Words: Tyler Curtis
It’s been quite a year for Furthur in every aspect including the size of the venues the group has been playing. Just four months ago, this post-Grateful Dead act offered two performances at the 2,100-capacity Best Buy Theater in New York City. This past weekend, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh brought their latest project to the 20,000 seats at Madison Square Garden for two nights. Both shows were different in everything from the flow of the setlists, to the crowd and band’s energy. It has been said that when the Garden is full of enthusiasm, magic does happen and that was indeed the case for Furthur.
Night one consisted of a monstrous first set that included a Help On The Way, Slipknot! and Shakedown Street combination that shook the entire arena with merciless energy between the crowd and the music. The rest of the set continued the Grateful Dead repertoire’s standard of crisp jams and stellar vocals, though there was a minor flub in El Paso. However, the Terrapin Station Suite closer was the highlight of the set as the 23-minute sequence brought silence and focus from the attentive crowd.
The second set of Saturday’s concert provided a more psychedelic vibe to the atmosphere mainly controlled by bassist Phil Lesh. He seemed to stop and start the songs, leading the way to the next jam or pushing the improvisation to the next level. This was clear on songs like Saint Stephen and from the way Millennium Jam segued into The Eleven, consisting of an increase in the tempo to bring up the intensity of the jams.
READ ON for more on Furthur’s two shows at MSG…
Keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and guitarist John Kadlecik connected all throughout the night, building off of each other’s musical charisma. Bob Weir also repeatedly brought it, especially during the Eleven where his rhythm guitar was astounding, as were his vocals in Death Don’t Have No Mercy. The earlier Help On The Way > Slipknot! found its proper closure from the set ending Franklin’s Tower.
Saturday night’s performance was one of those shows that you don’t expect the band to top the next night. However, as we moved on to night two, the magic and comfort in a venue so large appeared to finally set in. The venue wasn’t as full as the previous night since the 400 section was empty, yet the crowd was even more involved and enthusiastic on Sunday. The smoking show started with an upbeat Truckin’ and a southern-rock influenced Cumberland Blues. Kadlecik’s singing fit perfectly in Any Road and his fingers managed to tear up the fretboard during Eyes Of The World and So Many Roads. Viola Lee Blues was the definition of jam-rock, reaching out to the fray of psychedelic qualities. Jeff Chimenti was the MVP of Goin’ Down The Road, skittering the keys to step up the set closer.
Sunday’s second set started off with a heavy hitting Born Cross Eyed and moved into a not so special version of The Wheel. A crowd-favorite cover of Pink Floyd’s Time broke up Weather Report Prelude and Let It Grow. This version of Time was the finest turned in by Furthur since they started covering the tune back on New Year’s Eve. Phil Lesh finally grasped the phrasing of the vocals and Joe Russo mastered Nick Mason’s drum part.
The theme of psychedelic rock was reintroduced for the rest of the set, glistening during the dark Unbroken Chain jam, an abnormally extended version of Morning Dew and a fun rendition of Playing In The Band. During Phil Lesh’s donor rap on Sunday, he took the opportunity to tell the crowd how much fun the band had in New York City, noting that it seemed like a two-second show.
Both night’s setlists were some of the best New York City has seen from this lineup. The execution of the music also was brought to a higher level than prior performances. Although, it seemed as if the energy was brought to a much higher level on Sunday. Not even a full version of the Terrapin Station Suite on Saturday exceeded the energy that fans on Sunday provided. Furthur continues to show New York City love, hitting the Big Apple on every tour they’ve done. It is clear that the musicians have locked in chemistry wise, and hopefully will bring the love back to the area soon.v