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Published: 2011/03/08
by Dan Berthiaume

Furthur, Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA – 3/6

Photo by Ellis Jones

Furthur capped off a three-night opening run of their 2011 spring tour at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston with a strong performance that intertwined old favorites with rarities, surprise covers and tight jams.

The band opened with a slow, less-frequently-played number, “Here Comes Sunshine,” that seemed to portend both the impending spring (the day’s weather was gloomy but unseasonably mild) and what could have been a classic mellow closing night. However, any notion that Furthur was going to lean back for a cozy Sunday evening was dashed as soon as drummer Joe Russo began pounding out the intro to psychedelic rave-up “Alligator.” This version was smoother and funkier than the fast-paced “Alligator” which opened Furthur’s show at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. last November, but still was a clear signal the band was ready to boogie.

Their first two nights in Boston, Furthur covered the Beatles classics “Come Together” and “Something,” off Abbey Road and much of the preshow buzz centered on whether they would do it again. Furthur quickly answered that question three songs in, with a whimsical cover of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” the third tune off the album, which had the crowd cheering.

After a solid “Passenger,” Furthur then showed off their considerable jam chops by launching into a spirited “Viola Lee Blues” which segued into a soulful rendition of the blues chestnut “I’m a King Bee,” shifted back up to “Viola Lee,” went into a rollicking “Next Time You See Me” and then returned once again to the set-closing finale of “Viola Lee.”

During this complicated song cycle and throughout the night, Furthur deftly handled numerous and even radical changes in tempo and feel with a minimum of the fumbling or noodling that has sometimes plagued them (although there was a little more noodling toward the end of set 2). Much of the credit for this goes to Russo, who kept the groove all night at whatever pace it needed to be.

The second set opened similarly to the first – a mellow “Mountain Song” followed by timeless fan favorite “St. Stephen,” which inspired enough dancing to cause the floor of the center balcony to noticeably shake. This led into a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” that hewed fairly close to the original. Backup singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson took a turn in the spotlight with an impressive duet on the opening vocals, while bassist Phil Lesh took over lead singing duties midway through the song. It’s worth noting that Phil was obviously in a good mood, smiling for much of the night, and his energy and enthusiasm level helped set the tone for the band’s performance.

Furthur continued the detour into the tripper side of its sound with late ‘60s nugget “The Eleven,” followed by what was probably the biggest crowd-pleaser of a set list obviously aimed at longtime Dead fans: “Dark Star.” Keeping the mood set by the song’s ominous opening chords, Furthur wove it into versions of Ryan Adams’ “Nobody Girl” and the Dead’s “China Doll” before spinning back into the conclusion of “Dark Star.” As with the “Viola Lee” segue, the shifts in songs, tempos etc. were handled well by the entire band.

John Kadlicek helped fill the void left by the late Jerry Garcia with a respectable take on lead guitar and vocals on the JGB standard “Sugaree,” and the band closed out the second set with the traditional blues number (and longtime Grateful Dead live staple) “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.”

The encore was a soothing extended version of “And We Bid You Goodnight,” featuring everyone singing with a little backing music from keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and Kadlicek. If I had any complaint here, it’s that I felt like another song was coming but instead the house lights went up right after the conclusion of “Goodnight,” which seemed like an anticlimax following such a lively night of music. But that’s hardly a major complaint.

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