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 vet of 100 GD shows and another 100 solo or post Dead incarnations, a couple of Furthur shows stand out in my mind as being as relevant and ass-kicking as some of the best Dead shows. The opening set of Shoreline 6/3 had me shaking my head (and my bones). We sometimes forget that the GD could get a little repetitious, esp when Jer or Brent were nodding off after too much opiate. Don't get me wrong...loved Jerry (and Brent for that matter), but they had some tedious performances. I like that Furthur comes out with energy more consistently and even takes real chances more often. They seem happy to be out there after all these years. And I'm happy they're there!
While I'm fine with John K taking a share of Jerry's vocals, I'd hate to altogether lose Bob's and Phil's interpretations. At the Eugene show, when Phil finally took a lead vocal for Bird Song in the second set, I was very happy. I've heard him sing Mountains of the Moon & Cryptical, and duet with Bob on Brown-Eyed Woman....and these were all moving renditions. Likewise, Bob on the likes of Standing On the Moon, Franklin's, Black Peter, Brokedown, and Touch of Grey to name a few. There's a certain emotional gravitas that Jerry's bandmates bring to his songs that won't ever be there with anyone else.
Not saying John & Jeff & Sunshine & Warren shouldn't sing lead, just saying to Phil & Bob, keep a few of those gems for yourselves, because your voices mean alot, too.
One of my favorite "who's going to sing THIS one" moments was on Know You Rider at The Dead's 2003 New Year's show at Oakland..... When it came time for "Wish I was a headlight," Phil, Bob, and Joan all sang it in unison. Lovely.
Speaking of interpretations, I need to stream Chris Robinson's take on Two Souls in Communion.....that's gotta be good.
You might as well tell us the other 7 Furthur
shows that made up your first cut of 47...
OK - those Furthur show changes check out! :-)
Continue partying... and get off of the computer...
I'm impressed that either of us can still type...
Such unforgivable sloppiness! My deepest apologies! Thanks for keepin' me honest, ecb!
It's the 12/11/09 Connecticut show (not the Hammerstein one)...
I meant to put both March 2010 Broomfield shows on there-- 3/5 and 3/6...
And the show that I accidentally left out of my 21-40 list above was the 7/10/10 Mann Center concert.
I've changed the original post to reflect those changes...
I guess that's why they call it "dope."
I'm enjoying your list of 20 additional favorite Furthur shows (#21 - #40)... I am also paying close attention to all of the Furthur shows.
But, in addition to (1) the venue issue for 12/09/09 mentioned previously,
(2) You have the 1st Bank Center, Broomfield, CO venue listed twice.
The first listing does not include a date. Are you referring to the 12/05/10 show?
(3) There are only 19 additional shows listed for choices #21 through #40 (which includes your #21 pick of the 12/31/09 NYE show and the 07/28/11 Raleigh, NC show mentioned in previous posts)...
Are you sure that you should be blogging on a Saturday night? I mean,
I have a class of wine in my hand... :-) Just sayin'... :-)
Take care and have a wonderful weekend! I have my mail orders in for
the new Midwest Fall Furthur shows... Waitin' and Hopin'... NFA,
Wonderful Magic happened. Eyes, China Cat -Rider.
Second set Scarlet-Fire.
Lots of old and new friends.
Met a family of 3 men, Granpa on the bus since early 70's, son since the 80's and grandson about 12.
Of the downloads Radio City hits me just about right. Love Elvis's way with the Must Have Been the Roses.
It MUST have been the Roses
> my second-20-just-missed-the-cut-but-are-all-great-shows-list:
> 12/9/09, Chevrolet Theatre, Wallingford CT;
OK - I believe the 12/09/09 show was at the Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, NY
The Chevrolet Theatre show was 12/11/09...
So, which show are you listing? :-)
Well, since so many good picks are still coming in from you folks, I should also reveal the shows that were in my second-20-just-missed-the-cut-but-are-all-great-shows-list: 12/11/09, Chevrolet Theatre, Wallingford CT; 12/30/09, SF Civic; 12/31/09, SF Civic; 2/8/10, Tabernacle, Atlanta; 2/12/10, Hampton; 2/13/10 George Mason U, VA; 3/5/10 1st Bank Center, Broomfield, CO; 3/6/10, 1st Bank Center, Broomfield, CO; 7/10/10, Mann Center, Philly; 11/11/10, Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis; 11/12/10, UIC Pavilion, Chicago; 11/19/10, DCU Center; Worcester, MA; 11/21/10, MSG, NYC; 12/30/10, SF Civic; 3/11/11, Best Buy Theater, NYC; 3/22/11, Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA; 4/2/11, North Charleston (SC) Coliseum; 4/3/11, Fox Theatre, Atlanta; 7/19/11, Saratoga (NY) Performing Arts Center; 7/28/11, Raleigh (NC) Boutique Center.
While I will grant that JK's playing has evolved with Furthur and he's grown more confident, I must insist that he was "delivering Jerry ballads" with DSO.
That's why us freaks were freaking!
Glad you mentioned Pride of Cucamonga. When I heard the way they played that at the first Fox shows, I knew this band was going "Furthur" and I was happy to ride along.
Happy Birthday Kesey.