Furthur at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 9/22/12 (photos and review)By Jason Blevins | September 24th, 2012 | No Comments »
It’s hard to believe Phil Lesh, the six-string thunder king whose bass reverberates inside torsos, is 72, with his perpetual prodding and “Isn’t-this-freaking-awesome!” expression. And it’s equally hard to fathom how drummer Joe Russo can motor at redline for so long, hammering extended riffs that challenged the Grateful Dead’s two distinguished drummers for decades.
Just watching the unlikely duo – Russo a jazz drummer whose syncopation soars beyond anything Mickey Hart ever pondered and Lesh a gangly rock star who should be coasting into retirement as the vaunted deep-end master of improvised jamming – is inspiring. Their belligerent and piercing work really does take 30-year-old Dead covers, ahem, further.
Bob Weir – whose unruly white beard left him Saturday only a ruffled shirt and bow tie away from being a Gibson-slinging Mark Twain – arrived Saturday on a mission. In the 17 years since the passing of Jerry Garcia, Weir’s performance at Red Rocks was one of his most vibrant. As one of rock’s most dangerously underrated rhythm guitarists, Weir delivered lead riffs that allow Garcia doppelganger John Kadlecik to reach stunning heights. He was taut, reserved and surgical when needed and dominant when required.
Weir’s searing and occasionally tinny licks in “Cassidy” and “Scarlet Begonias” built a foundation that launched Kadlecik and keyman Jeff Chimenti into some truly great moments.
Kadlecik – who stepped into the big leagues after more than a decade helming Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra – seems to have abandoned the at-times-forced lilt of Garcia in his crooning, allowing his own, much less plaintive yet sincere voice ring. Ditto with the guitar work.
With a rare shuffling of positions on stage that has Lesh stomping on stage left and Weir stage right, Kadelcik now dominates front-and-center with his own twist on Garcia’s melancholy phrasing. For the last few years Kadlecik has rarely ventured beyond the master’s path, but as Furthur explores new dimensions of old standards, Kadlecik is stretching out and forging his own route. His “So Many Roads” fell terrifically short of Garcia’s dolorous musings, as it should, but it showed an honest and much appreciated interpretation, without the purposeful pretending.
Flipping through sheet music, Kadlecik appears much more comfortable as Lesh and Weir allow their protégé to roam off leash. His sly riffs in “St. Stephen” seemed to surprise Lesh, who commandeered the second set with insistent “Dark Star” teases tucked into virtually every free jam. The enveloping work of Lesh and Kadlecik in the “Dark Star” that sandwiched “St. Stephen” and “Unbroken Chain” provided the finest moments of the night as Russo trilled through the backdrop, hurling mighty beats that catapulted the entire band into cohesive, sublime jamming.
The incendiary “Fire On The Mountain” ended the second set too early with a melding that saw patient, subtle layering from each member, harkening back to those finest, fleeting nights that keep us returning to the Weir-Lesh feast.
The “Morning Dew” encore likely was meant to close the second set, marking a decades-rare emergence as a show closer, with the ever-fresh Lesh driving the hallowed tune into unknown realms as a relaxed Weir played a supporting role. The new dynamic – Weir letting it happen while the new guy roots through dusty corners of tired tunes and Lesh-Russo build mountainous launching pads – is the same scenario that established the Dead, and it’s still delivering.
Here Comes The Sun
Scarlet Begonia >
The Mountain Song
So Many Roads
Playing In The Band
No More Do I >
China Cat Sunflower >
I Know You Rider
Dark Star >
St. Stephen >
Unbroken Chain >
Dark Star >
Fire On The Mountain
Morning Dew >
Playing In The Band (reprise)
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.