by Michael Eck
Special to The Times Union
In a recent interview in these pages, guitarist Bob Weir confirmed that the Times Union Center has proven a welcome home for the music of the Grateful Dead.
“We’ve had some hot nights there,” he said.
It wasn’t the Grateful Dead at the TUC on Tuesday, but it was pretty hot.
Weir and old Dead pal Phil Lesh are now on the road with Furthur, which joins the elder statesmen with younger players driven by the same motives, and well fed on the music of the Dead.
In fact, from the first note of “Here Comes Sunshine” to last of “Brokedown Palace” on Tuesday, Furthur walked like the Dead, smelled like the dead (that special herbal tang in the air, don’t you know) and sounded — gloriously — like the Dead. There was a brightness to the performance, and the sound quality — considering the barn-like space of the TUC — was remarkable even by Dead standards.
The vibe, however, was a little different than the Dead’s classic 1990s nights at the Knickerbocker Arena, as the TUC was then known. There wasn’t a city within a city outside the venue for one thing, and the upper decks were all closed off rather than crammed with noodle dancing kids.
As noted, that didn’t stop Weir, Lesh and company from getting their groove on.
With guitarist John Kadlecik doing his best Jerry Garcia, the band careered through many classics and chestnuts, including “New, New Minglewood Blues,” “Cosmic Charlie,” “Passenger,” “Estimated Prophet,” “Loose Lucy” and “That’s It For The Other One.”
Kadlecik, who spent almost a dozen years in the Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra, has a slightly sparer, less round sound than Garcia, but it does echo the master in all the right ways, and when Kadlecik employed his envelope filter (a key element in Garcia’s sound) it was as if Jerry’s ghost had stumbled into the room.
Overall, Furthur has a leaner sound than the Dead. Brilliant drummer Joe Russo pushes the band harder but thankfully doesn’t take up as much sonic space as a pair of skinsmen; and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, who graced “Row Jimmy” and “Dire Wolf” with lovely piano solos Tuesday, leaves as much room as he inhabits.
That openness allowed the artistry — and long experience — of Weir and Lesh to shine through. Weir’s broken chords, double stops and pointed single notes are as distinctive, if different a rhythmic style as Keith Richard’s jagged, glassy splashes. And Lesh has always been the engine of the big machine — you could almost here him chuckling with joy as he thumped down Paul McCartney’s descending line in “Here Comes The Sun.”
The almost four hour show concluded (prior to encores) with a positively jaunty “Uncle John’s Band” that showed off Furthur’s secret weapons, vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. The Dead always lacked the vocal firepower of its San Francisco flower power kin, but Becker and Pehrson took things, well, further on Tuesday.
Hot night, indeed.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Times Union Center, 51 South Pearl Street, Albany
Length: Nearly four hours; one intermission
Highlights: A hot night overall, with backing vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson giving Furthur the vocal harmony firepower the Dead always lacked.
The crowd: Smaller than in the Grateful Dead’s glory days, but smiling and boogieing nonetheless.
I can't come down, I've been set free.
Who you are, and what you do,
don't make no difference to me.