The weather, too, is a huge dancer on the Dead scene, especially at outdoor shows. With both nights facing weather forecasts of an 80-90-percent chance of rain, fan buzz centered on talk of tarps amid concerns about downpours and muddy lawn “seats.” On the days before both nights there was a mad rush of attempts to unload tickets, online and amongst friends, for Shoreline, a venue where only the most expensive seats and stage are covered by the permanent canvas canopy. For the faithful, Friday night’s show opened with The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” At first I found this clever or hopeful that it wouldn’t rain, maybe even a prayer for clear skies at a time of year which is historically balmy and summer-like in Mountain View. Then, I was amazed that the rain held off completely until the last closing notes rung out in the encore!
Phil Lesh by Gabriel Jones
This isn’t the first time in Dead history that the band has seemed to dance with the weather (for example, the Silver Bowl at UNLV on May 15, 1993, where the band played “Here Comes Sunshine” amid the lightning and rain in the desert just prior to the clouds treating us to a double rainbow over the desert). It begs the question, does the band control the climate around their shows? Do they in fact create their own local weather system, channeling the desires of thousands of fans? In any case, it was a happy phenomenon, and somebody up there likes Furthur, fortunately for us.
Musically, band and crew were spot-on. The modern sound system functioned perfectly to spread the intricate jams and vibes evenly around the space, such that I don’t think there was a bad seat in the mid-sized amphitheatre. Absent were the dropouts, distortion or static that have typically plagued shows in earlier decades, and even without being at the lip of the stage, the rumble of Phil’s bass and each of the other players could be heard loud and clear. I used to complain about Furthur’s lack of a set of any kind on stage, just a dynamic light show paired with the traditional oriental rugs and the always-killer state of the art sound system. The magically potent mélange of music they brought to bear more than makes up for the lack of backdrop, puppets and balloons, all of which had been hallmarks of large scale Dead shows in the past.
John Kadlecik by Gabriel Jones
Following the sun salutation and opener, they jumped into a song which is typically a show opener, a relaxed but confident version of “Jack Straw” with Phil singing Jerry’s old parts (“I just jumped the watchman, etc”). I’ve yet to see a tribute band pull off this song as ballsy-slow and relaxed tempo as the Grateful Dead and their alumni choose. And since the first time that I saw Furthur, I’ve felt as though Phil and Bobby were singing a lot of the hallowed Jerry vocal parts as if to say to John Kadlecik, “This is important family business, son. We’ll handle it.” Perhaps it’s more likely that Phil and Bobby have gotten used to and enjoy singing these parts from their post-Jerry projects like The Other Ones, Phil and Friends and Ratdog. Conjecture aside, each time I see Furthur, I notice John K receiving more and more of the well deserved spotlight, a testament to his status as a veteran, having played this kind of music for over a decade with Dark Star Orchestra.
The rest of the first set clicked along with inspired precision and clarity with JK singing “Bertha” and Phil on “Pride of Cucamonga.” The band switched into electric jug band mode for a relaxed and spacey “Cumberland Blues,” highlighted by John and Jeff Chimenti trading sinister jams back and forth. The set was rounded out by “Deal > The Other One > Hell in a Bucket.” There was one minor band slip with Bobby jumping back into a verse on “Hell in a Bucket” ahead of the rest of the band, but they recovered nicely.
For the second set, the band came out at the energy level usually one would expect of an encore. When John stepped out during his solo in “Help on the Way,” there wasn’t a Jerry lick in sight, but this it seemed was the real John Kadlecik, with violin-like guitar leads reminiscent of Jimmy Page with just a pinch Trey Anastasio. These jams were so fascinating, so mesmerizing and so hypnotic that I was mentally flying down over the crowd to the stage just to crawl up inside one of the amps.
Jeff Chimenti by Gabriel Jones
“St Stephen” contained another long John and Jeff jam that went way “out there,” so far out I forgot what song they were playing for a while, or even where I was, before they came back to orbit the home planet, then finally back down to land.
“The Mountain Song:” Here was an example of something fresh and new coming from the group. The song debuted last September and this version is written by Phil Lesh with his son Brian, though the pieces are attributed to seven different musicians including David Crosby and Paul Kantner. In the midst of a song with lyrics about eagles, the band indeed took flight for another brilliant Chimenti piano run.
On “Morning Dew,” right smack in the middle of “Uncle John’s Band,” which was enshrouded by “Playing In The Band,” John K got to again shine as the veteran he is, taking the hallowed Jerry vocals and guitar parts. In the jam toward the end of “Morning Dew,” they brought the volume all the way down, with John wielding clean, precise power much like Steve Kimock, then to slowly bringing the band from a whisper to a scream over the course of several lingering minutes.
Bob Weir by Gabriel Jones
During the encore, “Touch of Grey,” Bobby and John were trading off vocal lines, (recently Bobby had been singing the entire tune) first two lines at a time, then swapping single lines, though John rescued the third verse from Bob, who fumbled the lyrical ball (the second of only two errors that I could detect all night)
Following the second set, Phil, doing his traditional organ donor rap - a nightly appeal to encourage people to be organ donors in case of a fatal mishap - gave a generous and well deserved nod to the audience “without whom,” he said, “the music couldn't get this weird!” True that, Phil.
Though this reviewer was decidedly impressed by Friday night’s performance, Saturday’s show was also high energy, with its share of magical moments, syncopated interplay between John Kadlecik and Jeff Chimenti and one hell of a party as Heads came out in even higher numbers than Friday night. And with zero precipitation!