The Scene: As you can imagine with a Grateful Dead related show, it was a scene loaded with hippies . . . young and old . . . lots of good natured, fun loving, hippies. There were Moms and Dads with their teenagers, there were teenagers who were there on their own, and there were plenty of Baby Boomers reliving their youth and having a blast doing it. Though the arena was probably only about 80% full, the crowd was great and I didn’t notice any bad energy in our vicinity throughout the evening.
Furthur: The band walked on stage at 20 minutes after 8 to a thunderous ovation from the faithful and after a brief warm-up jam, they launched into one of my favorite songs from the Dead catalog, “Jack Straw.” The energy that poured through the song, and the tight harmonies, set the stage for a strong first set. “Jack Straw” segued into the classic Weir tune “Me & My Uncle” and though at times he seemed a little shaky on the lyrics, Bobby managed to turn in a good version of the song and set the stage nicely for John Kadlecik’s first lead vocal of the night on “Loser.” The song built nicely and at times you could close your eyes and see Jerry standing stage left like he never left. Weir took the reins next for “Big River” before passing things back to Kadlecik for one of the highlights of the show “It Must Have Been The Roses.” With red roses splashed all over the backdrop behind the band, Kadlecik’s vocals were sweetened even further by the harmonies added by background singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. The bands take on the song manged to create a tender intimate moment in the small arena, not an easy task and one that they should be commended for.
A powerful version of “Deal” got the dancers going again and had nearly everyone in the venue singing along at the top of their lungs. Throughout the song Jeff Chimenti got a chance to really shine on the keys, and as the band jammed their way out of “Deal” they teased “My Brother Esau.” Eventually they ended up in “Black Throated Wind,” which unfortunately proved to be the only real low point of the set. However, they finished the set with a strong “Brown Eyed Women” that was complete with Phil singing the “old man” lyrics and they left us all wanting more as the lights came up.
It is but one man’s opinion, but unfortunately the second set didn’t live up to the promise of the first. A twenty plus minute “Weather Report Suite” opened the set and never really got off the ground. Then the relatively new Lesh family collaborative effort “Mountain Song” featured Phil on lead vocals and left most of the crowd around me struggling to find a beat to dance to. As if sensing the crowd’s impatience, the band tore into a furious “I Know You Rider,” that proved to be one of the only highlights of the second set. Then, to the dismay of some, the opening notes of “Dark Star” rang out and the 20 minute version that followed proceeded to suck even more life from the room. Yes, it’s a great song, and a staple of the Dead repertoire, but after “Weather Report” and “Mountain Song,” the crowd was looking for something to dance to and “Dark Star” just doesn’t fit the bill. They kept the mellow, spacey, vibe rolling along slowly with “China Doll,” and though Kadlecik did a great job, many in the venue were sitting down at this point and giving up hope that they would get to dance out the rest of the night.
To their credit, Phil, Bobby and company did step things up a bit for the closing half hour of the night with a run from “Playing in the Band” into the classic combination of “Help On The Way,” “Slipknot!,” “Franklin’s Tower.” Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late, too much noodling, and not enough energy radiating from the stage in the second set.
With the midnight curfew looming the band’s encore break was just a few seconds before Phil emerged for his standard donor rap and then dedicated “Liberty” to the people of Egypt who had just successfully ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak who had ruled with an iron fist for 30 years. With the thoughts of freedom hanging in our consciousness, the 5,000 plus who had made it to the 1st Bank Center for the first night of a three night run filed out into the darkness.
Stage Presence: B
Set/Light Show: B+
Me & My Uncle
It Must Have Been the Roses
Brother Esau Jam>
Weather Report Suite
The Mountain Song>
I Know You Rider
China Doll >
Playing In The Band>
Help On The Way>
Encore: Liberty (Dedicated to the People of Egypt)
Photos By Tim Dwenger