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.”
"yeah, the rest of us are quitting!!!"
jerry's response to phil's addressing the rumor; makes me laugh every time.
two years of furthur, huh? has it been that long since those crammed packed in like sardines shows at the hammerstein ballroom in nyc? i guess we're still a couple of months away from that anniversary, as i think the initial east coast "furthur" run was in early december...the music was good those two nights, the hammerstein is a tough venue though. my buddy and i also caught the two nights of that run outside of A.C. in jersey, and the music was better those nights then the two nights in ny. i remember thinking that it was going to be great to see where this band would go, as these shows felt like the planting of a seed.
blair, the only shows i would've added to your list would be the first two at radio city music hall in feb 2010. though only a few months later, it felt as though the band had grown by leaps and bounds. as i look over the setlist now, i can remember john's solo during "after midnight," from the first set of the first night blowing me away, and making me feel that the band had stepped to the next level.
the shows from mcu park in brooklyn were incredible, both nights. getting there was torture -brooklyn + traffic = unique nightmare...shakedown->caution to start the 2nd set that saturday night was smoking...phil is a machine phyically, and the embodiment of an artist seeking the deepest regions of the mind only because he wants to share where he goes and what he finds...joe russo is an octopus; you just can't do this stuff with only four limbs...the music was alive and breathing...the band was ready to assume their roles as full jedi knights...i remember my friend asking "how long has it been since jerry died? fifteen years, right? and they still draw this big of a crowd? amazing..." though not as surprised at the crowd, i could only agree. the stickers i saw all over the place that night summed it all up well: "jerry would love this band."
then there were those madison square garden shows in november. the last time i had seen bob
and phil at msg was with the dead in '09, and that remains the most magical concert i have ever beared witness to. msg was not located on planet earth that night; the concert took place in a space outside of time...i'm sure many of you old timers know what this post-jerry head is talking about. with that as my most recent dead msg memory, coupled with my love for the garden as my favorite "arena" to see anything, i was very interested to see if furthur could step up to this stage and deliver as it demands...both nights far succeeded what i might have imagined...they sold the place out saturday night; so fifteen years after jerry dies, bobby and phil can sell out the garden with their new band based on how they kept this music and community alive the past decade and a half. saturday night at the garden is the best i've seen so far...from the great help->slip->shakedown to open the show, the jack straw, and then bobby doing el paso to amend the debacle version of the "best buy/nokia?" the summer before...john nails wharf rat...the second set took me there and back again...phil lesh is a machine, his bass is the sound of the space in between life and death...
the shows this march in radio city...when it rains it pours, and it rains grateful dead often in and around nyc...
before this rambles on any longer, let me close with saying that i love this band, and i can't say how much i've enjoyed watching them grow together, get tighter, threaten to explode together, and keep this beautiful music and scene alive together. i look foward to going along for the trip with the band and all you folks for as long and as far out as the trip goes.
see you at the shows. i'm the tall skinny white guy with a shaved head.
That's a bullshit lie! It was Shoreline '88!
Ok, that was bullshit.
I love the Internet! I entered "Phil Lesh bullshit lie" into Google and immediately got my answer: Cal Expo '90!
I haven't heard a thing, but it sounds like scurrilous gossip to me! I've never seen a guy have more fun onstage!
Maybe it's like when that same rumor (Phil is leaving the band) circulated in '86 (I think... or maybe it was later)... and Phil finally stepped up to the mic (maybe at Cal Expo?) and said that rumors that he was leaving were "a bullshit lie!" We cheered heartily at this news. (Someone help me out here on date and place!)
For someone who didn't get on the Bus until the age of 50 this band has been a delight. I have about 10 shows and listen to them all on a fairly consistent rotation. Interestingly my children told me they prefer Furthur over the GD.That really surprised me.
I'm wondering how long it can continue? We hear lots of rumors of Phil leaving the band or cutting back on his touring any truth to this?
And the road goes on forever....
like when the good ol' grateful dead were around, i like to listen to the show after seeing it to relisten to parts...then relisten again...there are so many moments worth returning to. as much fun as i had between 95 and 09, i didn't usually revisit the shows after i attended them.
That was the comment that caught my attention from this week's blog. Same for me - I find my self going back to various furthur shows for another listen, not just once, but multiple times. This is something I would rarely if ever do with a Phil and Friends or Ratdog show, or the even the Dead or the Other Ones.
Why? I am not exactly sure, except to say that the furthur shows are more compelling to me - song selection wise, musically, all the way up and down the line. We probably all know the feeling of hearing a lick from a live Grateful Dead performance and knowing exactly what the show is - that is because we listened to the shows time and again - and that is because they were worth listening to time and again. For me, furthur shows fall into the same category.
And thanks for the terrific blog!
When you're on Archive it's set up to download one song at a time, or however you wish to arrange a playlist. The alternative is to go to the upper left hand corner and click one of the streaming options.
Of course, then you have the other problem. You're stuck playing playing first song to encore without the ability to skip anything at all. But it does make you feel like you're at the show.
Long live Archive!
It's nice to see the Highland Bowl 6-25-10 show listed here - the band played in a dinky outdoor amphitheatre near downtown Rochester (across the street from Highland Park, where the huge lilac collection had just finished blooming)
This was when Phil was still playing the futuristic black Ritter bass, and it still had some boom to it - I think he eventually became dissatisfied with the tone, and switched back to the Modulus in later tours...anyways, I was way up front when they started Sugar Mag, and the power from Phil was immense - walls of bass were comin' at me, I was in heaven! The crush of folks proved to much for an old Head like me, so after a few tunes I moved up on the hill and enjoyed the show from there :)
BTW, Feelin' Alright was another standout moment from that show - we were!
Is, so far, my favorite post-Jerry set from the various subsequent band iterations...on one of the hottest nights of the year in these parts.
I have to say that I keep going back to the "full album" shows, can't get enough of them. And the 3/27/11 Radio Music Hall gig...but I'm a big Elvis Costello fan, and love Larry Campbell as well ("Chest Fever" is just too good for words). It was almost too much of the "special guest" thing, but not quite.