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.
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.
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
e-mail email@example.com... 4 more tatt2 ////////some things u can replace and others u cannot////aint no time to hate////sometimes u get shown the light in the strangest of places if u look at it right/////if u( really) get confused liten to the music play.......----shall i continue, need i say more---- o.k. uno mas,,,might as well..//// i want to thank u for a real good time
I went to see the captain, strangest I could find...
Thank you for the reply and I guess my comments were not so much a critique of your reporting beacuase I was not at the show but an overall response to some of the negative comments that I have read about JK. It must be tough (pressure wise) to play so similiar to JG with Bob and Phil to boot, while all the while knowing that this music has such emotional meaning to so many people. I am happy for JK because I believe he pulls it off with true heart and to be honest I am happy for me and others because the way the music has been played lately has really stoked up pasion for all GD music- past and present
BTW I have read An American Life and I want to thank you for your work. It really gave me a great understanding of GD and I refer to it all the time; especially when I buy an archived release and want catch up on "what was going on". I can dig your response concerning the embodiment view of playing a song, and upon reflection, unfortunately (in my opinion) to truly embody some of the great GD songs you have to pay the ultimate price (Black Peter, etc...) In a twisted way I sorrowly thank JG for having the courage to delve so deep into the darkness (not sure if that makes sense), but to go off on that topic sounds like a completely different book!
Anyway, thank you for clarifying your point of view- I appreciate you taking the time to respond!
All I was implying in my comment about "Candyman" is that in that particular case I felt like JK sang it but didn't embody it. (And yes, I saw many a version where Jerry did the same.) JK DID embody "So Many Roads." My own opinion is that I would rather see JK sing almost any Jerry song than either Phil or Bob because at least he sticks to Jerry's phrasing--and Jerry was a MASTER at phrasing, so why mess with it? A singer can still bring his/her own passion and personality to it--and I point to the "faithful" renditions of Jerry tunes by everyone from Warren Haynes to Joan Osborne to Chris Robinson to Jackie Greene as proof. (Or look at how Jerry handled Dylan's tunes, which he slowed down or speeded up or otherwise changed but never lost the essential connection Dylan's original phrasing--would that Dylan himself would do the same, but don't get me started on that!) Jerry was a meticulous songwriter and singer and Hunter clearly an impeccable craftsman with a wonderful sense of the rhythm of words, how lines balance with each other and the emotional flow of words as they're accompanied by music. You screw with that at your peril, IMO. I appreciate that JK is at least honoring the songwriters' intent, and I admire his playing unreservedly.
I went to see the captain, strangest I could find...
Some lines in the article by BJackson and some of the comments here have really surprised me. First JK - The comment that BJ did not really think the Candyman was "in town" really rubbed me the wrong way and I think Peggy O's comments regarding JK are suspect at best. In regards, to JK's playing- First, I have seen GD (although 95 when JG was not functional- people seem to forget that JG was not consistantly JG for alot of the '80s and most of the '90s because of detoriating health and substance abuse), other ones, the dead from last spring, Furthur in Wallingford and have the dicks picks and other live recordings to get a taste of JG playing in his prime.
Getting to the point- the other ones show was ok but did not have a special cohesiveness, and the dead show I saw in Hartford last spring was awful and I left after KSMarbles and thats saying a lot considering how much I paid to see it. The tempo was off, drumming was slow and the drum sequence with Obama soundbites was a tragedy (not just for throwing politics in my face but for making the dead sound like djs eiwwww). The timing was not just off because of the drumming but the jumping guitar melody needed for the music was replaced by an Allman Brothers type southern slide which totally does not work with the music.
After seeing JK in Wallingford, I believe he was able to bring the speed and melody back with his playing that is both inspired and creative- I have since bought the show and listened to it numerous times and it just gets better.
Sure JK has a vocal intonation that sounds like JG (but doesn't Bob try to sometimes sound like Dylan and doesn't Dylan try to sound like Guthrie and doesn't all of rock try to sound like the blues?) and he can play JG styles but he moves the jam to good fresh spaces that JG could not do consistantly since the big H took over. To respond to BJ the Candyman went for the candy and left the music holding the bag.....
Lately, I have heard alot of enabling type defenses of GD music which may have done more harm to the music and help perserve it in a mummified state in the later years- like a zombie. The line goes like: Sure they had off nights but it was the risk they were taking...... Let's be real- the "risk" was not taken intentially after hard drugs took over. Check out the You tube clip of Bret saying how his '82 new years wish is to kick drugs- maybe if we had called a spade a spade and not filled the stadiums back in the '80s because the quality was sub par, some may still be alive today- who knows... To summarize- lets not glorify the past to knock JK's contribution to the music- it doesn't hold up.
All in all- JK brings the music and takes it Furthur regardless of the JG predjudice. His playing is consistant, technically up to par, and creative. I am not trying to provoke with these comments I am just trying to give another perspective to the argument- nothing personal, I appreciate the debate.
First off great post by Blair, great to read a fans perspective by a seminal insider. As a '50' yr old warrior whose been thru more shows than i care to remember (1st show at Roosevelt Stadium '76) my only thoughts regarding this new tour which I ll catch at RCMH is that with each tour these guys bring their live zeitgeist to a new generation, who all can now appreciate it in a whole new light. They (The Dead) choose to enlighten these newbies with their Dead Sets and hope it can only perpetuate itself. As Phil so poignantly noted at a show when a fan screamed out .."I miss Jerry..' He replied- So do we!!" With that, whether its JK or Warren or Larry Cambell, we can only agree that its the memories we share and the music that's played-not the players who perform. their job is to shed light and not to master...thanks for 4 decades of memories, now its my turn to get our kids into these tunes and not Lady Gaga...Happy Birthday Phil, last show I saw was on Bobby's B day, may there be many more the world's a better place with you, and Bobby, Mickey, and Billy in it--How about a Lazy Lightning on this tour PLEASE???? Best always,
I think you might be pleasantly surprised!
Hello Fellow Gratefuls,
This being my first post, I have been very eager to offer my perspective and gratitude to the band(s),tours,and fans. Past, present, and future.
After growing-up a total "metalhead"(Judas Priest, Ozzy etc..) I found myself being forced to listen to some band called The Grateful Dead by my Fraternity Brothers(Alfred N.Y. late 80's). Thus began a transformation to a life of "Deadication".An obsession,according to old friends.
Having seen The Grateful Dead only 22 times with Jerry,I was thrilled to witness ALL the ensuing incarnations.From Further Fests and The Other Ones to the solo projects and the Dead Bands.Even The Dead for Obama.Lo and behold the Music never stopped,the Band has kept playing on.
My point(to keep with the topic)is to me it has always been about the music and not just about Jerry.The Boys are still giving us the music that Jerry loved to perform.Warren fit in nicely with the Dead and Phil and Friends.Bluesy yet uplifting at times.Now it's 2010 and we get Bob and Phil again.Good enough for me.Jeff,Jay,and Joe too,great!!!I'm not a fan of Dark Star Orchestra.Saw only one time and left at intermission.To me it is Fake Dead.But John K. is not DSO any more than Jerry was The GDead.So I've decided to drop my guard at Buffalo and Utica in February.And allow myself the blissful enjoyment of watching Bob and Phil prove once again that YES,in fact, The Grateful Dead still lives!!!
Lights come on at the end of the show, sated and dazed we slowly reformed our group, over across the aisle sat the grey-head bright tie-dye big man with his lady and kids in their 20's, he'd danced sitting all night, his kids had been down on the floor, like mine, together our thoughts revisited and reflected upon the scene, our gazes met and discussed this night with a deep eyeful of each other's smile and nod, yes, this was it.
.. better from the git-go than The Dead ever got last spring with Warren Haynes. I'm not a musician so I can't make a technical argument about whose chops are the best or if Jeff beats Brent and if the drummers can't compare. Only thing I know is what the music sounds like and how it feels and if I'm enjoying myself in the atmosphere that the crowd has created along with the band.
I haven't seen Furthur yet so I can't even comment on that last part. But the music I hear from Furthur is definitely making me feel a whole lot better than the music I saw and heard from The Dead last spring. If the shows are less crowded and the people less jaded and more enthusiastic then I'm sure I'm going to have a great time.
The same old songs in a different way is what it's all about. I'm just happy I can still drag my bones to a few more shows with some kindred spirits who enjoy the same thing. I know I'm going to avoid the buzz-crushers badmouthing the show like the plague. Positivity and enjoyment is what I'm after.
I too felt there was a certain energy in the NYE shows that was "different" than the Spring Tour. I do think the 'less hype' was a factor. Let's be real, if it was The Dead (same as Spring Tour) playing NYE, there would have been way WAY more people trying to get into that show and it would have been mayhem. That said, during the first intermission of NYE I said to one of my friends that the venue felt more like being in a town hall with one's neighbors, and I forgot how much I enjoyed GA shows. You are wherever you're supposed to be at a GA show and that's rather a treat in this day and age of trying to score the best seats in the house. If we'd wanted to be in the front row those two nights, we easily could have been. We chose to sit up one level behind the soundboards and those sitting around us chose to be there as well so it was a very groovy vibe. I miss that from all the GA shows I went to in the late 70s and 80s.
I do want to say that I'm digging hearing tunes that I've never heard live before, such as Here Comes Sunshine and Golden Road....good stuff!