Going Furthur on New Year’s Eve
By Blair Jackson
OK, I think we can officially say that the “show me” phase of Furthur’s trial period is over. This band has got the goods, for sure, and they definitely seem to be on a roll. Playing a handful of well-received dates on the East Coast during early and mid-December, then tuning up for New Year’s with a couple of “stealth” shows at the tiny Mill Valley Masonic Hall, the band went into the Bill Graham Civic shows with a good head of steam—it’s great to see everyone looking so relaxed and happy, and speaking for myself, it’s delightful to see the group playing in smaller venues than the mega-halls that The Dead played in last spring.
Now, I did something I’ve almost never done since the early ’80s—I intentionally didn’t follow what the group played on the East Coast or the Masonic Hall because I thought it would be more fun to be surprised when I got to Civic on New Year’s Eve. That’s right, I also didn’t go to the show on the 30th, opting instead to see Jackie Greene and Jemimah Puddleduck (featuring Mark Karan) at the intimate Great American Music Hall that night instead—an awesome show as it turned out.
The New Year comes in at the Bill Graham Civic in SF.
Photo: Dave Clark / daveclarklive.net © 2009
I did hear about the Furthur show on the 30th from friends who attended, and every report was glowing, so I didn’t go into New Year’s with the completely blank slate I’d hoped to—but all the better to not wish for “Scarlet-Fire” and “China Cat-Rider” and a few of the other great songs they played at that show.
The weather gods were with us this year—it was cool but clear both nights; no rain in sight, and people seemed remarkably easy-going from what I could see (which is not always the case on New Year’s Eve, to say the least). I managed to land a nice spot for my group of three in the back row of the loge, behind the soundboard. Man, I can remember stressing over trying to save something like 16 seats for my crowd at Dead shows; now we’re down to a Power Trio? Oh well, their loss. The place filled up slowly, but considering the show started 40 minutes late (tsk, tsk), by the time the music started, it was packed from the side of the floor up to the rafters. I’ve seen it more crowded, for sure—in fact I’ve seen it obscenely crowded—but this definitely looked like there wasn’t room for many more to squeeze in there comfortably.
I called the “Shakedown” opener (thank you, thank you) and immediately my eyes were drawn to the right side of the stage (do we call it “the John side” now?) and… WTF? Somehow, in the reports of the previous night’s show, my friends had neglected to tell me that there are now a pair of ladies singing with the band! Wow! Their names are Zoe Ellis—the sister of original RatDog sax ace Dave Ellis and a veteran of the Phil & Friends lineup featuring Jorma Kaukonen a million years ago—and Sunshine Garcia Becker, no relation to either Sunshine Kesey or Jerry Garcia. And they sounded great, filling out the group’s vocal sound on most songs—when you could hear them. For my money, they could have been turned up much more in the mix, ’cause this group, great as it is, still needs help in the vocal area, and these women are ready, willing and able to provide that support. I say, let ’em fly!
The first set had many high points. The “Shakedown” was solid and funky; the “Jack Straw” was beautifully developed in the middle; I love the more Merl Haggard-ized “Mama Tried” they’ve been playing for a while; and John K. handled “Candyman” nicely (though I can’t say he made me truly believe “that the Candyman’s in town”). I thought the “Loose Lucy” dragged a bit because of Bob’s insistence on stretching out the spaces between each vocal line, but once it got to the choruses, it soared. And yes, gentlemen, I do “thank you for a real good time,” once again! “Viola Lee Blues” was a nice late-set surprise, and unlike most of the versions I’ve seen in recent years, this one was self-contained (i.e. no other songs tucked into it between verses). Which isn’t to say the jams didn’t go way out and far away from the song; they did, and in my view not always that purposefully—some of the jamming felt a little unfocussed, a complaint I’ve rarely had with this lineup. But the way they miraculously returned to “Viola Lee” after going so far afield was wondrous, and then the set-ending “Truckin’” was a perfect closer that got everybody singin’ along. This party was on!
People seemed buzzed and happy out in the hallways between sets—yep, it’s definitely New Year’s Eve! The harsh hall lighting was a drag (gone are the days when Bill Graham’s troops used to put colored cellophane over the hall lights at Kaiser!), so I quickly returned to the interior cocoon, where all was mellow and beautiful. Seems like they were playing cool music between sets, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what it was—that’s a good thing. It felt right.
Set Two started with a bang: “Help on the Way” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower”; always great to hear and these versions were all excellent, especially the “Slipknot.” “Cassidy” came next, and though I missed Bob having a harmony partner for the verses (ladies?), it was certainly very well-achieved, with a long, graceful build-up during the jam, then a sustained crest at the top, before sliding back to the denouement; sweet. “The Wheel” was a perfect choice for New Year’s Eve, of course, and this time the full complement of singers really added a lot of power. Out of the song the group went into a fantastically variegated jam that went hither and yon, there and a back, inside and outside—all over the place!—before sliding into a really fine “Dark Star,” again self-contained. Here, the jamming was confident and assertive; one of the best versions I’ve heard of that one in a while.
And out of the ashes of that comes… wait a minute… no, it can’t be… but it can’t be anything else… YES!... It’s the familiar opening strains of Pink Floyd’s “Time” from Dark Side of the Moon, a tune that’s as much a part of the collective DNA of most of us as a lot of Dead songs. What an amazing choice! (And the fact that I hadn’t looked at setlists from previous Furthur shows allowed me to be completely surprised!) Jay and Joe had the drums on the intro down perfectly, John K, was hitting those ringing David Gilmour tones, and it built and built until that moment when the voices come in and then…WOW: the ladies took the first lines and wailed ’em! What a great moment! Then Phil took the Gilmour “answer” lines so the girls (please, can I call ’em “the girls,” in honor of Jackie and Gloria?) could do the “oohs” and “aahs” or whatever it is that accompanies that part of the song. We already knew that John can “play” Jerry; well, he also nailed Gilmour’s part in “Time,” sending his heavily reverb-ed solo to the upper reaches of the hall… and beyond—breathtaking! And then, sweet as honey, “Uncle John’s Band” to close out the second set.
The full, expanded band during Pink Floyd's "Time."
Dave Clark / daveclarklive.net © 2009
What? Why aren’t they leaving the stage? The little red digital clock behind Phil’s rig says its past 11:30! But I guess there was one more song on the list (didn’t expect there to be quite so much jamming, eh boys?), because out of nowhere comes John K. (go, Johnny, go!) singing a freakishly speedy “After Midnight”—thematically, a stupendous choice for the pre-midnight set, with extra points for the Garcia connection! But they really rushed through it, with barely a solo. It was still cool, but they left the stage at 19 minutes to midnight, barely enough time to get a drink or find a friend or do much of anything.
Then, at about five until midnight, the lights went down, the howls from the crowd went up, and smoke started to rise from the area of the floor right behind the soundboard and spotlights hit four mirror balls. Music started to pour out of the speakers—it was Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” I’m told; I have no memory of it because I was focused on whatever the hell was rising very slowly right in front of me, from the smoke below. All of sudden there’s the familiar horn fanfare of “La Marseillaise,” but every person there knows they ain’t playin’ the French national anthem over the P.A.—it’s the opening of The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”! What a perfect way to usher in a new decade! Rising in front of us we first saw a girl dressed in white “New Year’s” finery, but it wasn’t until she was directly at our level that I realized she was standing on an enormous grinning silver skull, crowned with a wreath of roses, with red lights for eyes! The crowd went appropriately berserk, and as the Beatles’ anthem continued, the skull—20-year old Deadhead-since-birth Emily Sunderland looking very regal standing atop it—cruised high above the heads of the people massed on the floor on its way to the stage. There, the skull and our New Year’s Girl were greeted by Father Time—Bill Walton!—there was the countdown from “10” and then the giant balloon drop! Happy New Year, y’all! Hugs and kisses all around. Noisemakers and horns rattling and honking! The skull then ascended to a spot above the stage, where it remained for the rest of the night, its red eyes shining.
Unfortunately, there was no band onstage when the New Year’s moment came, so with “All You Need Is Love” long ended and no one ready to play, the next couple of minutes of pandemonium were, alas, completely unaccompanied by music; a darn shame! When the band did finally all assemble with their instruments, it wasn’t the “Sugar Magnolia” I’m sure most were expecting, but “The Golden Road”—a fantastic choice, I thought: “Come join the party every day!” From there, it was one good song after another. “Let It Grow” was jammed out wonderfully and eventually led to “Cryptical Envelopment.” I can’t help it, I always think of Jerry on that one… but in a good way. This, too, was extended nicely and ended up at “Born Cross-Eyed” (which I swear they play at every show I go to; not that I’m complaining). That, then, led into the anticipated and mildly teased “Other One,” back in to the “Cryptical” (I always like it when they “finish” it), and then what for me was probably the emotional highlight of the night: “So Many Roads," beautifully sung and played by John. I love that song, and to hear it played with so much assurance (and affection) was really satisfying.
I could have gone home a very happy man after that, but there was still a colossal “Saint Stephen” to go, followed by “The Eleven” (after all, it is still “the season of what now”) and finally “Not Fade Away.” Phil was warm and optimistic in his “donor rap,” noting that he really believed that 2010 will be a great year; jeez, I sure hope so. And then, because there could be no other encore, even though every one of us was prepared for it not to be the encore ’cause you gotta go with the flow, whatever it is… “Sugar Magnolia,” as rockin’ and spectacular as you could want it to be, every person in the place doin’ the hippy-hippy-shake as if we hadn’t already been dancing for five hours.
Didn’t see a single frown on the way out; everyone was sort of floating a few inches off the ground, as it should be. It was a glorious night and the perfect way to start the New Year and New Decade. Do you realize how lucky we are to still be doing this… together? LOVE is all you need!!!
12/31/09, Bill Graham Civic Center, SF
#1: Shakedown Street, Jack Straw, Mama Tried, Candyman, Loose Lucy, Viola Lee Blues > Truckin'
#2: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower, Cassidy, The Wheel> jam> Dark Star> Time> Uncle John's Band, After Midnight
#3 (midnight set): Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)> Let it Grow> Cryptical Envelopment> Born Cross-Eyed> The Other One> Cryptical Envelopment> So Many Roads, St. Stephen> The Eleven> Not Fade Away E: Sugar Magnolia
12/30/09, Bill Graham Civic Center, SF
Jam> Here Comes Sunshine> Bertha, Promised Land, Mississippi Half Step> Deep Elem Blues, Lost Sailor> St. of Circumstance, Cosmic Charlie
Playing in the Band> jam> Eyes of the World> Scarlet Begonias> Fire on the Mountain> King Solomon's Marbles, Unbroken Chain, Standing on the Moon> China Cat Sunflower> I Know You Rider E: Terrapin Station
anything's been announced yet, but I'd also keep an eye on furthur.net
when can you buy tickets for next year? does any one know any information on the show coming in 2011?
John Henrikson, producer of "The Deadpod" on iTunes, just posted an excellent recording of the highlights of this show. It was released on 2/26/2010 and his line up is as follows:
Uncle John's Band
III: Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion>
Let It Grow>
The Other One>
It's free and can be picked up on iTunes or at http://media.libsyn.com/media/deadshow
A truly amazing show, and their version of Time is moving. It kicks the shit out of Phish's version of Time for sure. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Go see Furthur. I saw the Dead over 50 times from 1972 on, and after just seeing Furthur at Hampton and Fairfax, I can gladly say that that my son and I just witnessed the two most wonderful shows of Grateful Dead music I've heard since Jerry left the planet.
Ever since I got to listen to the NYE show I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting on this band that I love so much. Initially, I had very mixed feelings about it and in some ways I still do. Through all of this, there are several things that have become very clear to me:
First of all, I have to echo Blair J's sentiments that it is amazing that it is 2010 and we are still going to shows and getting this music. After Jerry died, I did not envision that in 2010 there would be anything like this. So now we are getting this music delivered by yet another post-Jerry line-up. Hey, the music is good and people are happy so let's rock.
Second, I will say that I find it interesting as I have read through this site and various other forums that many people have raved about this show and previous Furthur shows. Out of curiosity, I looked at reviews of many shows of the other post-Jerry line-ups throughout the years. What seemed to be the case is that many people raved about those line-ups as much as this current one. Also too, there were the harsh critics as well. The same can be said for many Grateful Dead eras, tours, shows as well. Well, I finally realized 2 important things: A.) everyone's sensibilities are different so what one person likes can be completely lost on another. A good example would be the Richfield Coliseum show in 3/21/94. This show is consistently regarded as one of the better from that year and era and also one that I love. A lot of people are enamored by the Lovelight>Stella Blue> Lovelight sandwich to close out the show. Sure, I love that but what floored me was the inspired and passionate vocal jam during He's Gone (you know, the "nothing's gonna bring him back"). Simply different sensibilities.
B.) The experience of being at a show is different, which I always knew, but it seldom translates to the recording. So many shows that I have attended don't sound/feel quite the same when I listen to the recording - know what I mean? Plus, and more importantly, you can never interpret someone else's experience at a particular show. I can't really say how it went down for someone else, but only for me.
Third, any band whether it be the Grateful Dead or some other post-Jerry line-up, Phish, Allman Brothers, etc... that are jam bands that live and die by the live improvisational show. This creates an expectation in people’s minds that is either fulfilled or not. So as much as it may be termed enableing, it can be hit or miss. Not every show goes great, for various reasons, and some shows are just out of this world.
So with Furthur and this NYE show, as I have listened to it, what jumps out at me is that this band seems to be playing exceptionally tight as if they had been together for years. I would venture to guess that JK's years of playing GD songs and homing into the Jerry sound to what ever extent he did has helped this. Jeff really works the keys well and he definitely had his practice. The drummers are great fit too and I totally dig the ladies on the backing the vocals. Overall it sounds good and real tight. Now, as good as this was, nothing stands out to me as being other worldly or mind blowing (Time was close). But then again I have different sensibilities and I was not at this show. I hope that these guys stay together and tour this summer when I am off work so I can check them out.
Do or do not; there is no try.
... for about five minutes; after that they're a drag...
The biggest difference I noticed was that people were poppin' the balloons instead of enjoyin' 'em. In years past I remember most of 'em would end up on stage.........Mebbe folks are just gettin' sick of seein' so many of 'em in the parking lot.
Yes we are lucky to be doing this together......Love IS all you need :o)
Once in awhile you can get shown the light.
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.
I went to see the captain, strangest I could find...
Just to clarify- I do not believe calling your comments on JK suspect at best to be a personal attack. I do not know you, all I know is that when you state a musician did not have the technical skills or creative chops, I believe you should back it up with an example of why you feel that way. I believe saying I did not care for his style is one thing but to say the guy is not technically skilled or creative is different and frankly offensive on your part. I saw JK on this tour so I believe that I have a reference point to debate your comment.
With that said, seeing that you took that comment as a personal attack, let me re phrase- I feel your comment is based on opinion more than fact. I believe technical skills are fact, you either have them or you don't. I think JK has them because he can solo flawlessly and creatively, even when playing some of the more involved solos- ex. Eyes and Shakedown (I saw him play both on this tour). Also he added some tasty licks that were not normally played back in the day, so I think he was creative.
I gave an opinion about Warren where I said that I thought he had the wrong style for the songs and didn't think he fit- I didn't say he was technically off because I believe thats different (and he's not). I was debating what I thought to be the facts you presented not your opinions. Anyway, I apologize if I offended you by that phrase it was not my intention to do so-
mpace, I found it really contradictory that you started your post by calling out blairj and I for expressing honest opinions on our recent NYE experiences, particularly since you were not present for those shows. You called my comments "suspect at best", and then you end your post with "nothing personal, I appreciate the debate." Seriously? Dude, I've been to more shows than I can count and yes, there were times there were off nights. Those of us lucky enough to have been around for a while know full well there were good times and off times. Nobody's denying that. I've never been to a show that sucked all the way around though. There was always a good nugget in there somewhere. But regardless, I have a right to express my opinion - respectfully - and share what I thought about the shows. Again, the good and the not so great. I'm pretty sure I said that I wasn't blown away by JK but that I had a wonderful time and that Bobby and Phil were terrific and Jeff was just on fire. Yes, I don't care for JK. I don't like the overtly similar sound to Jerry because for me it verges on imitation, particularly since I know he's coming from DSO. I'd prefer someone who got the essence of how Jerry played/sang, but without that almost-mimicking, which is how I hear it. You hear it differently and it seems to work for you, so good for you because you'll really enjoy the shows! I enjoyed the NYE experience/shows very much, despite the fact that I'm not sold on "the new guy". But please, don't come around here and start telling people the thoughts they share "are suspect at best". You don't know me. If you did, your post would read much differently.
I appreciate good conversation - back and forth exchanges of differing and sometimes similar ideas. It's just too bad some people can't engage in a conversation of differing opinions here without stooping to disrespecting other people's posts. If we all had the same opinions it would be a hella boring planet wouldn't it?
...and yes it was great...The All You Need is Love intro to the new year was especially cool, especially for us old timers. I'm so glad that Deadheads continue to carry it all on keeping the vibe and the dream alive. Sometimes during the workaday world a person can feel isolated...so... fuck that reality... Onward through the fog...See you at Phil's birthday bash...Further