Due to many raucous requests, I will be reviewing Furthur's show in Syracuse, NY on November 11th, 2011 (11/11/11). My next post will most likely be another review, and though I have an idea already as to which show it will feature, requests are always welcome.
So here's a bit of prelude to this show that may or may not help in reading about it. This was my friend's and my third Furthur show, and the second in an upstate NY sports arena. The night before, Furthur played Madison Square Garden in NYC, with special guests Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams, two excellent folk/rockers. That setlist included a bunch of songs we had wanted to get at our show (The Other One, Shakedown, Uncle John's, Eyes of the World), so we were a little disappointed; but not for long! One last word about the MSG show is that they also did Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning, a song I had only heard Hot Tuna do previously, and they knocked it out of the park! Campbell and Williams had actually just been doing work with Hot Tuna on their latest album, so they could have picked it up there. But anyway, back to the 11th.
I'll put up the Syracuse setlist as a frame of reference, and here's the soundboard for those of you who want to listen along http://archive.org/details/furthur2011-11-11.sbd.official.117330.flac16
Set 1: Alligator > The Last Time, Reuben & Cherise > Jam > High On a Mountain > Loser > Brown-Eyed Women > Jack Straw, Revolution
Set 2: Weather Report Suite > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Playing in the Band > I Want You (She's So Heavy) > Dark Star > We Love You > Drums > King Solomon's Marbles, Sugaree, Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
Encore : Donor Rap, The Eleven > U.S. Blues
So I'll start by getting my one complaint out of the way: the Oncenter (previously Onondaga Community War Memorial) sucks! The security was staffed by incompetent hasslers with nothing better to do than boss people around and make an otherwise simple procedure (getting into the venue) a pain in the ass. They had one line for women that no one knew about until they got to the front of the mob, and they treated everyone as a potential drug lord. They even threw out an attachment I had on my key chain for no reason! But once we got in and the lights went down, all of that dissolved into the band's almost orchestral tuning.
But like I said, that's the one complaint of one of the best nights of my life. My friend and I had gotten different seating than the friends we went with, but once the lights went down we all found ourselves in the same place, about half-way back from the stage. As the sounds of the band tuning up ricocheted about us, things took on a decidedly electric glow (what was in that coffee?!) and the pre-show chills settled in: what will they play? Will it be great? What if they do Day Job and We Can Run?!! Suddenly, the crowd and the band all knew that it was time to stop testing the air and start the show. The drums came in, and beside Bobby's false start (not his only mistake of the evening, but no complaints!), they slammed into Alligator like it was 1968.
Alligator crawled along like it was supposed to with John Kadlecik singing a great rendition of Pig Pen's typically gnarly lyrics. Kadlecik's a bit too much of a baby-faced angel to sing some of Pig's lyrics with the original spirit, but he seems to know that and does his own version of these songs instead of a bad Pig Pen clone (imagine the horror!). They jammed out of Alligator nicely with Phil booming around and Kadlecik throwing in a bit of Mountain Jam just like Jerry used to from time-to-time (check out the Anthem version), and before they fully emerged into it, I knew they were segueing into The Last Time.
Now some may dispute this, but at the time it seemed like Bobby was a young man again, not the gray-bearded senile man singing about the voices in his head (Furthur Estimated Prophets always get a chuckle out of me). They rocked through this song with Kadlecik and Jeff Chimenti shining in the solos. Chimenti switched from organ to piano in the song, and his hammering on the keys in the song's outro definitely warped a few minds. Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson both added wonderfully to the vocal mix on this song, and pretty much everything else throughout the show.
Up next is definitely one of the huge highlights of this show for me, the transition of the JGB song Reuben & Cherise > High On a Mountain. I hadn't heard either of them before this, so I was a little apprehensive for the first...oh I don't know, two seconds of the first song. Kadlecik delivered Hunter's lyrics beautifully with only a minor stumble, and the band was soaring high on the song's outro, and then...a jam. They had been following the typical jam out of the song, but then something so spontaneous and beautiful emerged that swept off my feet, and still does every time I listen to the show. The soundboard unfortunately doesn't recognize the jam, and in fact cuts it in half in the way it divides the tracks! I really can't stress enough how amazing this jam is; it's one of those purely Dead moments that makes me want to call Furthur the Dead. When it finally landed in a song we still had no idea what was going on because no one knew what the song was! High On a Mountain, without too much reference back to its history, is an old folk song re-envisioned by Phil's son Brian. Furthur absolutely kills it, with Bobby and Phil trading lead vocals and the whole ensemble chiming in for the chorus and key lyrics ("oh I wonder where in Heaven you may be, and if love has preserved your memory").
From there we go back into familiar territory with Bobby singing Loser, and I don't know who's idea that was. Still not complaining, but this is the only time I know of where Bobby sings this song, and it must have had Hunter wincing in his sleep. He just absolutely blows a whole section of the lyrics like no one but Bob Weir can, but the song doesn't suffer at all. In fact, it soars back into the stratosphere! The jam in the middle of it is dominate by Kadlecik winding around the rest of the band, with everyone playing in mini-duets and trios that are ever shifting; another classic example of these musicians finishing each other's musical thoughts. From here, just to expedite getting through the first set, I'll summarize the rest. Loser went into a rockin'(!) Brown-Eyed Women (Phil sang the Old Man lyrics to much applause), which then went into a just as rockin', if not more so, Jack Straw, a song that Furthur has absolutely been killing. This was our first encounter with this new breed of Jack Straw, and it absolutely blew us away. To finish the set they did a good cover of the Beatles' Revolution (we thought it was Cosmic Charley since that one snuck up on us earlier in the year).
Woo! A "normal" intermission followed, with the typical assortment of half-conversations with the weird people around us. We managed to get up to the furthest-far-forward row we could get without hopping over a barrier and attracting unwanted attention (what if they see our eyes??), and ended up right in the legendary Phil Zone for the upcoming set, which as I've said before, is when they bring out the dragons!
Little tuning now, the lights went down and Bobby launched right into, could it be? Weather Report Suite, it is! We had gotten a Let It Grow before, and it was pretty good, but the whole suite was a real treat (ha, it rhymes). Bobby's either tweaked the lyrics a bit or was falling victim to his typical lyric dilemma, but the song still took off, and they made room in the middle of the Weather Report Part 1 jam section for Chimenti to squeeze some beautiful sounds out of that organ of his. Let It Grow rocked on as expected, and segues nicely into our first Dear Mr. Fantasy, another one that Kadlecik has taken over since Brent's unfortunate departure. These two opening numbers were both excellent, as is the entire show as I keep saying, but the real meat of it is what follows.
"3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10!" counts Bobby, and they launch into Playing in the Band with a gusto. The lyrics section rocks out, the band clicks, and they slowly drift off into space with the Playin' theme fading into the darkness. There's another moment when the band telepathically shifts directions, and they are coming into...no, it can't be...
* a quick interlude*: My friend and I had earlier been discussing how everyone's image of the Beatles is that of 4 playful pseudo-hippies from jolly old England. But that image fades (or rather melts and burns) away when you listen to I Want You (She's So Heavy) off of Abbey Road. This song means serious psychedelic business, and my friend an I on the day of the 10th had been discussing how cool it would be for Furthur to do THAT Beatles song (we had already gotten Something and Golden Slumbers > Carry That Weight). The very next day...
Furthur cruised right into I Want You, and my spine is still tingling when I think about it. Bobby still has a lot of sexual energy, and it was almost overwhelming for my poor best friend (he's gay, if that wasn't apparent). That whole song just had our minds dripping out of our ears and falling down to the ceiling. Just when it seemed like it couldn't get any weirder in that arena they started jamming on a definitely new theme that sounded vaguely familiar...do I know this song they're going into? We do, what is it?? Then a guy near us whispered to his friend the two words you hear (possibly) the most at a Dead show: Dark Star.
And it sure as hell was, as Kadlecik immediately shot off a lick so unique yet so Dark Star that (as I keep claiming) I still get chills from it today. No signature Dark Star intro for us, just thrown immediately into the fray; and how! Thought the whole band was participating whole-heartedly, Joe and Phil suddenly decided to go absolutely fucking nuts! Now Phil had been very pronounced the whole show, and the whole second set leading up to this had been wild in the Phil Zone, but this...this was something else. With no idea what else to do we were dancing like the craziest bears you've ever seen dance as the whole arena collapsed and exploded and imploded around us. And just when it seemed it couldn't get any crazier or furthur out there, right as I was looking at his fingers, Phil dropped the signature Dark Star line right on top of us! It was all too much (and still is!)!! Upon many other listenings he had definitely been hinting at it leading up to that moment, but at the time it was as sudden as a flash flood...of acid! They traded lyrics from Phil to John to Bobby, with everyone on chiming in for "Shall we go?" etc., and the rest of the song jammed out into space and back for the second lyrics. The second half was for sure as good as the first, but I was personally so shell shocked it didn't phase me as much as it might have.
From here we had a surprise transition into the obscure Rolling Stones song We Love You, which was a nice, mellow weirdness after the roiling, boiling, pants-soiling Dark Star we just survived. But coming out of there we got what I think is the longest drum break Furthur's let Joe Russo go on (which is why I label it as Drums, although it's nowhere near the length of the drum breaks from '78-'95. From here we go into a song I never thought o hope for, but can only be Grateful that I got in such good quality: the Blues For Allah gem of King Solomon's Marbles. This is one of those songs that it's almost like it was meant for Furthur to do, and they absolutely knocked it out of the park. All I can say about it is that the band seemed to be playing from another world of musical perfection.
They take their first break of the set for a quick breather, and go into what at the time was my friend and my guaranteed song to get, Sugaree. Everyone seems to have that one song that no matte when or where they see the Dead, they play that one song; for my dad it was Cassidy. We were for once relieved; we can breath and relax, right? Wrong! We forgot how bat-shit crazy these guys can get during Sugaree, and this was by far the best and craziest one we got! Between Kadlecik and Chimenti, we were dancing and rocking out whether we wanted to or not. They closed the set right after with a spirited Goin' Down the Road. Bobby made up a line about eating pork and beans, and then screwed everyone else up a little by going back into one of the standard lines, but we didn't mind!
The set ended and people started bickering about the encore. It's Veteran's Day, they have to play U.S. Blues! No, it's 11/11/11, they have to play the Eleven! Well guess what? After Phil invited us to give him all of our organs (or something like that) the rocketed from 0-11 in what I think is the only instance of a Dead band doing the Eleven without transitioning into it. They nailed everything about it, and then did a bit of a Whipping Post tease (another popular rock song with an 11/4 section), and then were suddenly in the middle of U.S. Blues! The lights came on during this song and we realized that they ended everything at 11:11, on 11/11/11! You can't make this stuff up, people. The P.A. played a canned version of the national anthem to get us moving, and many of us (obviously) sang along with the invisible orchestra.
So that's that. Obviously a bit of rambling and hyperbole, but it's all true. My next review will definitely be less so, because it will (most likely) be of a show I wasn't actually at, so I won't have that perspective to deal with.