The Scene: The scene at Red Rocks on Saturday night was pretty much what you would expect when The Grateful Dead, or any related projects are in town. The venue and the parking lots were swimming in a sea of aging tie-dyed hippies who come out of retirement a few nights a year to relive the glory days of their youth. Sure, there were a few 20 somethings around who probably never got to see The Dead perform with Jerry, but for the most part it was the veterans of the arena and stadium tours of the 80’s and 90’s that made it out.
With the Shakedown and the tailgates in high gear on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the lots filled up well before the doors opened and lots of folks were directed to park at the bottom of the hill by the Box Office. It was a near perfect night for a show and we were all thankful that an early frost or some freezing rain wasn’t about to dampen the close of the season between the rocks.
Furthur: I’ve managed to catch Furthur four or five times now and, as with The Dead and the many spin off projects, these shows have been hit or miss. Sometimes there is a monumental 1st set followed by a sloppy 2nd, or maybe the pacing of the whole show is just a bit off. Whatever the end result, there is always something that keeps us coming back for more. I had high hopes for Saturday after catching my favorite Furthur show to date last September at Red Rocks. However, this one was to be a bit of a let down.
Simply put, it was a sloppy show. While the song selection was pretty good, the playing just wasn’t where it should have been and the band literally seemed to be on different sheets of music at times. The show got underway with a mellow version of Weir’s “One More Saturday Night” which was a bit of a surprise as it is typically a song reserved for the encore of Saturday night shows and it was nice to see them changing things up a bit early on. As the set plodded on, versions of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” “Mexicali Blues” never really took off and I found myself wondering if this was gonna be a sleeper of a show.
My faith was renewed when the first notes of Ryan Adams Jacksonville City Nights gem “Peaceful Valley” rang out in the night air, but unfortunately the version cranked out by Weir, Lesh and company paled in comparison to the original. It really wasn’t until the end of the first set that I thought things started to get off the ground when Keyboardist Jeff Chementi laid into the swirling organ riffs that define the Spencer Davis Group classic “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The crowd was up and dancing as the band stretched out the tight little blue-eyed soul number with some solos that didn’t derail the song at all, and for the first time all night, I really was glad that I made it to the show. The band kept the energy high as they slid into Chuck Berry number “Around And Around” which unfortunately ended the set just as the band was hitting a stride it would struggle to find for the bulk of the second set.
After a lengthy setbreak, Furthur re-emerged to launch into an energy sapping set that wove in and out of the epic noodling vehicle “Dark Star” and featured Lesh on vocals a little more than I can handle. While Phil is probably playing some of the best bass of his career, and is no doubt the anchor of this band, his voice has slipped into an almost unpleasant range. I appreciate that he gets up there and pours his soul into it every night, but I would be much happier if Bobby or John sang everything.
After an uninspired Jam that allowed people to find their way back to their seats, Lesh took his first warbley shot at lead vocals on a painful cover of Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” that blended into “Mountains Of The Moon.” With the first 20 minutes of the set falling flat in my eyes I heard the intro to “St. Stephen” and saw this as a chance for the band to redeem themselves and take things to another level. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as they struggled with lyrics and seemed to be playing out of time with each other when the song should have been at its most inspiring. The jams never took off and instead set us up for the doldrums of “Dark Star.” While “The Eleven” did breathe a little bit of life into the set with it’s interesting time signature and bouncy feel, even the feel good classic “Playin’ In The Band” was mired in confusion and left me wanting more.
As the set wound to a close, Kadlecik took the reigns for “Morning Dew” which ended up being one of the highlights of the night as he nailed the vocals and added some tight solos to the climax of the song. After the obligatory “Playin” reprise, the group waved goodbye and disappeared into the wings. Lesh returned first to implore us all to be organ donors and then the rest of the group returned and bid us goodnight with a version of “Uncle John’s Band” that barely flirted with glory but at least it sent me out into the lot with a bit more spring in my step.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the show, I did my share of dancing and cheering, but I just expected more from a band that has been touring so steadily for the last two years. With the teleprompters that are set up on stage, vocal flubs should be a thing of the past and the sloppiness that reared its ugly head from time to time is simply disappointing. Sure, maybe it’s part of a Furthur show these days as it was in the last few years of The Dead, but I don’t have to like it.
Set I: One More Saturday Night, Sitting on Top of the World, Mexicali Blues, Peaceful Valley > Stagger Lee, Next Time You See Me, Gimme Some Lovin’ > Around and Around
Set II: Jam > Eclipse > Mountains of the Moon, St. Stephen > Dark Star (1st Verse) > The Eleven > Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks) > Mountain Song > Playing in the Band > Dark Star (2nd Verse) > Morning Dew > Playing in the Band (Reprise)
Encore: Donor Rap, Uncle John’s Band
Stage presence: C+
Set light show: B