With the epidemic-like spread of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games, Rock and Roll music has been packaged neatly into five little buttons as mind numbing, modified studio versions of classic hits are practically put on repeat in households throughout the world. Perhaps to counterbalance this trend, Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, pioneers in the live, improvisational jam scene, set out to offer an antidote, oozing with soul, with their new project: Furthur.
On Saturday night, Furthur played the second of three consecutive nights to a packed house of Grateful Dead faithful at Oakland’s newly restored Fox Theatre. Jay Lane, playing behind a massive fortress of auxiliary percussion, Jeff Chimenti who has tickled the keys for one of Weir’s ongoing projects RatDog, the incredibly talented Joe Russo of the Benevento Russo Duo with his masterful, yet relaxed precision behind the drum kit, and John Kadlecik who has played and sang Jerry Garcia’s part in Dark Star Orchestra (recognized as the most accurate Grateful Dead cover band around), since it’s inception in 1997, joined Weir and Lesh to reintroduce some of the most beloved songs of the catalogue with a fresh new vigor added to them.
As only a casual fan of the Grateful Dead (since I was 9 when Jerry died), I have listened to a fair amount of old recordings, learned a few tunes on the guitar and attended my first Dead concert at Shoreline this past April, I’ve come to notice a few different things about the live music of the Grateful Dead. The original music, as such, lacks any kind of crisp precision as the two drummers create a relatively monotonous groove offering very little dynamic. Also, some of the improvisational jamming from the past seems to be unfocused noodling that expresses no real direction or purpose before returning to the song. Furthur answers the call, pairing the jazzy sophisticated style of Joe Russo’s drumming accented perfectly by the primal, percussive vibrance of Jay Lane. And, upon this base, each song received the special treatment of peak after glorious peak laden jams led by the constant melodic thump of Phil’s bass and steady yet syncopated rhythm’s from Russo.
The absolute icing on the cake is Mr. Jerry Garcia v. 2.0 himself: John Kadlecik. After clearly spending a lot of time learning how to imitate Garcia’s playing style and voice, Kadlecik (who kinda even looks the part) actually seems to transform himself into a young looking, but mature sounding Jerry! His soothing voice quality and thick, rich guitar tone are pretty much (at least to my relatively amateur ears) indistinguishable from Jerry.
The show started with a lightning hot Bertha and the flames never let down as we all sang, danced, laughed and smiled our way all the way through the encore of the fitting One More Saturday night. The high powered LED stage lights went between painting a mirage of visual stimulations on a stage wide screen to accenting the music with more overt movements, often times swirling all of the lights towards one focal center for the perfect amount of sensory stimulation. The peak of the night in my book came during ‘Eyes of the World’ as some of the most energetic improvisation was paired with a seemingly liquid LED backdrop, perhaps reminiscent of the old projections they used to use. And, during one of the hottest moments, the barrage of reds and oranges in spinning patterns against the screen appeared to be a big wave of lava surrounding the band.
Despite this being 14 years after Jerry’s death and over 40 years since the first note was played, I truly felt as if this was as authentic of a Grateful Dead experience as I will ever have. Also, I can think of no better way to celebrate the music which has given so much to so many, then to give it a new breath of life by having some of the finest musicians in the game playing it. All that is left now is to schedule more dates and share it with the masses.
Set One Jam > The Other One > The Wheel Jack Straw > The Music Never Stopped > Bird Song > Born Cross Eyed > Let It Grow
Set Two Lost Sailor > St. of Circumstance Althea Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain St. Stephen > The Eleven > Foxy Lady Jam > Terrapin Station > Not Fade Away
Donor Rap E: Touch of Grey
Set One Bertha> Good Lovin' Estimated Prophet> Jam> Friend of the Devil Feel Like A Stranger Brown-Eyed Women Hell In A Bucket
Set Two Shakedown> Jam> New Speedway Boogie China Cat> Rider Playin' In The Band> Eyes Of The World> Unbroken Chain Help On The Way> Slipknot!> Franklin's Tower
E: One More Saturday Night
Set One Samson and Delilah Casey Jones Mississippi 1/2 Step Sugaree Pride of Cucamonga> Jam> Throwin' Stones> Passenger
Set Two Viola Lee Blues (v1-2)> Cumberland Blues> Viola Lee Blues (v3) King Solomon's Marbles Cassidy> Space> Dark Star> New Song > Dark Star > Uncle John's Band Sugar Mag / SSDD E: Cosmic Charlie