Furthur at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 9/21/12 (photos and review)By Candace Horgan | September 24th, 2012 | No Comments »
One thing you can say about the musicians in Furthur: They still take some chances in their live shows. It doesn’t always work, but at least it’s not always the same old, even if guitarist John Kadlecik is, for the most part, hitting the Jerry Garcia guitar tone in his best tribute style and the band is getting closer to original Grateful Dead than any of the many offshoots have since Garcia’s death.
At the first of three shows at Red Rocks Friday night, it felt chaotic. That might have had something to do with the many extraneous fans that flocked the parking lots for a party by proxy, figuring that even if they didn’t have a ticket, they could still listen from afar. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many dogs at a show before, and navigating the car through the throngs of people and animals proved a taxing challenge.
Once inside the venue, the chaos was picked up by the band, which started strong with “Help on the Way.” Seeing Phil Lesh in the stage-left position was jarring for anybody who has seen the Grateful Dead before. Kadlecik was on stage right, where he could interact better with keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, as the two jammed smoothly on “Slipknot” over Lesh’s lead-style bass playing. Lesh is never content to play basic bass lines, and his instrument often acts as a third front piece.
Chimenti stepped up with some silky barrelhouse piano rolls on “Mexicali Blues” to great effect, while Kadlecik’s playing on “Althea” stretched beyond the basics, with the jam moving into a free-form, dissonant space. It doesn’t flow like water the way the Dead versions used to, but it still sounded strong.
The first down note of the night came on the Ryan Adams tune “Let It Ride,” sung by Lesh. Adams’ original has a soaring lead vocal with a hint of desperation to it. By contrast, Lesh’s strained voice and funky bass lines made the song drag under Kadlecik’s relaxed leads and Bob Weir’s dissonant rhythm playing.
Weir stepped to the fore at the start of the second set with the intricate “Weather Report Suite.” Starting slowly and building from a relaxed groove, Weir’s gravely voice sung softly over Kadlecik’s mellow strumming and Lesh’s delicate bass lines, while backup vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson harmonized intricately with Weir. On the second half of the suite, “Let It Grow,” the band took flight, with Kadlecik and Chimenti dancing nimbly in and around Lesh’s groove and Weir’s rhythm fills.
The energy carried over into a strong cover of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” with Kadlecik’s solo taking on echoes of Warren Haynes’ singing sustain, and the band wrapping it up with a “Hey Jude Reprise,” harmonizing out the finale.
That proved to be the high point, and from there it fell off drastically. “Shakedown Street,” from the Disco Dead period, sounded tired, with Chimenti playing cheesy ’80s pop sounds on his keyboard during a jam and Kadlecik leaning too heavily on the overly-bright auto-wah. Weir dug into “Standing on the Moon,” but his singing sounded forced, lacking the desperate delicacy that Garcia used to bring to the song. When the band wove into “The Wheel,” it got sloppy, with Weir jumping the gun on one transition and the band seeming to get lost in the transition to the set-closing “Franklin’s Tower.
Ultimately, a little Furthur goes a long way.
Set 1: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion) > Mexicali Blues > Mama Tried, Althea, Let It Ride > Mason’s Children
Set 2: Weather Report Suite Prelude > WRS Part I > Let It Grow > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Hey Jude Reprise > The Other One > Shakedown Street > Standing on the Moon > The Wheel > Franklin’s Tower E: U.S. Blues
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.