Grateful Dead Going… Furthur
Words, Photos & Videos By Nicholas Stock (www.phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
As a wrap up to my big names in jam series that started my Jam Band Spotlight posts, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead. The Dead are not a jam band. They are much, much more... the Godfathers of Jam. Without their prolific impression on music, bands like Phish, WSP, SCI, LoS, and moe. could not do what they do today. The Grateful Dead began in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco. It was the roaring 60s and the times were changing. While Dylan and the folk movement were going strong on the East Coast, the Grateful Dead was leading a new psychedelic movement on the West Coast. They began wholeheartedly as members of a scene that included The Merry Pranksters, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Co., and Moby Grape. The Grateful Dead were first known as The Warlocks but ended up changing their name after finding out that another band was using it. Apparently it was a clandestine picking from a dictionary by Garcia that brought them the moniker The Grateful Dead. The original lineup included Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKerman, Bob Weir, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann who went by Bill Sommers in the beginning. That lineup minus Pigpen would stay together from 1965 until Jerry’s death in 1995, making them one of the longest running bands in the history or rock and roll.
Mickey Hart joined the band in 1967 but left in 1971 after an incident where his father who had been taking on management duties for the band embezzled a large sum of money, an unfortunate situation immortalized in the song, “He’s Gone”. He felt incredibly guilty about this and did not rejoin The Dead until 1974. Their earliest shows did little to foretell their meteoric rise in modern music. A part of the early Acid Tests , they played shows where Pigpen often took the lead as the band carried a bluesier sound. If they had continued on with their psychedelic roots they may have faded into obscurity, but the duo of Garcia and Hunter came together to write the majority of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty in 1970. By developing an Americana sound, this change in direction opened them up to a much wider audience.
After Europe ‘72, Pigpen’s health deteriorated due to alcohol abuse. He died the next year, 1973, at the tender age of 27. Keith Godchaux who brought his wife Donna Jean along with him for the ride replaced Pigpen on keys. Donna Jean was both loved and hated by long time fans as her wailing backup vocals became a distraction from the music at times. The Godchauxs were asked to leave the band in 1979 and keyboardist Brent Mydland became the quintessential player until he overdosed in 1990. He followed the curse to a T, and although he was part of the most productive and musically powerful period of Dead touring, he too fell along the path of excess. Touring was what it was all about for The Grateful Dead as they were never known to have much success with their studio releases. When they put out In The Dark, however, they attracted a whole new wave of young fans that older heads sarcastically dubbed Touch of Greyers.
After Mydland’s death, the GD picked up Vince Welnick to fill his role. He was so shaky in the beginning that for the first couple tours they had Bruce Hornsby backing him up until he got more comfortable playing with the band. Everything went on like that until the earth shattered with Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. This was the end of run that had spanned thirty years.
And it could have ended right there if the passion to play live music had not still burned brightly with the remaining members. Through the years they have had a slew of different projects that included both side bands and reunions such as The Other Ones, The Dead, Furthur, Phil and Friends, Ratdog, 7 Walkers, Planet Drum, The Rhythm Devils, and several more.
The most prolific and musically successful of which, in my opinion, has been the Lesh/Weir collaboration of Furthur. Furthur is star-studded lineup that has received flack for the inclusion of Dark Star Orchestra front man John Kadlecik. Longtime Deadheads saw it as sacrilege to include “Fake Jerry” in a legitimate Dead project. On the other hand, I can see why he made the cut. First of all, he has been playing the music of the Grateful Dead with DSO for 15 years. He knows the parts and his vocals and tone are spot on. Second, his passion for the music of Garcia is apparent every time he plays live. Third, when Furthur formed in 2009, Jerry had been gone for 14 years; it was time to move on. Lesh and Weir just want to deliver an authentic and solid form of Dead music, and with Kadlecik, they can finally do that. Some have argued that Hart and Kreutzmann should have been utilized in Furthur, but due to rampant infighting it was probably the best move for Lesh and Weir to do their own thing. The last Dead tour in 2009 is rumored to have been close to breaking down a number of times and this may have been the reason they chose to make a separate project.
To wrap up my discussion of the move from The Grateful Dead to Furthur, I would like to describe the events of my favorite Furthur show, the opening of The Odeum (First Bank Center) in Broomfield in 2010...
We pulled into the Lot around 3:00 PM. We were parked in the East Lot opposite of where we were on night one. It was nice to see some vendors selling food, t-shirts, and wide array of Grateful Dead paraphernalia. The yellow jackets were relatively relaxed and incredibly polite all weekend. Amy was surprised at an, "Please excuse me mam." from a hurried security guard inside the venue. We strolled around as I saw my first Pomeranian Lot Dog and met the Kick Down St. Guy. We met up with some friends from the night before and pounded a few before it started to get chilly. We got inside a little after 7:00 PM hoping to find closer seats, but the place was already well packed. We looked over to our spot from the previous night and it was wide open. We sat in Section 101 once again, surrounded by the same chunk of Iowa kids from the previous evening. Let me take a second to say how well AEG did with this venue. It was the perfect size with a floor similar to the Fillmore and a ring of arena seating. It held somewhere shy of 7,000 people, a size of venue that has been sorely missed in Denver for quite some time. It was time for another night of great music in this newly refurbished room, and honestly, there wasn't a bad seat in the house. Everything was easily viewable and access to restrooms and vending were very well thought out.
They headed onstage and snapped into action with a rocking version of “After Midnight” with John soaring on vocals. Here is the setlist from the otherones.net:
Furthur Live at 1st Bank Center on March 6, 2010.
SET I: After Midnight, Next Time You See Me, Till the Morning Comes, Cumberland Blues > Good Lovin, Magnolia Mountain, Ripple, Sugaree
SET II: Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion > Bird Song > Alligator > Bird Song > Dark Star > Time > Dark Star > Morning Dew > Let it Grow > In the Midnight Hour > GDTRFB > And We Bid You Goodnight
ENCORE: Samson and Delilah, Uncle John's Band
Seriously, look at that second set for a minute. It was just unbelievable, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Check out the Download from Archive from Chuck Miller. Thanks Chuck.
“Next Time” and “Till The Morning” gave the beginning of set one a very 60s feel, and I must add that the addition of the backup singers Sunshine Garcia Becker and Zoe Ellis was a stellar choice. At times it gave me a JGB feel which I really dug. After “Till the Morning”, the band had some sort of technical difficulty. Bobby jumped on the mic and told a joke for the crowd. Now somebody correct me if I am wrong, but he hasn't really done this since the late 70s/early 80s. It used to be a distinct element to the early Grateful Dead. A man sitting in front of me had been to 111 GD shows starting in 1982 and he had never seen Bobby tell a joke/story. I was struck by the importance of the moment but let it slide when they busted into “Cumberland”. “Good Lovin'” was a nice rendition, but “Ripple” and “Sugaree” were the highlights of the set.
Set two will go down the Dead annals as just an amazing set of music starting with “Golden Road”; they brought back that 60s sound from the first set. “Bird Song” would be the loom that Furthur wove from the beginning of their second set through its end, teasing the jam for the rest of the night and going back into it full-fledged after “Alligator”. “Dark Star” was the crux for the rest of the set. From the melodic “Dark Star” to the ripping of Pink Floyd cover of “Time”, I about lost it at this point. I heard the distinctive bass thumps of Floyd and I instantly knew we were in for a big treat. Other then a few missed notes by Phil, this was an insanely awesome version of “Time”. Their segue back into “Dark Star” had the crowd in hysterics. “Morning Dew” was beautiful while “Let It Grow” built into a powerful jam. “Midnight Hour” kept the late night theme going and “GDTRFB” was a classic bust-out. “Bid You Goodnight” was a nice end to one of the best sets of Dead music I have witnessed.
They brought out the one-two punch of “Samson and Delilah” and “Uncle John's Band” for the encore. I had so many surprises and unexpected musical turns both nights, and I was very happy having made it through the abyss. I look forward to Furthur returning to Red Rocks this summer for a night or two. Keep your eyes on these guys because they are breathing vibrancy and life back into the Dead. They combined elements of exemplary Dead music with a freshness that felt like a reinvigoration of their classic sound. In the three Furthur shows I have seen since that night in Broomfield, I noticed them reverting back a bit, however to have high hopes for their upcoming Red Rocks shows at the end of this month. I am catching two of their three nights and foresee some solid playing. Here’s hoping that they can include some unexpected songs as they did in 2010. See you at The Edge.