So as some of you are no doubt aware, Furthur is going to be taking a touring hiatus after their jaunt down to Mexico in January. This, while sounding ominous for a band with a history of hiatuses (hiati?) , should be good for the band for a number of reasons. I think that they will come back relatively soon and with a renewed vigor. While they're touring schedules have been less that strenuous lately, generally focusing on extended runs at a single venue at a time and not lasting more than a month sometimes, Bobby and Phil must still get tired. However, sometimes I think I'm getting a little tired of their strategy for these tours, and that a larger break might shake them of the parts I find questionable.
My biggest beef with the current strategy is their seeming indifference to the evil Ticketmaster. While I might be looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, it seems like back in the day you could see a run of three Dead shows without dropping more than thirty bucks. Nowadays, however, it's generally impossible to find a ticket for less than sixty dollars, unless it's at an outdoor venue that has lawn tickets available. I get that dues have to be paid to band members, crew, and venue staff, but that pricing really makes it difficult for broke college-age Heads to see our favorite music! And when other class acts like Rubblebucket or DSO charge less than half as much for their shows, it really makes even less sense to me! So hopefully Furthur will take this hiatus as a chance to figure out how to get out form under the boot of Ticketmaster and get tickets to their fans who would love nothing more than to catch some of the magic.
This is also something that comes up when encountering Dead Heads who see the Dead as a kind of competition. The question of how many shows one has seen is a definite factor in how much of a Dead Head one is to many people; but here is an area where my generation of Heads is at a severe disadvantage. Not only does Furthur not tour as many months out of the year as the Dead used to, the tours are, as I mentioned before, not as wide-ranging as they used to be. Combine those two factors with the price issue, and we're lucky if we see Furthur once during a tour! I probably won't see them live at all in 2013 because I couldn't get my work schedule to coincide with their stop at Canandaigua (nearest show to Ithaca) this summer, and even if I had that show got thundered out in the middle of "Caution!" Don't worry about me now, I'll see Phil & Friends in Port Chester with my folks, but the point still stands that I would knock over any number of old ladies to get to see Furthur.
One thing that I hope stays the same is Furthur's recent affinity for theaters instead of arenas. While maybe a part of the price problem, I would gladly pay (a little) more to see them in a great space than to be crammed like another sardine into a hockey rink. To be fair, two of the best Furthur shows I've seen were in arenas (03/29/11 in Binghampton & 11/11/11 in Syracuse) where the band really knew how to utilize the sonic space of the arena. Binghampton wasn't even that crowded or hellish, but getting into and out of the Syracuse show was definitely somewhere between having your teeth pulled and paying taxes as far as enjoyability is concerned. People mooing is only funny as far as the event staff distinguish you from cattle, and after that point you're just not sure if that was a moo for help or a moo as an attempted joke. Theaters, however, are generally classy, low on hassles, and guarantee you'll have something beautiful and interesting to stare at when "Dark Star" is peaking around you.
So I'm probably being too optimistic, but I really think that when Furthur comes back to us they will be a more accessible band as far as us fans are concerned. They will have worked out better ticketing strategies, rested enough to increase their touring range and time, and will be a fresher band in general. Anyone who has seen or heard any of their latest shows will agree that this band is only getting better as time goes on, and is really hitting their stride and finding new places to shine in songs. "Jack Straw" has been stretched into a new, mind-eating song that not only rocks the way the Dead always got it to, but goes also goes into those furthur-out spaces. "St. Stephen" has also never been so well formulated or carried out with such consistency as Furthur does it, let alone all the other songs that the Dead stopped doing ("King Solomon's," "The Eleven," "Doin' That Rag," etc.). And hopefully there will be a continuation of the webcasts that have become more popular recently. The entire Interlocken Festival was available for streaming with video for a minimal cost, Sirius XM routinely broadcasts shows live online (please let there be a New Year's Run!), and of course TRI Studios, Bob's play-pen, is a perfect place for broadcasts. So here's to the end of Furthur's first cycle of tours, and to what they have in store for us when they return!