Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: Furthur Live @ Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, NY 12-8-2009

The bright lights of the New York City skyline hover overhead as I stand outside the Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street in Manhattan. It's early December in the Big Apple, which means the Holiday season is in full swing as my friends Hawaii and Dave and I stand outside the old opera house hoping to get an early present from the new Grateful Dead-oriented jam band, Furthur.

Taking their name from the technicolored 1939 International Harvester school bus that carted Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters across the country's vast landscape high on LSD, the new band of pranksters formed by Grateful Dead guitarist, Bob Weir, and bassist, Phil Lesh, includes Ratdog organist, Jeff Chimenti and drummer, Jay Lane; Benvento-Russo Duo drummer Joe Russo; and recent ex-Dark Star Orchestra guitarist John Kadlecik.

Outside, the air is brisk as I mingle with the familiar faces from tours past, while I suck down a few pre-show cigarettes before entering the 3,400 capacity venue that would play host to our first experience, and the East Coast's first experience for that matter, with what we hoped would be the newest Dead-oriented band to have Heads emptying their wallets for years to come.

Upon entrance, Hawaii and I find ourselves on the first of the two-tired balconies that stand unusually close to the slanting floor, which is designed to give us folks in the balcony a good view of the stage. At this point, we have separated from Dave, who took off to meet up with another friend in order to head down to the floor where their tickets are located. The venue is starting to fill in as we sip on our overpriced alcoholic beverages and rap about what song the band will open the show with.

At one point, I hear a familiar voice call my name from across the room. I look around to find my old friend Billy hobbling toward me on one crutch. I had forgotten that he had told me at the Dark Star Orchestra show in Albany a month back that he intended to hop on the band's five show East Coast tour starting in New York. 

"What's new man?" he says approaching me with a big grin. "I thought that was you!"

"What the hell happened to you?!" I ask.

"Oh I took a fall and fucked my ankle up," he says with a grimace on his face. "My girl is actually outside right now trying to sell our tickets to tomorrow night's show. I don't even know if we are going to be able to go to the Ashbury (Park) shows."

"Wow that really blows, but I guess on the brightside you will at least get to see them," I say.

"Yeah I know, but it's just been a bad year for me and The Dead," he responds. "Remember how I saw you at The Dead show in Albany during the spring tour. Well I had tickets to like six other shows, but couldn't make it because I became deathly-ill and spent the remainder of the next month in and out of the hospital."

I introduce Billy to Hawaii and we continue on with our conversation before Billy excuses himself to take a phone call. Meanwhile, I notice Hawaii ferociously patting his pockets as if he has misplaced a ten-strip of Owsley's famous "White Lightning" acid or some other important item.

"Fuck!," he crys out.

"What's wrong?" I mumble.

"I forgot my rolling papers in the car," he says.

"Well if there is a time to have forgotten your rolling papers this is it," I say. "I'm sure we will have no problem finding one."

"I know!" he says with a hint of annoyance in his voice. "I just hate going through the process of finding one, when already had them. And then you know you have to smoke with the freaks that give them to you. It's just a whole process I was hoping to avoid."

Bill returns from his phone conversation and informs us that his girlfriend is going to watch the show from the floor since that is where their seats are located, but he was going to remain in the balcony with us so he could rest his busted foot.

"Nice! Should be a good show" I say. "You don't happen to have any papers do you?"

"Sure do," he replies with a wide-eyed grin.

The show is about to begin, so Hawaii and I leave Bill sitting at the top of the balcony where he will have more space to rest his broken foot, while we venture down to the seats we have reserved to roll a joint for the three of us to smoke. We squeeze ourselves into the seats with no help from the bastards sitting in front of us. I break up the necessary amount of bud to fill the EZ Wide Double Wide rolling paper Billy had given me and start to pack it into the over sized paper, just as the band takes the stage and kicks into The Dead's timeless classic "Truckin". I struggle rolling the joint in the dimly lit, tightly packed space as freaks dance around me jabbing the back of the theater's chairs into my legs and pinning me virtually motionless except the use of my arms. In the midst of struggling with the darkness, limited space and my own desire to jump-up and dance, I am finally able to finish rolling the joint and Hawaii signals Billy to come down and join us in what we consider to be a more inconspicuous location.

Bill squeezes in between Hawaii and I just as the band jams out of "Truckin" and into the classic sing along "Dire Wolf". It is the first time I have heard the band perform and the first time I have witnessed former Dark Star Orchestra guitarist, John, or fake Jerry as Hawaii and I like to call him, belting out his best impersination of Jerry Garcia's creaky, vocal lines alongside two of the group's founding members. I did not perceive John's addition to the band necessarily as trying to replace Jerry Garcia, but I did fear hearing him with Bobby and Phil would freak me out.

I spark the joint as we groove and sing along to the set that includes early Dead classics such as "Doin' that Rag" "Ramble on Rose" and "Cosmic Charlie" (set closer). The boys also find time to squeeze in the Bobby staple "Looks Like Rain" and the Jerry Garcia Band classic "Reuben and Cerise," which leaves us with the belief that no matter what else happens during the show we are going to walk away satisfied.

We grab a couple beers at set break and settle in at the top of the balcony, where Billy was originally sitting. While it is impossible to see the stage unless you are seated, I do not mind our new location because we have plenty of leg space and apparently no worries about smoking grass in the open as the place had turned into a free for all with freaks standing around consuming mass amounts of alcohol, puffing on joints and sucking down cigarettes as if they are at a house party instead of a public theatre - finally, it is starting to feel like a Dead show.

"So much for this place having tight security," I lean over and comment to Hawaii.

"This place?" Billy asks. "I have never had a problem hear before. I remember like five years ago I was on the floor at a Mule show, when some freak approached me and dusted me with LSD. Man was I fucked up, hardest I ever tripped in my life."

The group opens the second set with the band's two drummers, Lane and Russo, delivering a "Drumz" before they kick it into the classic jam, "King Solomon's Marbles". "He's Gone" follows and then Phil spices in a little of his own signature vocals to the show with "New Potato Caboose". I groove among the silhouetted figures, while the band kicks it into high-gear as I can hear "The Other One" creeping through the high-energy jam that is developing on stage.

At this point, Hawaii and I don't realize it, but while we are enjoying another joint in our spacious seats at the top of the balcony, Dave and his friend are having a terrible time below. The floor area is sweltering hot and dance space is limited as people are basically packed on top of one another like buds in a freshly packed bowl. To make matters worse, some woman, who is most likely strung out on a multitude of uppers and downers, has begun to harass Dave's friend to a point where she hits a tipping point and begins to frantically attack him, leaving Dave to find a security guard to subdue the crazed woman as she beats his poor friend like a red headed step-child. 

Prior to the show we had been jealous of their floor tickets, and while we didn't exactly know it at the moment, we are having a much easier go of it puffing on headie nuggs and enjoying the show in a frenzied sort of peace that is taking place in the balcony. At this point, we are seated as Bobby and John take us through the mystical "Days Between". While John performs the majority of Garcia songs throughout the night, he and Bobby also perform many of the songs as a duet, which some people might complain about (of course most of these people are the types that just don't like Bobby and like the Republicans with Obama, would hate him no matter what he did), but I thought it was great that they shared the load, because while I respect John and his ability to recreate Garcia and his sound, it is not as if the man is actually Jerry Garcia. On the other hand, Bob Weir is Bob Weir, and I appreciate the opportunity to listen to both of their voices cut through the air and give the old songs new life.

After the slow, yet beautiful "Days Between" the band brings the crowd back to their feet with a classic Dead combination "Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain" and closes with one of the band's early classics "Cold Rain and Snow". While there have been a few flaws in the performance, like any show, the only truly disappointing moment was the encore "Touch of Grey". Not that I don't love the only tune the pioneers of jam ever wrote that reached number one on the Billboard charts, but after hearing it as the encore for a number of shows on Dead tour in the spring, not to mention at Dark Star's recent show in Albany, it was a disappointing end to what has otherwise been a great show.

We say our goodbyes to Billy and his girlfriend outside before they disappear into the Manhattan night. We find Dave and start to rap about how great of a show we had just witnessed and even more importantly how the band lived up to every thing we had imagined it would be when they first announced the formation of the group a few months back.

"It just could be this band is here to stay," I prophesize. "Now we just need to land tickets to the winter tour!" 


Set 1:
Dire Wolf
Doin' That Rag
Ramble On Rose
Reuben & Cerise>
Looks Like Rain
Cosmic Charlie

Set 2:
King Solomon's Marbles>
He's Gone> New Potato Caboose>
The Other One> Days Between>
Scarlet Begonias>
Fire On The Mountain
Cold Rain and Snow

E: Touch of Grey

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