to give a sense of continuity. And two are more “Furthur & Friends” than straight Furthur shows. All links are to the soundboard versions of the shows on Archive.org (except the three from this past summer, which will hit Archive in October and November). Truth be told, I sometimes prefer the you-are-there excitement of audience versions (in part because they can be downloaded, not just streamed), although the SBDs obviously reveal more subtleties and character in the playing, and you don’t hear the sometimes disturbingly chatty crowds as much. About a third are shows I purchased.
Feel free to disagree with my choices and add your own favorites below. (“What, no Broomfield 2011?” “No Hampton with ‘Fool in the Rain’?” “You chose that Best Buy show?”) Chances are, if I’d been in a different mood when I did the final cut-down to 20, there probably would be 10 different shows listed here, so maybe your favorite almost made it.
In chronological order:
3/3/10, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago: Awesome first set with “Playing,” “Eyes,” “Uncle John’s” and “China Cat-Rider.” Second set has “Scarlet-Fire,” “St. Stephen-Eleven,” “The Other One,” a “Dark Star” jam and “Help-Slip-Frank.”
3/12/10, Bill Graham Civic, SF: Phil turns 70 and invites pals Chris Robinson, Jackie Greene and former P&F keyboard ace Steve Molitz to help out on a great three-set affair. The opening acoustic set is perhaps the best, with Robinson on Pig’s “Two Souls in Communion,” Jackie on a moving “Brokedown Palace” and everyone on a gorgeous “Attics.” Chris is also great on “High Time” and “Comes a Time,” and Molitz’s instrumental “Elevator” gets a nice workout in the third set.
5/30/10, Furthur Festival, Calaveras County Fairgrounds, Angels Camp, CA: Three sets, three complete albums played in order, all beautifully: Blues for Allah, Aoxomoxoa (yes, including “Rosemary” and “What’s Become of the Baby”) and Terrapin Station—the last marking the Furthur debut of the complete “Terrapin” suite. Teresa Williams sings like an angel on Donna’s “Sunrise.”
6/25/10, Highland Bowl Amphitheatre, Rochester, NY: Another jammy first set, with “Here Comes Sunshine” > “Feel Like a Stranger,” “King Solomon’s Marbles,” and “Strawberry Fields.” Second set boasts a “Viola Lee” triple-decker sandwich, along with “Time,” “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “Attics of My Life.”
6/26/10, MCU Park, Coney Island, NY: “China Cat-Rider” opener, “High Time” and “Throwing Stones” in the first set; second includes “Playing” > “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven” > “Dark Star” and the full “Terrapin” suite.
6/27/10, MCU Park, Coney Island, NY: How’s this for a first set medley— “Sugar Magnolia” > “Mr. Fantasy” > “Scarlet” > “Magnolia Mountain” > “Uncle John’s.” The second has “Unbroken Chain,” “Fire on the Mountain” > “The Other One,” “Morning Dew” and another “Help-Slip-Frank.”
7/9/10, All Good Music Festival, Masontown, WVA: Show begins with “After Midnight” > “Estimated Prophet” > “Just a Little Light.” Second set opens with “Uncle John’s” and includes “Sugar Mag,” “So Many Roads,” “Scarlet-Fire,” “Terrapin” and, for the encore, a scorching “Cumberland Blues” (this being Coal Country) and “Ripple.”
7/11/10, Mann Music Center, Philadelphia: “Stranger” > “Shakedown” combo to open; first set also includes fine “Magnolia Mountain,” “Money for Gasoline,” “Lost Sailor” > “Saint.” Later there’s “Mountains of the Moon” > “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven,” “Terrapin,” and “Morning Dew.”
9/17/10, Cuthbert Amphitheatre, Eugene, OR: First set “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Estimated” > “Passenger,” “Golden Road.” Second starts with “Scarlet” > “Bird Song” > “Uncle John’s,” and has “Terrapin” > “St. Stephen” > “Sugar Mag.” “Playing” reprise is the surprise encore, followed by “Touch of Grey.”
9/25/10, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO: “Help-Slip-Frank” opener; first set also has three slabs of “Viola” surrounding “Bertha” and “Cumberland.” Second set has “I Know You Rider,” “Terrapin” suite, “Dark Star,” “Unbroken Chain” and ends with “Stella Blue” > “The Other One.”
11/20/10, Madison Square Garden, NYC: Fantastic “Help-Slip-Shakedown” opener; also “Wharf Rat” and “Terrapin” suite in first set! Second set includes “Dark Star” > “The Other One” > “St. Stephen,” “Franklin’s” closer.
3/4/11, Orpheum Theatre, Boston: “Cream Puff War” > “Good Lovin’” > “Come Together” reprise > “Good Lovin’” reprise to end first set. Well-done “Wheel” > “Uncle John’s” > "Playing” > “Crazy Fingers > “Other One” > “Morning Dew” are among the second set gems.
3/12/11, Best Buy Theater, NYC: First set concludes with “Here Comes the Sun” > “Sunshine Daydream” > "Supplication” > “Sunshine Daydream” > “Born Cross-Eyed.” Second set has “Wheel” > “Magnolia Mountain” > “Mountains of the Moon” > “Uncle John’s Band,” a lovely “Stella Blue” and exciting “Elevator” (again with Steve Molitz).
3/15/11, Best Buy Theater, NYC: Another Phil B-day show with unusual combinations, including “Corinna” > “Crazy Fingers” > “So Many Roads” in the first set, and “Scarlet” > “China Cat” > “Ramble On Rose” in the second. Highlight, though, is the only performance of the Side Two medley from Abbey Road, beginning with “You Never Give Me Your Money” and finishing with “The End.” Encore is “St. Stephen” > “Her Majesty.”
3/18/11, Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA: Dynamic second set sequence with “Cryptical Envelopment” > "New Speedway Boogie” > “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” > “Rosemary” > “Morning Dew”; plus a bunch of other cool tunes.
3/26/11, Radio City Music Hall, NYC: The entire first set is a tribute to the recently deceased Owsley, with all songs from the ’66-’67 period, including “Golden Road” > “Viola Lee Blues” > “Alligator,” the only performance of “Alice D. Millionaire,” plus “Cream Puff War” and “Lovelight.” Generous second set features “Playing,” brief looks at “Dark Star” in two parts, the first-ever version of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse,” the “Terrapin” suite and “Help-Slip-Frank.”
3/27/11, Radio City Music Hall, NYC: Special guest Elvis Costello takes the lead on first set tunes “Tennessee Jed,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Ship of Fools” > “Must’ve Been the Roses” > “Ship of Fools,” while Larry Campbell sings The Band’s “Chest Fever” and plays guitar and fiddle on a number of tunes. Elvis’ wife, Diana Krall, tackles “Ripple” to end the first set and later sings (and plays wicked piano on) “Fever” during an extended encore. Campbell’s wife, Teresa Williams, sings “Sunrise” in a second set that also includes “Uncle John’s,” “St. Stephen,” “Unbroken Chain,” “Morning Dew” and, to end the evening, a sublime “Attics of My Life” (with Teresa and Elvis in the heavenly “choir”).
6/3/11, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA: “Here Comes the Sun” starts the show; first set closes with “Deal” > “The Other One” > “Hell in a Bucket.” After a powerful “Help-Slip-Frank” opener for the second set, the evening peaks with the group’s only stab at the thrice-played fall ’73/winter ’74 sequence of “Playing” > “Uncle John’s” > “Morning Dew” > “Uncle John’s” reprise > “Playing” reprise.
7/23/11, Mann Music Center, Philadelphia: Strong first set has “Greatest Story,” “Reuben and Cherise,” “Loser” and “Quinn the Eskimo.” Second set has superb “Shakedown” > “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” George Harrison’s “Any Road,” “Playing” > “Help-Slip-Frank” > "Playing” reprise, and double-encore of Led Zep’s “Fool in the Rain” and “Saturday Night.”
7/31/11, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, Alpharetta, GA: “Not Fade Away” opener is followed by imaginative trio of “New Speedway” > “I Need a Miracle” > “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” First set also has “Reuben,” “Mission in the Rain” and “Magnolia Mountain.” Second set highlights include “Bird Song” > “Terrapin” > “Unbroken Chain” > “Standing on the Moon” and tour-ending encore of “U.S. Blues” > The Beatles’ “The End.”
As a lover of Furthur and of all Dead-related "best" lists I'm really enjoying reading and checking out Blair's choices and shows that others have suggested. I heard a rumor about a week ago from the well known "reliable source" - but one that has proven accurate in the past concerning the plans of this band. The rumor is that after the Fall dates JK will be leaving/replaced. It hardly makes sense to me because this band has such great chemistry and in the shows I've seen I've observed, as has Blair, how Phil and Bob really seem to be engaged and enjoying themselves. Over two years they've built this band into arguably the most successful of the post-Jerry iterations and I'm aware of people they're bringing on the bus who never previously saw or listened to the Dead and are getting exposed to the music for the first time. I certainly hope this is not true. But given the prior reliability I can't dismiss it.
Maybe he can recreate the last performance of "I Will Take You Home."
...when I last interviewed him, he wanted to do Brent's "Easy to Love You."
Not a good choice IMO... "Far From Me" would be better...
Just had to add that on the head phones via Archivist app, Jeff stands out incredibly. on songs like Cumberland. He's fantastic.
For those of you that have an iPhone, you MUST download archive.org's app, called Archivist. It downloads every Dead and Furthur shows. Listening to it on head phones is truly magical. Some really old Dead shows sound so good you feel like you are in the venue. And the Furthur shows are FABULOUS on head phones. I pick a show every night and enjoy it.
FYI> Was at 5 of the 20 shows, so I'm batting pretty good. Keep the shows coming. Furthur is awesome.
That Dew was definitely a watershed moment in my appreciation of Furthur...I was fence-sitting before, definitely on the bus since.
LOVED the 7/28 show in Raleigh...Morning Dew+John K=goosebumps!!
I for one think they need to bust out "Let Me Sing Your Blues Away" with Jeff on lead vocals.
I just had to say that and get it off my chest. Thank you for your patience while I spoke my mind.
We return to our regularly scheduled thread topic.
We caught the first shows in Oakland and I knew then and there that they were onto something really special. I loved the second night there but plenty of other shows have been fantastic and a few truly epic; ones that come to mind, Phil's b-day sets were especially fun and the Marymoor show in Redmond WA was wet, wooly, and wonderful stuff and worth a listen if you haven't heard it yet - check the "Sittin' on top of the World" jam. The late night jam at Angels Camp while not technically a Furthur show was a treat - I haven't checked Archive.org for it in a while so don't know if it is available but well worth seeking out.
Just like the good ol' Grateful Dead on any given night two people standing right next to each other might have a different trip and take on things but one thing is for sure...
Doesn't matter what they call themselves... Grateful Dead, Dead, Other Ones, Furthur, whatever... I don't care... it is still all about the songs and the jams and the folks you meet and the journey you take to get there and back. I can play you a great tape from any decade, any incarnation of band members, and it will still resonate with that special "X" factor regardless of the line up.
That is what makes it so vital. A living breathing "dragon eating its tail" that will constantly be reborn in the spirit of improvisation and invention. Whatever "it" is... it will live well beyond and inspire folks generations from now. I see that truth even seeing local bands that do this music to young legions of music lovers that barely have a clue (if any at all) even who Jerry is, was, will always be - that walk out of shows afterwards saying things like "I have got to hear that again... when is the next show?"
Now please excuse me... I have to listen to those remastered Europe 72 sets while I get ready to hit Eugene this weekend...