Furthur, DCU Center, Worcester, MA – 11/19
Photo by Vernon Webb
Furthur led a near-sellout crowd at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA on a spirited trip down memory lane, playing close to three hours of music that pulled heavily from the earliest days of the Grateful Dead.
While sometimes Furthur will start with a slow number and build a groove as the night goes on, this particular evening the show kicked off full-tilt with an uptempo version of “Alligator,” from 1968’s Anthem of the Sun, which slid effortlessly into a driving “Cream Puff War,” off the very first Dead album from 1967.
Bob Weir seemed to be enjoying himself as he traded surf rock-style licks and engaged in playful dueling with lead guitarist John Kadlecik during “Puff.” The band then downshifted tempo and plucked the more recent (by Dead songbook standards) “Althea” from 1980’s Go To Heaven.
The slower pace continued for much of the first set with numbers like “Mississippi Half-Step” and “Birdsong,” before Furthur pulled out another old-school rocker, “Turn on Your Lovelight.” Weir and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti split the duties originally filled on this song by late, great Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, with Weir putting his heart into the pleading vocals and Chimenti summoning trippy blues notes from his ivories.
“Lovelight” led directly into “Casey Jones,” drawing a rousing cheer throughout the arena. Furthur kicked into the song full-throttle and then expertly shifted pacing several times before executing a high-velocity finish that left the crowd on a high as the first set ended.
During the break, a brief surprise on-stage appearance by bassist Phil Lesh to check out the soundboard led to happy shouts of his name from several audience members, bringing back memories of the “Phil chant” that would echo arenas and stadiums before Dead shows. Maybe this tradition should be revived, especially considering how important Lesh’s contribution is to the band (including providing lead vocals on “Birdsong” and Mountains of the Moon”).
The second set began much like the first, with a high-energy version of another first album gem, “The Golden Road,” whose chorus of “come and join the party everyday” fit the mood Furthur had carried over from the first set. Furthur then showed off its R&B chops with a grooving cover of the Wilson Pickett classic “In The Midnight Hour” before paying tribute to a more recent songwriter, Ryan Adams, blending his “Nobody Girl” into a melancholy “China Doll.”
Setting a darker tone with “China Doll,” the band then reminded the audience even the darkest days can turn bright again with the post-Altamont shuffle “New Speedway Boogie.” Offering the traditional second set nod to the Grateful Dead’s reservoir of deep psychedelia, “Boogie” was followed by a somewhat clunky and ponderous take on “Mountains of the Moon” that provided the one low point of the show.
A cover of Dylan’s “Hard Rain” brought some life back to the proceedings, which finished with a superb “Scarlet Begonias-Fire on the Mountain” jam that fully demonstrated the progress Kadlecik is making in finding a way to channel the energy of Jerry Garcia without losing his own identity.
Kadlecik provides the engagingly raspy vocals and thick, oddly funky chords once provided by Garcia, but is starting to put his own personal stamp on his performance. Weir is known to take the lead vocals on songs which were originally sung by Garcia, such as “Casey Jones” and the encore of “Ripple,” but Kadlecik still provided shared or solo lead vocals on close to two-thirds of the songs. His increased workload as a frontman demonstrates not only Kadlecik’s growing confidence in himself, but increasing confidence in him from his bandmates, especially Weir and Lesh.
Furthur have not yet announced any plans for 2011, but considering they are playing a sold-out New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco, it seems like a pretty sure bet this bus has some more travels ahead.