Furthur, Best Buy Theater, New York, NY – 3/11
Photo by Vernon Webb
As is the case with most every Furthur show, the group’s March 11 performance at the Best Buy Theater in New York City began with an improvised jam segment between Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. Bouncing musical ideas off one another, their notes meshed together in a way that displayed their lifelong musical bond. Gradually, the rest of the group joined in and within a matter of moments a section of inspired improvisation emerged. The music eventually gave way to the opening notes of “Greatest Story Ever Told” as though the lead in were composed.
Weir was especially strong throughout the first set— casting aside any recent criticisms—helping to deliver powerful renditions of “Black Throated Wind,” along with his recently penned “Big Bad Blues” (the latter of which was debuted in a video posted to Weir’s Facebook page last summer). It’s new songs such as this one, that separate Furthur from previous reincarnations of the Dead and add a fresh feel to the music.
Continuing to run through the Abbey Road track list, this show saw Furthur take on “I Want You (She’s so heavy),” although some of the admittedly difficult vocal sections happened to fall flat at times. This may have been partially due to the fact that there was a horrid reverb on Weir’s vocals at times during the show. After this, the group rounded out the set with well delivered versions of “Loser,” “Jack Straw.”
In the second set, Furthur turned the dial up several notches, with an extended jam on another powerful Weir number, “Estimated Prophet.” It was here that Kadlecik began to show his growing sense of individuality, sidestepping some of Garcia’s signature licks and instead offering up a few of his own. As the song stretched out, drummer Joe Russo and Lesh’s playing intertwined, guiding the rest of the band through various tempos and rhythmic pastures, eventually unwinding into “Dark Star.”
This next segment (consisting of “Dark Star” into “Bird Song” into “Dark Star”) served as the undisputed highlight of the show—the band connecting with a tightness that seems to have only recently taken hold. While there had been some discussion that Furthur struggled to capture the magic of the Dead’s magnum opus, this time around the band entered the songs vast space with a noticeable determination. Chimenti could be heard laying down psychedelic washes of sound on his synthesizers, helping to take the song in a completely new direction.
Lesh took on vocal duties for “Bird Song,” and while many take issue with his singing, the delivery of this particular number was executed masterfully. With the help of the backup singers, the song’s power remained intact, and was yet another highpoint in a blistering second set. Again, the rhythm section was at the helm of the “Bird Song” jam, inspired by Joe Russo’s truly original approach to the drum kit. At times, Russo guided Lesh into ska-like beats—and various others—that put the legendary bassist on his toes, but wound up pushing him to adapt to the foreign grounds.
Two more highlight moments took place during “The Eleven”—a fitting choice on the eleventh day of 2011—and “Black Peter,” where the crowd was completely drawn in by the music. A soulful take on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” closed out the night, with Kadlecik and Weir trading off on vocal duties. It’s been almost exactly a year and a half since its inception, and Furthur continues to show evident signs of growth and maturation constantly remaining true to its name.