Furthur brings Grateful Dead tradition to JPJ
John Paul Jones Arena
By: JEDD FERRIS | Daily Progress correspondent
Published: November 04, 2011
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After nearly half a century, the long, strange trip of the Grateful Dead continues. While the band officially disbanded in 1995, after the untimely passing of iconic lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, surviving members have continued to interpret the group’s well-known brand of exploratory folk-rock with a variety of projects. The latest is Furthur — a collaboration helmed by Dead bassist Phil Lesh and guitar-wielding troubadour Bob Weir.
The group, which formed in 2009, is offering a revitalized spin on the Dead’s massive catalog with a lineup that includes New York City jazz-bred drummer Joe Russo, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (a veteran of Weir’s other band, RatDog) and backing vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson.
To fill the role of lead guitarist, Lesh and Weir tapped John Kadlecik — an ax slinger who previously spent the majority of his music career playing the role of Garcia in the Dark Star Orchestra, a Dead tribute group known for recreating the band’s shows in their entirety.
Like a minor leaguer being called up to the big show, Kadlecik is now playing alongside his idols. Ahead of Furthur’s Tuesday night appearance at John Paul Jones Arena, he chatted about the band and how he approaches playing the part of a rock legend.
Q: How would describe the way Furthur is interpreting the music of the Grateful Dead?
A: I look at it first and foremost as Bob [Weir] and Phil [Lesh] celebrating their musical friendship. For a musical collaboration to last the better part of a lifetime, I find it amazing. As far as the actual sound, everything is getting a little bit updated, and we mix up song sequences quite a bit compared to the historical Grateful Dead.
Also, as far back as our first rehearsals, we have also been working on new original material. Music should pull a wide variety of emotions out of people, not just nostalgia or comfort with familiarity. Those things are more important than whether it sounds like it used to.
Q: How has the music evolved in the nearly three years you’ve been playing together?
A: We’re getting to know each other better, so we know each other’s musical cues. We have gradually been getting a sense of each band member’s vocabulary, so we can nudge jams in different directions. Like a couple in a relationship, we’re getting better at completing each other’s sentences. It’s been a great experience being alongside Bob and Phil when they’re in the moment with improvisation. They’re the most challenging musicians I’ve ever collaborated with — challenging in a good way.
Q: In the beginning, what were Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s instructions, as far as the role they wanted you to play?
A: They wanted me to bring my [Grateful Dead] repertoire expertise into the mix from my years in Dark Star Orchestra, but at the same time they didn’t want to be stuck with the old arrangements. I was tested early on about how flexible I could be when it comes to taking the music in new directions.
Q: Filling the role of Jerry Garcia next to his band mates has to be daunting. How do you approach it?
A: Playing with Dark Star Orchestra gave me an intense training for playing with Furthur, but it was an exercise in restraining my own personal musical influences to just Garcia. As a musician, I have a whole bunch of influences beyond him, so I wanted to bring different styles of improvisation into the jams and see how they could evolve.
Q: A variety of Dead side projects have been formed over the years. What’s the long-term outlook of this group?
A: This is first and foremost Bob and Phil’s project, so that question is one for them to field. I’m happy to be here as long as this band is rolling, and it looks like it’s rolling into the foreseeable future. But you never know with music; it’s a funny area.
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