February 16, 2010

Grateful For Furthur

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Sweat. Drugs. Phil Lesh; Bob Weir. In a Barton Hall insulated by thousands of perspiring deadheads and the historical precedent set by the Grateful Dead in 1977, the two old-timers set the bar again, though this time with their more recent band, Furthur. The latest re-shuffling of remaining Grateful Dead members and other musicians who have become associated with their movement, Futhur arrived intent to recreate a show that many Dead fans rank among the best of all time: Barton Hall, May 8, 1977, a show remembered not only for the music but for the blizzard.

Snow, however, was not the concern as much as finding a ticket. Every Deadhead in the state of New York converged on Barton to share the nostalgia with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir “while they’re still around,” according to one concertgoer. The community that has grown around this band for the past 45 years showed up in full, creating a happy, optimistic atmosphere distinct from other Barton concerts.

For men of 62 and 70, respectively, Weir and Lesh showed no signs of strain whether in their long jams or their vocal quality. Playing a bass that looked more like a splotch of black paint than an instrument, Lesh subtly sang beneath Weir’s high-pitched voice. Weir, wearing a well-groomed, 19th-century mustache, switched to a carnation pink guitar early on, perhaps for a greater country-western effect. Both maintained a stoic stage presence throughout their long jams, neither one had the Deadhead aesthetic. The only band member who did not seem totally under control was one of the drummers, who wildly bounced from drum to drum, looking as though he had been pulled out of the audience. Weir appeared to be hypnotized by the soothing melodies as much as the audience. He attempted to explain to the audience the intricacies of a technical difficulty that occurred early on, but could only manage a few unintelligible mutterings; there was a translation barrier. Luckily, everyone got the idea.

The first set catered to the impatient listener. Songs like “Midnight Hour” and “Beat it On Down the Line” brought everyone up to speed, setting them up for the later, longer lasting guitar and keyboard solos. New vocal additions enriched Furthur as compared to its predecessor. Zoe Ellis and Sunshine Garcia (no relation to Jerry Garcia) backed up the vocals of Lesh, Weir and guitarist John Kadlecik, giving a sufficiently full enough sound to compromise the absence of Jerry Garcia’s sweet voice. “Uncle John’s Band”, Furthur’s wise choice for second-set, retained the timeless positivity, but added a soulful layer. It paved the way for a second act full of long jams, including “Morning Dew”, a song played in the ’77 show, “The Other One,” and others. The endless keyboard never got tiring, and Kadlecik’s guitar solo at the end of “Unbroken Chain” did even better.

Kadlecik does more than his fair share to rekindle Garcia’s magic. Co-founder of Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra, Kadlecik became widely known and acclaimed for his ability to mimic Garcia’s musical temperament, adding a smooth vocal element that offsets Weir’s grizzled sound. Midway into the first set, in “Tennessee Jed”, the duo had the whole crowd singing — “Tennesse,Tennesse/ain’t no place I’d rather be”— along with them; Weir providing a smoky sound that Kadlecik calmly accompanied.

Furthur is the latest example of the Grateful Dead’s longevity. The band came together only this past September, and is on tour this month and the next that features a stop in San Fransisco for Phil Lesh’s birthday. Along with Kadlecik, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and drummer Jay Lane had made the transition from RatDog, another tribute band. The power of the Deadhead movement is that the band has found such musicians to carry it onwards. Even after Lesh and Weir leave their playing days behind, it seems as though the movement will live on in the many musicians that they have helped inspire. Hopefully more Barton reunion shows will spring up along the way.

Original Author: Joey Anderson