I don’t know how to write a review of Sunday’s Furthur show at Red Rocks without first giving some personal context. Between the years of 1989-1995, I saw about 75 Grateful Dead shows as I traveled the country with friends — selling veggie burritos and experiencing life as an American gypsy.
March 30, 1995 in Atlanta was my last show before Jerry Garcia died, and for a time, the music stopped. When various incarnations of the band (Furthur, the Other Ones, the Dead) returned to the stage, I did not follow them. I moved on to other adventures and other bands. Sunday was my first Grateful Dead experience in 17 years, and I’m happy to report that I had a great time. So, though I can’t say how Sunday’s show compared to the previous two, I can say without reserve that 2012 Furthur is a much better band than the 1995 Grateful Dead was.
Sunday’s 5 p.m. afternoon-into-evening performance showcased Red Rocks at its early fall finest. Opening with a bright “Samson and Delilah,” it was immediately evident that Furthur was a more energetic, focused ensemble than the mid-’90s Grateful Dead, when Garcia’s drug use and poor health were clearly taking a musical and spiritual toll on the band. The spry “Tennessee Jed” featured enough dissonant jams almost gone wrong but saved at the last second to remind me that I was, after all, enjoying the grandfather of all jam bands. The largely up-tempo set ended with a celebratory “Uncle John’s Band” complete with a joyful extended jam.
The second set, in true, traditional Grateful Dead form, was a spacier, looser musical exploration. Highlights included a “Cumberland Blues” much faster than I had ever heard it played by the Dead, followed by an effervescent “Eyes of the World” that sparkled all over the warm Morrison night. An especially poignant “He’s Gone” reminded me that I still miss Jerry Garcia, though guitarist John Kadlecik is vocally and musically excellent in his stead. After the lush lament of the encore’s “Brokedown Palace,” I learned from excited set list keepers around me that Furthur had offered a nod to recent Denver Phish set list gimmicks, and had designed a set which spelled “STEAL YOUR FACE” with the first letter of each song. This sense of playfulness echoed musically throughout Sunday’s show.
Set 1: Samson & Delilah, Tennessee Jed, Easy Wind, Alabama Getaway, Loose Lucy, You Win Again, Operator, Uncle John’s Band
Set 2: Reuben & Cherise, Feel Like A Stranger > Alligator > Cumberland Blues, Eyes Of The World, He’s Gone > Viola Lee Blues > Caution > Viola Lee Blues > Black Peter > Viola Lee Blues
Encore: Brokedown Palace
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.