Furthur, The Palms Las Vegas, NV- 10/1-2
Photo by Stuart Levine
It all seemed like a strange movie at first. But four years is measured in more than dog years for a touring band and it is nearly an eternity on the finicky Deadhead landscape. Today, John Kadlecik, whose voice still sounds eerily like Jerry and keyboard stylist Jeff Chimenti have become fan favorites. The yelps to turn up the volume on JK’s guitar are as commonplace as the late 80‘s “We want Phil” cry. A group of fans who spelled out tireless drummer Joe Russo’s last name on their tied dyed shirts have been spotted all over this fan dubbed “Fare Thee Well” West Coast tour.
Now comes Vegas, with its neon flash, cheap buffets, water features and lights, lots of lights. And here is Furthur, four years old, barreling into the penultimate stop of their final tour before a self-imposed “hiatus” takes place after one more gig down in Mexico in January. The beacons of the band are going in different directions. Phil, now 73, plays almost every night, with his Friends band or at the Terrapin Station Crossroads clubhouse he refurbished in San Rafael. Bob Weir is busy too, gravitating toward being a troubadour/talk show host at his Tri Studios which is also in San Rafael and keeping up with Ratdog and his many solo gigs.
So all of a sudden these final gigs mean something. The tickets disappeared when the news of the hiatus broke. Deadheads are getting sentimental, tie-dyed kids are using words like legacy and talking about where this band fits in the American fabric. And the fear is that core four from the day, Bobby, Phil and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kruetzman may not reconvene. It takes a village to carry a torch and the hippie nation is looking around for a lighter.
What’s more, the band couldn’t be hotter at the moment. They appear to listen to each other intently, having evolved from early gigs when their momentum could hit a brick wall into a reliable jam machine. Many thousands of people are listening to every show, thanks in part to a nearly mythical and greatly revered guy named Taper Rob who has been streaming most every show on the web.
Bob Weir seems to have taken an onstage fall last spring as a challenge and while his guitar doesn’t dominate the mix, his always enthusiastic vocals are the rock of this rolling circus.
Tuesday in Las Vegas Bobby opened the show with the howling declaration that he was “born in the desert.” The western themed cowboy songs continued, with JK following the “Minglewood Blues” opener by polishing off a well-crafted “Dupree Diamonds Blues” and then Bobby nailing the myriad words to “El Paso.”
Phil was smiling all night and seemed thrilled to drop as many bass bombs as the adoring ears at the Pearl at the Palms 2500 seat, three-tier theater could handle. The first set found Phil bumping along through Ramble on Rose and taking the vocals on “Tom Thumbs Blues.” JK was jamming loose and sounding less like Jerry like all night. Jeff Chimenti, like the Brent of old, was up to something interesting all evening, his skeleton keys keeping the conversation relevant. Bobby took the reigns back from Phil busting out the Jerry Band favorite “Catfish John” before JK roared into “Bertha.” Usually a set opener, JK re-energized the crowd with this two-chord rave up, making it clear that the days of six song first sets which plagued the summer tour were over. Bobby closed the first set with a high energy “Hell in a Bucket,” which seemed like the perfect anthem for Vegas.
After a healthy break Furthur returned with jamming on their mind. A delightful “China Cat Sunflower” was followed by the traditional “I Know You Rider,” which is not always a given with this band, which has thrown out many of the song pairings from the Grateful Dead days and found a way to play either “Dark Star” or “St. Stephen” at nearly every multi-day run. A nice jam followed the “Rider” into a Phil bomb strewn “Truckin” and then another jam waterfalled into yet another nod to Vegas, a well placed “Deal.”
Then the jam found that strange place that Deadheads ride to the center of their soul, a meticulous “Cryptical Envelopment” preceded a very trippy “The Other One,” which teased in and out of and finally landed in “The Eleven” and then into the very rare and spacey “King Solomon’s Marbles.” Bobby grabbed the helm and ironically brought everyone back to earth with an always touching “Standing On The Moon.” “Casey Jones” closed the show, but the pace was too quick for some, the boys almost driving home the point that they aren’t a jukebox band, by fooling around with the arrangement.
Phil got a little more choked up than usual with his donor rap, with the final days of Furthur now clearly in sight. The lanky bass man took over after his speech and sent the hippies into the Vegas night with familiar Dylan closer, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” a sentimental standby, for a powerful first night of sound and movement.
Night two the band walked on stage later than their consistent prompt start time and Bobby announced that he wanted to dedicate to the first set to the 19 kids who decided to jump up and down in the elevator at the casino hotel and were still stuck there.
“I guess they were on their way to the IQ test,” Bobby joked, but similar tales were told all night in ballads of the American West. From the solar thread themed “Here Comes Sunshine” with the “one more time,” verse through the entire night, desert themes like the sun and western adventures were the muse. “Greatest Story Ever Told” gave way to “Dire Wolf” and Phil crooning “Pride of Cucamonga” before the band went into the casino apropos “Might as Well.” Bobby then took charge and ended the first set with some rare exuberance, self-styling a “Good Lovin” and following it up with a spunky “Sugar Magnolia” right into “Sunshine Daydream” to close out the set.
The jam heavier second set shined from the start with the band and their backup singers sharing the Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun.” “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” was the obvious next nod to the big ball of fire in the azure Vegas sky, which warmed Deadheads after the most recent Northwest and Berkeley cooler autumnal temperatures. “Viola Lee Blues” was born as the evening’s monster jam and didn’t disappoint. A spacey jam segued into “The Wheel” and then into Phil again, singing his “Mountain Song.”
“Let It Grow,” a regular set two go-to in recent tours , led to JK tackling “Morning Dew.” The long-haired skinny kid hit it at the knees and upended the post apocalyptic rocker with delicious dramatic flair. Then the casino got back to dancing. “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” with its Woody Guthrie wit and logic was enhanced when Phil originally stumbled but then made up his own line. “Going where the pavement fits my shoe,” seemed to work just fine in Vegas. After a donor rap met with the love from the Deadheads who themselves have managed to amuse the Entertainment Capitol of the World, the show closed with Bobby performing a sentimental “Ripple.” At the end it felt like even if the band was going on hiatus, they would, if they could, take us all home.