Furthur, Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY- 4/21
Photo by George Brown
If Bob Weir’s sudden onstage fall on the final night of Furthur’s 9 night run at The Capitol Theatre served as a sharp reminder of how old and fragile our heroes have grown, their April 21st performance showed that despite their age, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh are still capable of magically revitalizing Grateful Dead material. Returning to the same room that the Grateful Dead played a total of 18 times in 1970 and 1971, Furthur nodded to those days with a first set heavy on early material before an expansive second set that found them stretching the boundaries of these songs.
Opening with a fun if slightly lackluster takes on “Hard to Handle” and “Alligator,” the set soon settled into a loose seventies Americana vibe. Phil Lesh led the way through a beautiful reading of Pigpen’s “Operator,” before Garcia’s “Loser” came alive with a rolling grandeur fit for the gorgeous theatre. There is an unspoken bond between deadheads and band that how it’s played is far more important than what is played. And as a result it was “Passenger,” one of the Grateful Dead’s less inspiring late seventies songs, that surprisingly unwound into a stunning jam that may have been the musical highlight of the night. As Lesh and Joe Russo pushed the tempo well past breakneck speed and Jeff Chimenti and Bob Weir traded organ and guitar riffs back and forth, the song bubbled into a jam that perfectly demonstrated the in the moment musical flexibility that makes us continue to come back for more night after night.
Second set opener “Lost Sailor > St. of Circumstance” was marred only slightly by Weir jumbling around some lyrics, with “St. of Circumstance” especially lively. “Foolish Heart” kept things upbeat before unwinding into a gorgeous jam vaguely reminiscent of David Crosby’s “What Are Their Names” that eventually settled into “Mountains of the Moon.” Though “Mountains of the Moon” featured some of the band’s most creative and intricate improvisation of the night, the slow tempo lost a portion of the crowd, who were soon reawakened by a majestic, soaring journey through the full “Terrapin Station” suite that followed.
Traveling through the various movements of “Terrapin,” the energy reached a peak during “Terrapin Flyer,” with drummer Joe Russo pushing things to a frenetic climax. Nearly four years after Furthur’s formation, it’s Russo, the band’s youngest member and the one with the least familiarity with the Grateful Dead songbook who has stepped up as the band’s backbone and driving force. Combining an impressive jazzy, on the fly approach with enough raw power to match the Grateful Dead’s famous two drummer muscle, Russo’s playing was a constant highlight, especially when he cut loose on the “Terrapin Station” suite.
Russo teamed up with keyboardist Jeff Chimenti to propel the band through the always welcome “China Cat Sunflower -> I Know You Rider” that closed out the set with a roar before a jubilant sing-along cover of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn The Eskimo” sent the crowd home full of smiles. Furthur stuck to classic Grateful Dead material over the course of the three plus hour show, but while the catalog is closer to familiar than groundbreaking, they still perform these songs with the spirit of reckless abandon and spontaneity that allows magic to suddenly break out at any given point, and on the right night, there’s no question that it still does.