Furthur, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium San Francisco, CA – 12/29-31
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones to have caught Furthur’s soon to be infamous NYE run there’s no doubt you’re still glowing. Each night was clean, left fans wanting more, and kept building set by set. It was a true masterpiece in all aspects that not only sent a message to the greater jamband community, but respected and honored the storied tradition built by the one and only Grateful Dead.
Thursday’s offering was the loosest night of the stand with an obvious absence of the pre-weekend crowd. With the only non sold out evening of the run Furthur took the stage with a bouncy warm up jam and proceeded to drop right into a hot “Help on the Way,” arguably one of the most revered openers in their vast catalogue.
While “Slipknot!” followed it wasn’t the usual melodic jam seasoned listeners are used too. It was rather quick and not quite as pronounced although as soon as the notes to “Estimated Prophet” filled the Civic we all knew why. Carried at the end by several trademark Bob Weir “Haaa’s!” as a few thousand strong sang “California!” as loud as could be the rest of Furthur’s first set was tight, fun, and showcased interesting improvisational moments throughout every song selection. This was perhaps the singular most salient theme of the run, a theme that continues the progression of Furthur as a band since their first shows back in 2009.
Some detractors and critics have called the band flat, unoriginal in their playing, and unoriginal in their interpretation of the classic Grateful dead catalogue. Sorry folks. Those criticisms are completely unwarranted, especially when put up against these three shows. Each song offered, simply noted in just the initial first set of night one, showcased unique jams and unique takes on these classic tunes. The jam in “Cassidy” is a great example as is the “Weather Report Suite” > “Let It Grow”. Both are clear examples of not only the superior playing of Furthur, but of how well this band is putting their own stamp on this timeless music.
Thursday’s second set built a step from set one opening with a great Phil Lesh led “Box of Rain.” An interesting pairing in “China Cat Sunflower” > “Scarlet Begonias” was a nice treat not just for the love of the songs and how well they were executed, but in the interesting delivery of these two particular songs that are normally segued with two other classics. “Any Road” and “Big Bad Blues” added that unique Furthur feel to the set before the welcome notes of “Slipknot!” brought us all back from the beginning of the night culminating in a lively Phil led take on “Franklin’s Tower.”
After Thursday’s effort the buzz in Furthur camp was alive and well. People were stoked and it showed amongst fans Friday afternoon and early evening as night two got ready for liftoff. The Bill Graham Civic was visibly fuller compared to Thursday night and that special NYE energy was being shared in costume, conversation, and comradery throughout the greater scene.
After having left us all with heads full of Dead from the previous evening Furthur took the stage with Bob Weir starting the night with a solid “Jack Straw.” Although Jerry Garcia favorites like “Bertha,” “Eyes of the World” and “Deal” dotted the set it was the Bobby tunes like the opener, “Music Never Stopped” and the classic segued pairing of “Lost Sailor” >”Saint of Circumstance” that stood out the most.
If there was any set to throw off my framing of this run as a near perfect buildup from set-to-set it would have to be set two from Friday night. Even walking into the show on NYE many were a tad reserved that what would be offered could capture the energy, musicianship, and psychedelia offered during this set. Like several parts of this overall run, it’s highly recommend to listen to this set if you were unable to make the show. If you made the show I’m sure you’ve already taken care of that by now.
The “Dear Mr. Fantasy” opener was a nice surprise that almost seemed as though it was a bonus once “Passenger”, a not uncommon set opener itself followed. “Wharf Rat” also seemed surprising in its number three position for the set although the first three songs fit very well together as a triad. It was clearly shaping up to be a great set, and then came the Anthem of the Sun vibe that took the venue into alternate realms.
“New Potato Caboose” brought us there and was followed by a truly slick take on “Cryptical Envelopment.” With the energy of a twenty-something an absolutely huge bass bomb by Phil was dropped, and a soaring take on “The Other One” sent the Civic ablaze. The venue was swirling, dripping with smiles, and for that one beauteous moment we show goers know can happen from time to time it felt as though there was a mutual shared acknowledgement happening with all in attendance knowing Furthur was indeed taking this music and the fans further. “The Other One” proceeded to bleed right into “Caution (Do Not Stop on the Tracks)”, which might’ve been the highlight of the night. Bobby leading on the vocals, Phil walking his bass perfectly to a steady drum beat from Joe Russo, spacey keys from Jeff Chimenti, all revolving around an absolutely ripping guitar from John Kadlecik. It was a moment.
I’m not usually one ever looking for a chance to catch my breath at a show when the music is taking people to such new heights, but at the end of “Caution” it would’ve made sense. The energy of the venue was through the roof, but “Caution” didn‘t stop the jam sequence as drummer Joe Russo nailed the groove on “King’s Solomon’s Marbles.” “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” was finally that moment for physical rest, although not mentally as it was a passionate take on the old school tune. “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” eventually rolled right into a nice jam, “The Eleven”, and then right into “Turn on Your Lovelight.” Wow is all I have to say and I know I am far from the only one. “Touch of Grey” was a fitting one off encore as much as the Bob Dylan classic “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was on night one.