In the past, I’ve made little secret of my conflicted feelings about Furthur, the latest of many incarnations of former members of the Grateful Dead. While it’s almost always fun to go to a show and hear the music played live, hearing guitarist John Kadlecik’s eerie mimicking of Jerry Garcia’s guitar tone and phrasing could get a little off-putting at times.
Perhaps it’s the time spent playing with his musical heroes, and the fact that the band is touring more regularly, but Saturday night at the 1stBank Center, Kadlecik seemed to find a perfect balance between playing Garcia’s phrases when needed and stretching out into uncharted territory at others in a mostly strong show before 5,000 of the faithful.
Furthur found its groove early on a jam out of show-opener “The Music Never Stopped,” with Kadlecik soloing nimbly over Phil Lesh’s complicated bass lines and Bob Weir’s staccato rhythm guitar phrases. Weir then dedicated “Shaky Ground” to “The state of California, and all the people in it.”
The band really took flight on “Althea,” as Jeff Chimenti wove a dazzling piano solo around Kadlecik’s simple lead fills before Kadlecik took over on a solo after the bridge that spun into a frenetic finish. Throughout the first set, Kadlecik and Weir trade lead vocal duties, sometimes switching off mid-song to great effect, such as on the set closing “Touch of Grey” that was dominated by Chimenti’s joyful piano fills and Kadlecik’s piercing guitar tones.
Furthur spent much of the second set weaving in and out of various jams to great effect while seeming to be in a very lunar frame of mind, judging by the graphics on the screen behind the band. Chimenti’s jazzy piano fills on the instrumental “Slipknot!” left a dreamy tapestry for dissonant guitar playing from Kadlecik and Weir that led into a strong “Cassidy.”
The band really stretched out on “Mountains of the Moon,” a song that the Dead used to do as a pure acoustic song, but which Furthur jams extensively on. The song-ending jam seemed to stutter start for a moment, leading to a sloppy transition into “Let it Grow” that finally tightened up on a song-ending jam led by Kadlecik’s fleet-fingered soloing.
A return to the moon theme on “Standing on the Moon” proved to be the lowlight of the night, as Weir’s staccato rhythm playing threw the song off track, and his singing lacked the tender longing that used to make the song a highlight of the Dead era.
However, Furthur shook off the lapse and recovered on a fine “I Know You Rider,” which of course evoked cheers on the “cool Colorado rain” lyric. Pausing for the first time in the second set, the group launched into “Uncle John’s Band,” which had several peaks and valleys on the ending jam.
An obligatory “One More Saturday Night” encore (for Saturday night, natch), sent the delirious fans out with a warm glow to brave the snowfall for their drive home.
Set 1: Music Never Stopped > Shaky Ground > Music Never Stopped, Althea, Looks Like Rain, Just A Little Light > West L.A. Fadeaway, Peaceful Valley > Touch of Grey Set 2: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Cassidy > Mountains of the Moon > Let It Grow > Slipknot! > Standing on the Moon > I Know You Rider, Uncle John’s Band > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower E: One More Saturday Night