Inspiration, move me brightly.
Set to be a beautiful weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area, Furthur’s three-Night run at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, up high on a hill on the UC Berkeley Campus, was scheduled to be their last shows for Bay Area heads in 2013. Recently announcing their plan to take a hiatus in 2014 after their “Paradise Waits” run in Mexico in January, the band had only five shows left to go in the U.S. – two in Vegas and three in L.A. I was really excited to get the email confirming my photo pass for Friday. With ticket and camera ready, I was super excited for the opportunity to shoot this band…… Until I saw the stage….. For a short photographer, that stage looks daunting. When I got in the photo pit and looked up, all I could see was Phil’s head and some of his shoulders. Oh man. I am not gonna get good shots unless I can climb on something or someone!
Haven’t seen them in a few years, by choice. I had plenty of opportunities, but didn’t take ’em. Last time I saw
Furthur was in 2010 at the Monterey Fair Grounds, you know, where the famous Monterey Pop Festival happened, with Janice and Big Brother blowing people away, and Jimi, lighting his guitar on fire. I had fun at that show, but I felt it lacked something. Yeah, lacked Jerry. Hard for me. Hard for some. Hard for a lot of Heads – we miss the big man, ya know? I’ve been to Terrapin Crossroads a bunch, Phil’s place up in San Rafael, and have seen Phil play a whole lot of killer Grateful Dead with other musicians, putting their different touches on the songs. I’ve seen Bobby play with other musicians, at The Sweetwater Music Hall, his place in Mill Valley, or online at TRI (Tamalpias Research Institute, another locale Bobby is heavily involved). They both do an incredible job promoting other musicians, mentoring, sharing, and furthur exploring the music of the Dead, the music of their heavy influences, the classic stuff. Helping along their musical career, passing the torch so to speak.
So, seeing Furthur this time was something I was a bit of a sceptic about; but, I have to say, I was happily impressed. I smiled, laughed, danced, met cool people, saw old friends, and heard the music all over again,
albeit different, sometimes slower or sung by a different lead voice, but still, it was the good ‘ole Grateful Dead at heart. They really are trying to mix it up, putting second set songs in the first set. John is not the same as Jerry, but we don’t expect that. But, he really can make you feel like you might have just heard Jerry, just a few hauntingly familiar notes, maybe just for a second. John has filled very large shoes gracefully. Blended with Bobby and Phil very sweetly, very tonally, with familiarity, as if we had known him for years before.
As typical, photographers will be permitted in the photo pit for the first three songs. Well, three songs instead of a time limit can work to our benefit with Furthur, or bands like Phish or String Cheese Incident, or any jamband – one song can be 10 minutes, so three songs, well, that can be a lifetime for a photographer. IF you can see the stage. I couldn’t so well; I kind of take after the short side of the family. There are pros and cons to a stage like this – pro is the folks a little farther back on the floor can still see the band, from the knees up. But, if you are up front, on the rail, or in the pit, this tall stage becomes a con if you are vertically challenged.
As said, John’s guitar playing is eerily similar to Jerry’s. I mean, this is why Bobby and Phil asked him to ride
the bus with them Furthur, right? I do notice differences in where he takes his playing, and maybe differences in the power behind some of what he sends out to the atmosphere, but he can sure keep up with Bobby and Phil; keep up, fit in, rock seamlessly. Joe Russo is crazy – love watching him. He gets into it so much, singing along – give that man a mic! He studies the way Bobby and John play, watching and following their hands and body language, their communication, ensuring he stays right along, changing the rhythm with Phil, right on point. And Jeff Chimenti – sure sorry I missed that jam on Saturday, I heard he killed it. He really can play, and he is surrounded by all kinds of keyboards and pianos, to create different sounds for the different types of songs that the Dead, I mean, Furthur have in their repertoire. He adds his own touches to it that are unlike what Pig (no one was like Pigpen), Keith, or Brent, or Vince’s styling were on the songs, in the spaces, in between the rhythm of the bass and drums and the swirls of electricity from the guitars. Furthur, this new sound with John, Jeff C., Sunshine, Jeff P., and Joe may have been the answer to filling a void we all had with the on-again off-again shows from The Other Ones and The Dead.
Friday, September 27:
Opening the first set is nonother than, “China Cat Sunflower”, which, first, um who doesn’t love this song, and next, I’ll say, “oh yeah” for putting this second set song as a show opener. Light, a little funky, easy to dance and sway to. With Bobby and John sharing verses, singing what would be Jerry’s song, it sounds a little different than what it had been, but the musicality is familiar. After a little sweet jam, taking us to that familiar space, a little tease but then skipping over “I Know You Rider” and instead, we hear that familiar strum and twang of “Cassidy”. I always loved this song. “Faring thee well now. Let your life proceed by its own design. Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.” Really nice, pretty jam at the end of this, winding and rolling down the road, out into the evening skies. A China Cat> Cassidy – the place goes rightfully crazy after that!
20 minutes for two songs. Yes! One more to go and I’ve been climbing and shooting, getting some decent
moments captured. But, as I said, tall stage plus short photographer equals weird angled and cut-off shots! Thank goodness the security guys up front were cool and let us get up on the pit barrier, on the little platforms on the inside, to get a little higher up for better shots. Well, two of the three anyway, I couldn’t get up on Bobby’s side, but there was that three-step ladder, just sitting there, waiting to be used (thanks Jay!)….
After “The Wheel”, which gets the whole place singing along to “And every time that wheel turns round, bound to cover just a little more ground, bound to cover just a little more ground!”, they land on “So Many Roads”, the crowd quiets down to a hush, you could hear a pin drop (OK, maybe not a pin, but certainly a glass. Its not easy keeping thousands of happy hippies quiet ya know). I read somewhere that [Robert] Hunter had decided to record Jerry noodling around on the piano one day, thinking it might be a forgotten moment. Years later, finding the tape, he listened and wrote the lyrics. He gave them to Jerry, who of course loved the lyrics but not his own playing! Jerry reluctantly gave the music another run through, and “So Many Roads” became one of the more welcomed, newer Dead songs that appeared on their set lists in the early ’90’s.
When I had a chance, at the end of the song, I moved from down in front on the rail to walk around the venue to see if I could grab some shots from a different angle – you know, one I could actually see from! Best decision. The next three – “Jack Straw”, “Eyes of the World” and “Throwing Stones” – Bobby looked determined, throwing his energy out, mustering up leg kicks, arm tosses, hair flips just like the old days. I think he may have even jumped a little! You could feel, and hear, the energy climbing higher and higher during “Jack Straw” – from the stage and in the crowd. Maybe a tad rhythmically slower as in the past, maybe Bobby was trying to make it little more purposeful or determined, but I look up and see Phil with his right arm in the air, attempting to get everyone to pick it up just a little bit. The strong rhythm from Bobby, the quick and light guitar that John was sharing, the command of the bass and drums hitting as Bobby tosses his hand in the air, pulling the energy out of John’s guitar higher and higher! The roar of the crowd was insane!
Bobby says, “One of us has an urgent matter to attend to.” and we see Phil exit the stage. Murmurs of, “is that the end of the set?”. Nope. While awaiting Phil’s return, Bobby and John just start goofing around on the guitar, talking to each other, looking at what each other might be playing – its the familiar, “Finiculi Finicula” that we’d get, when they were waiting on something or someone to ready for the next one on the setlist.
I must add, I just LOVED watching Joe Russo on the drums. He exudes joy. He is always singing along, almost dancing on his seat, dancing on the drums, letting it come from his center, through his arms down the sticks to play what he feels, what he hears in his body and soul. During “Eyes of the World”, he was moving along with the song, bouncing his head back and forth, without a care, eyes closed, knowing exactly where each part of his kit was, without looking, but feeling his drums out. Love it. And the “Eyes” was as beautiful as I remember. There is something about the way that Phil’s bass and Joe’s drums keep the rhythm of this song, while Bobby, John and Jeff swirl and dance around them. “Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.”
The ending of “Eyes” gets a little slower, a little gooey, sticky, the beat is changing, to…. “Throwin’ Stones” to end the first set. Tossing in two typically second set songs to close the first set – nice change up. And, of course, this song is seemingly always fitting to the current political day, now isn’t it. Somethings never change. Bobby changes the words a bit, and yells, “Money green it’s the only way. You can buy the whole goddammed government today! So the kids they dance and shake their bones, while the politicians are throwin’ stones, singing ashes-ashes all fall down.” Oh yeah.
Second set opener starts with a beautiful 20+ minute “Lady with a Fan>Terrapin”, that sound that washes over you, that soothes your heart and soul, that gets a little groovy in the middle and shakes your hips and bones, and ends on a powerfully harmonized, “Terrapin!” as Phil’s bass leads the song, spiraling down, down, down……to the rarely heard “At a Siding”, the actual end to the suite…… “While you were gone, these spaces filled with darkness. The obvious was hidden, with nothing to believe in. The compass always points to Terrapin. The sullen wings of fortune beat like rain. You’re back in Terrapin for good or ill again. For good or ill again…..” Hum, maybe that is what we wait for in 2015 – whose with me!!!
Phil sang to us twice that night – giving a gorgeous “Unbroken Chain” and celestial “Mountains of the Moon”. Both of these songs are really beautiful. And rare. “Unbroken Chain” was never played live until 1995, yet it was on the album, “Mars Hotel” which was recorded and released in 1974. Beautiful lyrics of life connecting, of searching for familiarity in faces, in sounds, in the meaning of all that is around you. And, then there’s the fantastical lyrics of Mountains – “Hi Ho the Carrion Crow?Folderolderiddle. Hi Ho the Carrion Crow. Bow and bend to me…” Yes, we did bow and bend to Phil. I think I might still be smiling from that. Yeah, I am.
In between the Phil sandwich, we had “The Other One” which was maybe my first favorite Grateful Dead song I heard. See, I was always a rocker – The Who, Triumph, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Rush, etc. Influences came from my big sisters and my Dad, who played bass, which is probably why I love Phil so much. But, coming out of the beautiful “Unbroken Chain” just threw me. The last few minutes of “Chain” got a little hectic, a lot heavy, and then suddenly quieted down, confusing us, until we hear that familiarity to the start of “The Other One”. Bu-buh. Bu-du-du-dah. Bu-du-du-dah from Phil’s bass, with Joe just slamming the drums in time
. This crazy sound from Bobby’s guitar, sounds like he’s really pulling hard on those strings, like flinging wires would sound. Really harsh, but also, really what the crowd wanted. OK, maybe what I wanted. I love the furiousness they can put to this song, the feeling that you are spiraling around and around, trembling then exploding! Bobby sings the lead, almost eerily in the beginning, the band quieting down behind him, but still playing with heavy meaning. I bleepin’ love this song.
What! “Scarlet Begonias> Fire on the Mountain” just lights up the whole place. The what is typically a happy, bouncing song, this version of “Scarlet” started out a little thicker, gooier, like dancing on a mat that your feet sink softly into. Taking control of the song, Bobby starts directing everyone down the path, Phil joins in with a solid hit, and the whole place moving to that reggae-swagger of “Fire”. John’s voice gets gritty, putting an intensity to his singing, from the deep.
And, we get the “I Know You Rider” we’ve been waiting for since they struck the first note of “China Cat” in the first set. Yeah, we will miss you when you’re gone…. on hiatus, right? Hiatus implies there is more to come. Just sayin’.
Encore was “Touch of Grey”. They had fun with it, Bobby forgot a word or two, or three, and laughed it up, John not sure which verse he was to take, Phil just watching and smiling. Relaxed evening, smooth flow of jams, the comfort of playing in a favorite area venue, and to an audience filled with familiar smiling faces. Who wouldn’t have a good time?
Alas, I did not have a ticket to Saturday’s sold-out show. I cannot offer a review, but I did place the setlist below.
Sunday, September 29:
After my grate time on friday, I was really looking forward to a Sunday afternoon back at the Greek, listening to my favorite music alongside quite a number of my favorite people. Ya gotta luv a daytime show. They are rare, unless you are attending a festival or something. The weather was just beautiful. The Greek was all lit up by the sun shining brightly on the hill. There were those looking for tickets, even though you could walk up to the Box Office and get one – why not try and get one from a fellow Head, so they don’t waste their cash, right? We had those with fingers in the air looking for that miracle, we had those trading jewelry or other items, we had those singing songs for tickets. I’m sure they all got in.
No photo pass for Sunday, this was a day of pure musical enjoyment; no heavy gear to carry or be responsible for, no looking up at the stage wishing I had taken THAT shot, no pressure. Just enjoy the music, the experience, the moments, your friends. Enjoy it while it lasts, since this was to be my last Furthur show for a while (I was not headed to Vegas or L.A., no New Year’s Eve shows scheduled, and I can’t afford Mexico……..).
Opening with “Here Comes Sunshine”, perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon show. “Wake of the flood, laughing water, forty-nine!? Get out the pans, don’t just stand there dreamin’. Get out of the way, get out of the way!” Yes, a perfect sunny day – warm breeze, warm fans, smiling faces, happy hippies, get out the way, here comes sunshine emanating from the spinning, joyous, dancing bodies.
“Life may be sweeter for this, I don’t know…..” That is for certain. Next up, “Crazy Fingers”. I love this song. I don’t know. I sing it every time I see the sun, peeking through the clouds, like crazy fingers reaching down to earth. Really pretty rendition too – Phil’s rolling bass along side Bob’s solid rhythm, steadied by Joe’s drums leading the way. You can hear Jeff’s keyboard, exchanging lightly and flowing smoothly with John’s guitar. Like a lullaby, singing plainly to you.
The jam out of “Crazy Fingers” ended up rolling right into “Cumberland Blues”! One minute I was soaring high over the Greek with John’s guitar, and the next minute, I’m foot stompin’ it with Bobby! “Gotta get down to the Cumberland mine, that’s where I mainly spend my ti-i-ime! (boom boom boom) Make good money, five dallas a daaaayyyyy. (boom boom boom) Made anymore might move away-ay-ay-e-ay!” Wahoo! Jeezuz, and the keyboards from Jeff, again, he just blows me away. His playing seems to draw the exploding energy out of the nooks and crannies of that Cumberland mine and out into the blue Berkeley sky! And, the place goes nuts after his raging solo. That high-energy kind of jam that leaves you a little crazy, you know like anticipating something even more outrageous could happen, and its all worth it!
You gotta love the little connections in life, the moments of synchronicity. On the way over to the Greek, my friend says to pick out a CD for the ride. You know how it is before a show, you kind of don’t want to listen to something that might spoil the anticipation. I decide I’ll just close my eyes and pick something; I land on The Beatles. So, it was a nice, ironic treat to have a little “Strawberry Fields” to wander through, which really had some special, spacial moments that you could liken to The Beatles and their magical mystery tour. And, apparently, the tour hailed from the shores of California, as this came out of “Estimated Prophet”, which I may liken back to the 90’s Bobby, with the “Don’t worry ’bout me no, no, NO! Don’t worry about me na, na, na, NA-NAH!‘ as he lifts his knee and tosses his head back, really getting into it. This song has such a bluesy swing, maybe call it a cool strut; yeah, don’t worry ’bout it, no.
After a fun-Philled “Cosmic Charlie”, which brings all of them to the mic, to share the lyrics, and then shake a finger and send us all home, cuz our Mamas callin’… I hear a little tease of what is typically a second set tune. “Wharf Rat” in the first set. Nice. There is a moment that brings goose-bumps to my body. I can feel the hairs on my arms electrify as the song builds, higher and higher, as they sing in unison, belting it out – “But, I’ll get back on my feet someday. The good Lord willin’, if He says I may. I know that the li-i–i-i-ife I been livin’ is no-o-o good. I’ll get a new start, live the life I should…” – goosebumps, still, just writing about it. It’s a story of a down-and-out August West, down by the docks, who beggs a passer-by for help. The man cannot help, but decides to stay a while, “I got no dime but I got some time to hear a story.” After listening to August’s tales of woe, he is then moved to take a look at his own life, wondering if that could be he someday.
A really different start to the next one, as they begin winding down the slower, more heavenly “Rat” into a sweet, swingin, shakin “Sugaree”. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t really sure where they were headed for a minute, until Jeff started swaying and rolling on the keyboards and, then in perfect unison Bobby, Phil and John hit the familiar rhythm. This is a song covered by many other bands, those who are fans of the Dead’s musical style and form, but no one can do it like the originators. The perfect middle of this song is a good minute of Jeff, just slamming it on the keys, bringing the energy higher and higher, basically demanding we shake it, shake it! Then, quieting down, with Bobby pulling on that one familiar note, we sway back into the smooth, silky, sweetness of “Sugaree”. And we shake it.
Second set starts with “Playin’ in the Band”, which ends up getting pretty far out there, a real spacy 10 minute musical atmosphere. Never really one of my favorite, have to hear songs, but once they start into it, a smile comes to my face and I can’t help but enjoy. What they play next is a song I’m not sure I’ve heard live, since, um, I haven’t seen Furthur since 2010. It’s a song Phil takes the lead on, called, “Let it Ride”. I kinda like it; wait, no, I’m sure I like it. It is familiar, but not sure why. It became a point of discussion on the way home. We may have seen Phil play this at his place Terrapin, with any number of different musicians. They bring some interesting covers to the table… I mean the stage. So, of course, this one is by Ryan Adams, who Phil has definitely covered before. It seems very fitting to the style of Furthur. Gonna definitely get me a little more Ryan Adams in my collection.
Into, “Uncle John’s Band”, they move from a deep, soulful Phil letting it ride, easy down the road, to the full choir sound they now have with Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. They bring a full, whole, complete sound to songs like this, songs that just might be meant to be heard with that warmth, as they call us to come hear the band. Especially the end, when they sing a capella, no instruments except for Joe’s drums, keeping the rhythm along with the audience, clapping and stomping along. Almost immediately, they chime into “St. Stephen”, which was really friggin good. High energy, rippin’ guitar solos, purposeful rhythm. My favorite part – right after the verse, “Stephen prosper in his time, well he may, then he may decline. Did it matter? Does it now? Stephen would answer if he only knew how!” and he whole stage screams, “WOOO!” I had noted this as my favorite part of Sunday’s show…… until they did “Comes a Time”. Really pretty, and even more so with the harmonies of Jeff and Sunshine. Man, does Sunshine have a powerful voice. A solid, deep tone, heavy emotionality, controlled, really shines thru on “St. Stephen” and “Comes a Time”. She and Jeff really fill out the songs, make ’em sound fuller with a warm background, like being inside a symphony hall, with perfect acoustics and warm sound. She really got into the emotionality of this one, a Jerry ballad that just always got to me. You could almost feel her pain and surely you could sense her power.
“Let It Grow” was another one of those songs that, for some reason, I didn’t connect to, until I had heard it more than a handful of times, played with a myriad of different jams in space and time. I’ve always liked the way this song can fool you; from the mellow, light notes, softly playing on your head and down your shoulders, then leading to a sudden crescendo that brings the energy up high, to the tip of the strands of your hair, to then wind down to a really pretty end. Heady for sure.
And to close the second set, we get blown over by a 23 minute “Help on the Way> Slipknot> Franklin’s Tower”. Without Jer, “Help” is lyrically shared by Bobby and John, each taking a verse after the other, but Franklin’s is ALL Phil! One of my favorite three-fers, this builds up from the heavier toned and lyrical “Help on the Way”, into the spacy mind-bending “Slipknot”, to a light-hearted lift-u-up kind of “Franklin’s Tower”. You know it, the bell that rings like fire if you loose your way. The entire venue was up boogying, shakin everything they had. Whether coming to laugh the past away, or coming just to make it one more day, whichever way their pleasure tends. Of course, the best line in the song, “If you get confused, just listen to the music play!” and the place goes higher!
Ending on “U.S. Blues”, seemingly fitting to the picture of our current state of economy and political hog-wash, is always a summer time fun encore. I may have been hoping for a different encore. We never did get that Samson on a Sunday, one song I suppose some tend to expect to see on the set list. Well, with or without Samson, I like the kind of Sunday service that you can get filled up on at a sunny afternoon Furthur show.
Definitely lots of smiles shared between John and Phil, back-and-forth laughing amongst Bobby and John as they figured some stuff out, and very strong communication on stage between everyone; certainly the last four years together has worn on them very well. Looking around, sharing jams, following each other’s emotions and energy to keep it cohesive and connected. I may have gone in on Friday a bit of a doubter – doubted I’d be any happier than the last I saw them, doubted I’d be blown over like the early days, doubted I’d want to go on Saturday night because I had a ticket for Friday and Sunday…. Well, Friday made me want to go Saturday and Sunday made me wish I had dragged my friend with me to try to get tickets. I’m glad I went for the weekend. Glad might be putting it lightly. Having the photo pass was icing on the cake, to be able to have my nice camera and have some photos of the boys. Sure wish Jerry was there though…. As my friend said, I may not have been able to see him, but he was there…..
I want to end this on one note – one heavy Phil note. Prior to the encore, Phil returns to the stage for what we call, “Donor Rap.” Before he can start, you hear a little roar from the crowd. Someone has given Phil a gift – a silver skull, a memento, a gift from someone forever Grateful. He calls it a “appropriate” and then says, “it reminded me of how fragile life is, how lucky I am to be alive.” Each and every show Phil has played for the last 15 years, he has come out alone before the encore, to have a chat. See, in 1998, Phil underwent a liver transplant and received a new lease on life. He does not take that lightly. Thanks to the karma goddesses and the thoughtfulness of a young man named Cody, Phil received a new kidney and is deeply grateful for this second chance. He does not want to forget to be thankful for each and every day he is alive, for each and every note he plays. We all should be thankful to Cody for keeping Phil’s chain unbroken. Now, go out and sign up to become an organ donor.
And, now that we are all aware of the planned hiatus in 2014, and left guessing what might come, here’s one thing that the San Francisco Bay Area fans can be sure of, the music won’t stop any time soon. Sunshine Becker lives in the area and has a gig with Mark Karan; Jeff Pehrson, also living in the Bay Area, has a gig called “The Fall Risk” (JBO has interviewed Jeff, reviewed their first CD, and recently covered their CD release party in Mill Valley); and, Jeff Chimenti, also from the Bay Area, will be popping up and killing it on the piano as a guest in any number of gigs, who knows! For you east coasters, John Kadlecik has his solid band on the east coast with gigs scheduled, and, Joe Russo (who apparently was Knighted in June of 2001 by Sean Connery – the things you find out when you Google someone….) plays in a band called, “Almost Dead” and already has a gig scheduled for December. Bobby has The Sweetwater in Mill Valley, weekly Wednesday TRI shows (broadcast at TRIstudios.com), and then, of course, there’s Terrapin Station, Phil’s place in San Rafael. Some rise, some fall, some climb, some fly, some cab it, some might even be able to walk-it to get to Terrapin.
Fare thee well.
China Cat Sunflower> Cassidy, The Wheel, So Many Roads> Jam> Jack Straw (Phil exits stage. Weir: “Phil has an urgent matter to attend to”), Funiculi Finicula (no Phil) Eyes of the World> Throwing Stones
Lady With a Fan>Terrapin Station, Unbroken Chain> The Other One> Mountains of the Moon> Scarlet Begonias> Fire on the Mountain> I Know You Rider E: (Donor Rap) Touch of Grey
The Music Never Stopped> Loser> Loose Lucy, Candyman, Big River, Mission In The Rain, Bird Song> Passenger
Lost Sailor> St. of Circumstance> Tennessee Jed, Box of Rain> Dark Star> Dear Mr. Fantasy> Jeff Chimenti grand piano solo>Days Between> Shakedown Street> Not Fade Away
E: (Donor Rap) One More Saturday Night
Here Comes Sunshine> Crazy Fingers> Cumberland Blues> Estimated Prophet>?Strawberry Fields> Cosmic Charlie, Wharf Rat> Sugaree
Playin’ In The Band>?Let It Ride> Uncle Johns Band> St. Stephen> Comes A Time>?Let It Grow> Help On The Way> Slipknot> Franklins Tower ??E: (Donor Rap) U.S. Blues