Concert Review: Furthur in Boston, MA on 3/4/11

Concert Review:

Furthur
March 4, 2011
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, MA

(You can listen to the show here. Thanks tapers!)

The first Grateful Dead bootleg I ever received was a 1972 practice jam with no set list. At the time I didn’t know much about the Dead beyond the well-established fact that deadheads were considered the worst thing in the history the everything. Prior to receiving that tape the Dead seemed to me more of a concept than a band. I liked the idea of the Dead, of the counter-culture, of the traveling circus, but I didn’t understand the Dead as a band, as musicians, as explorers.

That tape changed everything. Listening to it I had no idea what song was being played or what would come next. The unpredictability was thrilling. Not only did I not know what songs were being played, I didn’t even know what type of music would be coming up next. It was all a mystery, being in the dark, and it was a fitting introduction to the music and the ethos of the Grateful Dead.

Eventually I pieced together what the set list was, and songs like Promised Land, Brown-Eyed Women and Bird Song opened my ears and my mind to a style of music that couldn’t be easily classified. It was psychedelic blues rock with both country and jazz elements. It featured a lead guitar that was unique, delicate and fluid. The rhythm section was driven by an over-powering bass and tribal beats. The sometimes lead vocalist seemed perfectly out of place, bringing an unexpected rock star front-man vibe to the proceedings. And yet it all worked together beautifully well. It was an amalgamation of different musical styles and different personalities resulting in something far greater than the individual pieces. It was in every sense “American” music.

So defined my early impression of the Grateful Dead: unpredictability and a blend of disparate elements (both musical and individual) that improbably work together.

In the 15 years since Jerry left us we’ve seen a lot of iterations of the Grateful Dead, some of them very successful (The Other Ones in 2002), some of them less so (The Dead in 2009). But it seemed like two things had changed forever: first, no one would ever try to fill the “Jerry spot” and secondly, Phil and Bob would chase their own vision of the Dead sound separately (Phil hewing early psychedelic blues, Bob chasing jazzy rock and acoustic cowboys songs). Even when the core four played together again as The Dead in ’03, ’04 and ’09 they brought on people like Warren Haynes or Joan Osborne to fill Jerry’s spot on stage but not his space in the music.

All this changed when John Kadlecik was brought up from AAA (he played Jerry in the accomplished Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra) and for the first time Phil and Bobby attempted to recreate the sound of the good ol’ Grateful Dead (you can read my review of the Manchester, NH show here). And while it’s sad that Billy Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart aren’t around for the trip, there’s no way to overstate what John brings to the table. Make no mistake: John Kadlecik is the key to Furthur.

Whether John is merely inspired by Jerry or is channeling his spirit is immaterial. The sound of his guitar and his voice is eerie and spot on. He so thoroughly inhabits Jerry’s musical space that you sometimes forget who’s on stage. There are moments where John transports you to “that place”, after we all thought it could never happen again.

Friday’s night show at the Orpheum in Boston was the first night of a three show run in Boston, and the first show of this leg of the tour. The call was made for the traditional Feel Like a Stranger opener, which would come, but only after an unexpected Come Together. Drummer Joe Russo showed that he could ably fill the Rhythm Devils’ shoes with his perfect fills on Stranger. Things then kicked into high-gear with a double shot of Alabama Getaway and Promised Land, with John, and then Bobby, setting the pace for an upbeat night. Next up was the best non-Jerry Althea I’ve ever heard, John just absolutely nailing it. Phil stepped up to the mic for a great Fennario, one of the songs that I actually prefer a Phil vocal on. Then they dipped way back for a trippy Cream Puff War that transitioned into a deliciously cheesy Good Lovin’. Bobby then cued a Come Together reprise mashed into Good Lovin’ before finishing up the set.

What made the first set so impressive, aside from the lack of rust, was just how unpredictable the song choices were. Starting with Come Together, there was no way to predict what was coming next. All of the familiar runs and song patterns seemed to have been thrown out the window. The mystery was back.

The second set would prove itself to be a deadheads dream set, with lots of crowd favorites surfacing. Things kicked off with a nice The Music Never Stopped and then the crowed exploded with a great Wheel. Up next came a very solid Uncle John’s Band>Playin’ in the Band run, which then culminated in a very unexpected and greatly appreciated Crazy Fingers. Next up was a stellar The Other One which set up the highlight of the night (which is saying a lot in a night full of highlights) – a gorgeous Morning Dew. I was already completely sated at that point, so I almost couldn’t believe that they would drop a Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower on us (the Slipknot! Was insanely good, by the way). It (almost) felt greedy getting so many nuggets in one set. After the donor rap, things finished up with a fun Golden Road. It was perhaps the greatest, most deadhead-friendly, epic set of recent memory.

This is a band playing at such a high level it’s hard to believe that it’s happening at this late hour in the history of the Dead. Jeff Chimenti is probably the best keyboard player on the planet right now (excepting Bruce Hornsby, of course, who resides upon Mount Olympus and cannot be compared to mere mortals) and I’m not sure whether I prefer his B3 or piano playing. He consistently killed it on so many tunes that it’s nigh impossible to pick stand-outs. (Okay, his playing on Althea was a big highlight.) Joe Russo provided a steady beat as well as great fills on the drums, Phil Lesh and Bobby Weir are both playing and singing at a consistently high level and then there’s John Kadlecik, the heart of Furthur.

Needless to say, this was an outstanding show by an incredible band. If you’re already on the bus, sit back and enjoy the ride. If you ever got off the bus, it’s time to get back on – we’ll pick you up at the next stop, destination unknown.

Set List:

Come Together
Feel Like a Stranger
Alabama Getaway>
Promised Land
Althea
Peggy-O
Cream Puff War>
Good Lovin’>
Come Together Reprise>
Good Lovin’

Set 2:

Music Never Stopped>
The Wheel>
Uncle John’s Band>
Playin’ in the Band>
Crazy Fingers>
Other One>
Morning Dew>
Help on the Way>
Slipknot>
Franklin’s Tower
**Donor Rap**
E: Golden Road

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