The anticipation outside San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center was at an all time peak! Dead Heads everywhere with their long hair, dread locks, beards, hemp necklaces and tie-dyed clothing were lined up outside the venue either in line or holding up their pointer finger praying for a miracle ticket. This was the kind of atmosphere I had dreamt about for years! It was beyond a rock n’ roll concert! It was the indescribable coming together of thousands of Dead Heads, who are a tribe, who become joined into one strong force once they step a foot through those auditorium doors.
This magical unity is why Dead Heads have never stopped coming to the shows, and the age range was from 1960s fans who had seen the first stages of The Grateful Dead’s psychedelia, to younger kids who most likely [were born after Jerry Garcia’s death?] had never seen Jerry Garcia live. With John Kadlecik (formerly of Dark Star Orchestra) taking Jerry’s place in the formation of Furthur, with his powerfully evocative voice and his high-pitched lead guitar solo, many fans are now saying this is the best band both Bob Weir and Phil Lesh have played in since Jerry’s death and the official retirement of the Grateful Dead name in 1995. After that the remaining band members resurrected themselves as The Dead, with Weir handling vocals and rhythm guitar, Lesh handling bass and vocals, Warren Haynes (also a member of The Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule) on lead guitar and vocals, Jeff Chimenti (also of Bob Weir & Ratdog) on keyboards, and original Grateful Dead drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart on drums. The Furthur lineup is slightly different from The Dead, as it still has Weir, Lesh, and Chimenti, who have been part of the steady Dead format; the addition of Kadlecik and also drummers Jay Lane (Rat Dog, Primus) and Joe Russo (Benvento Russo Duo) have made it much more youthful and livelier. In fact the way Jay Lane drummed throughout the night, bouncing up and down like a chimpanzee and never sitting down, ramped up the energy vibe in the Civic Center that much more. The people danced harder and harder to the beat of the music, moving their bodies all around in different formations, shaking the hips and wiggling the waist and flailing arms in the air.
The show began about a half hour late at 8:00 PM, but Furthur made a wise decision in delaying, because on this night they had to pace themselves playing a total of three sets plus an encore, which would last until 2 AM. The crowd cheered ecstatically when Bobby and Phil hit the stage with the Furthur crew and launched into their disco Bee Gees-like song “Shakedown Street,” which has a twang in the guitar of making Dead Heads dance harder and harder as the song breaks down. It’s funny to think that Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart, who first conceived of writing the song, had an idea that Dead Heads would dig their version of John Travolta dancing to “Staying Alive,” from Saturday Night Fever, but it worked fabulously and still does.
I was down on the floor for the first set and was near the front on the left side, where I had a great view of Phil Lesh on the far left, who was looking his usual ultra-thin. Bob Weir was in the middle with his bushy beard and pink Stratocaster, and Kadlecik was on the right, but for some reason (probably because there was a stack of amps on the right) he was facing the left side of the crowd. This was the closest I had been to the stage near Bobby and Phil since 2004, when I saw them at Bonnaroo, in Tennessee. Furthur followed “Shakedown Street” with a brilliant live version of “Jack Straw,” a song that I had not seen performed since I saw Bob Weir & Rat Dog on Earth Day in Golden Gate Park 2007, so it was a special treat. The song in general embodies The Grateful Dead spirit in the way it’s crafted lyrically and musically, particularly with the opening verse, sung by Weir, being a powerful segue into the rest of the song, “We can share the women. We can share the wine. We can share what we got of yours, ‘cause we done shared all of mine. Keep a rolling, just a mile to go. Keep on rolling, my old buddy you're moving much too slow.” The song reached its peak right in the middle, where it slows down a bit and Weir sings with a grandeur of passion into the microphone, “Leaving Texas Fourth Day of July. Sun’s so hot, the clouds so low, the eagles fill the sky. Catch the Detroit riding out Santa Fe. The great northern out of Cheyenne from sea to shining sea.”
Bobby continued to ride the wave of the crowd, performing “Mama Tried,” another classic song in The Dead’s constant live repertoire over the years, dating back to the early 1970s. The song is about a young man who is a rebel growing up and disregards the warnings of his mother to lead a cleaner life, and winds up 21 in prison, doing life without parole.
The next song was “Candyman,” which Kadlecik handled beautifully in place of the late Gratefull Dead centerpiece Jerry Garcia. “Candyman” originally appeared on The Grateful Dead’s most successful album American Beauty, released in 1970, which has a much folkier sound than the 60’s psychedelia on albums such as Live Dead and Anthem Of The Sun. The mellifluous soul of Jerry really comes out in the song, and Kadlecik handled his vocal duties well showing why Furthur brought him into the fold in the first place. Kadlecik sang to a mesmerized crowd of Dead Heads “Hand me my old guitar, pass the whiskey round, wont you tell everybody you meet that the Candyman’s in town. Look out, look out the Candyman. Here he comes and he’s gone again. Pretty lady aint got no friends until the Candyman comes along again.”
Bob Weir took center stage again with the fifth song of the set playing “Loose Lucy,” another classic that was originally sung by Jerry on The Mars Hotel record but Bobby has taken it up well. I had seen Weir previously perform “Loose Lucy” with Sammy Hagar at the Rat Dog Earth Day show at the Polo Fields 2007. Weir was just as amped this time, looking fit and leaner than he had earlier this Spring and Fall when I saw him perform. He really got the crowd going on this piece, as they shouted along with him at top volume, “And I say thank you for a real good time.”
Next Furthur went into a long jam of “Viola Lee Blues,” which was rarely played live, back in The Grateful Dead days, even though it was released on the band’s original summer of love 1967 studio album. “Viola Lee” has actually picked up more buzz in the last year, becoming a concert staple of The Dead. “Truckin ,” The Grateful Dead’s national anthem, played next as Bobby and Phil traded off verses back and fourth sounding incredible as the floor went wild with hippie dancers moving all over the place with flashing speed. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh recalled their band’s history in “Truckin,” “Busted down on bourbon street. Set up- like a bowling pin. Knocked down- it gets to wearing thin, they just wont let you be. You’re sick of hanging around and you’d like to travel. Get tired of traveling and you want to settle down. I guess I can’t revoke your soul for trying. Get out of the door-light out and look all around. Sometimes the light’s all shining on me. Other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it’s been.”
By the time the first set ended, I was sweating so hard from dancing my head off for nearly two hours that I had to hike up to where my friends from the Starry Plough-- David, John, and Shea-- had seats. I shed a bunch layers until I was down to just my Grateful Dead live at Radio City Music Hall T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Then I drank a ton of water to rehydrate and headed back to the floor for the second set just as Furthur began playing the opening chords of their improvisational triple combination of songs, “Help On The Way” into “Slipknot,” and then the beautifully poetic “Franklin’s Tower.” This time we foolishly tried the right side of the stage, which had the amps blocking a lot of our view even though we got up pretty close to the barricade. Kadlecik who was now the closest to us, and I was craving the ability to see him solo which just wasn’t possible, so I pushed through the crowd, towards the center of the floor where I could get a better glimpse of him as well as the rest of the band. Furthur really amped the crowed up again with “Franklin’s Tower,” which ran into Weir’s “Cassidy,” a song that Weir plays quite often with both The Dead and Rat Dog. He wrote it with Donna Jean Godchaux, and Keith Godchaux, and it’s about a mixture of the birth of their daughter who was named Cassidy and also Weir’s hero Neil Cassady, whom he knew for a brief period in his Electric Kool Aid Acid Test days. “The Wheel” was up next, a song I had never seen either Furthur, The Dead, or any combo involving Weir and Lesh play before. This song really pushed the crowd more into the realm of an abyss, where they contemplated the perils of life as they chanted in unison, “Wheel is spinning but you can’t slow down. You can’t fall back and you can’t hold on. You can’t hold on and you can’t stand still, if the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will. Wont you try just a little bit harder wouldn’t you try just a little bit more.” “Wheel” was originally a Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition that appeared on the first Jerry Garcia solo album simply titled Garcia, an album where the majority of the songs such as “Deal,” “Bird Song,” “Loser,” and “Sugaree,” all made it into steady Grateful Dead live repertoire.
After “Wheel,” Furthur dove into an interesting jam which segued its way into the slow electric guitar soloing of “Dark Star,” one of the most renowned Grateful Dead songs to be played over the years, and which has appeared everywhere, including The Dead’s most infuential live record, 1969’s Live Dead, and The Closing Of Winterland. Shea, John and I pushed through the crowd back to the left side of the stage to hear a spectacular version of Pink Floyd’s “Time.” The crowd went wild hearing something that was not in the usual Grateful Dead setlists over the years. From the moment those alarm clock bells blasted, the audience went wild. Weir and Lesh sang in unison the famous lyrics written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd: “Digging away the moments that make up the dull day. You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way. Digging around on a piece of ground on your home ground, waiting for someone or something to show you the way. Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain and you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today and then one day you find ten years have got behind you No one showed you how to run, you missed the starting gun.”
Furthur drove the crowd to one of its most frenzied peaks as they erupted full scale during “Uncle John’s Band,” which is along the lines of “Sugar Magnolia,” and “The Other One” as being their biggest concert anthem. The message of the song powerfully connects the flame within Weir and Lesh onstage and the fans, some of whom had undoubtedly seen the bands beginnings in the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco. With powerful lyrics written by Robert Hunter that Lesh, Weir, and Kadlecik all sang together, “Come here Uncle John’s Band by the riverside. Got some things to talk about here behind the rising tide. Come here Uncle John’s Band by the riverside. Come on with me or go alone, he’s come to take his children home, da-da-da-da-da-da.”
The final song of the second set was a cover of J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” which was made more popular by Eric Clapton when it appeared on his debut solo album that he recorded with Delaney And Bramlett, guitarist Leon Russell and members who eventually became Derek and The Domines: keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon and bassist Carl Radle. The guitar solo was played magnificently by Kadlecik in “After Midnight,” making The Dead Heads in the crowd feel as if they were flying on a journey through the 1970s classic music, which was also present with “Time” played a few songs earlier.
By the time the second set ended Shea, John and myself were exhausted from all the dancing and so retired to our seats to count down to New Years in the set break. The crowd was ecstatic as they counted down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, HAPPY NEW YEAR. Countless colorful balloons were released from the ceiling and Furthur hit the stage again to the sound of “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion,” the first song on the Grateful Dead’s 1967 self-titled debut album. This song, possibly more than any other Dead song ever written brings in the full vibes and energy from the 60s and the summer of love with it’s light psychedelia guitar strumming and the countryish style voices the band members like Lesh and Weir use to sing it together. As David Dodd writes in the Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics, “Because it's the first song on the first album recorded by the Dead, this song has particular significance, deserved or not.”
One of my favorite Dead songs that Bob Weir wrote for the Wake Of The Flood album, “Let It Grow,” with his poetic lyricist John Perry Barlow who was living at his ranch in Wyoming when he wrote the song. “Let It Grow,” is about on the harvesting of the crops, and relating it to the love of woman and man, “So we make what we make since the world began. The birth of women, the work of man.” Even though I was high up on the balcony, it was fun to move around up there and felt rather hazy with the strobe lights shining all sorts of crazy colors at me . Feeling dizzy made me realize how much it would hurt falling down all those seats. Meanwhile I watched in awe as some guy in the front row was banging his head back and fourth full force with his hands on the grate as Weir sang “Morning comes she gathers the path to the river shore. Lightly sung her song is the latch on the morning star. See the sun sparkle in the reeds. Silver beach fasten to the sea.”
Furthur were not nearly done with their pure psychedelic offerings as they topped “Dark Star” with a tremendous effort of “Cryptical Evelopment,” into “Born Cross Eyed,” into “The Other One,” then back into “Cryptical Envelopment.” All these songs were recorded originally in the same combination on Anthem of the Sun, by far The Grateful Dead's most psychedelically experimental album ever recorded in the studio. It was their second album, released in 1968. Lesh and Weir discuss the song widely in the DVD film Anthem to Beauty and according to Lesh, “There was a large part of telepathic communication going on between us when we recorded that album.” The crowd reacted it’s strongest when Weir took the mic at the end of a long jam, and chanted The Grateful Dead anthem, “Spanish lady come to me, she lays on me this robe. It rainbow spirals round and round, it trembles and explode. It left a smoking crater in my mind I like to blow away. But the heat came round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day.” He was then joined by Kadlecik and Lesh in the chorous “Comin, comin’, comin’ around, comin’ around, comin’ around in a circle.” Weir finished off the song chanting more lines about his idol and the hero of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Neal Cassady, “Escapin’ through the lily fields I came across an empty space. It trembled and exploded. Left a bus stop in its space. The bus come by and I got on, that’s where it all began. There was cowboy Neal at the wheel, of a bus to never-ever land.”
I didn’t think Furthur could top “The Other One,” but they played something just as memorable when they played “So Many Roads.” The song reminds every Grateful Dead fan of the one member they all really miss, Jerry Garcia, the man who used to sing it live during the last years of his life. The lyrics touched me maybe harder than any other song played that night and sent strange chills down my spine as I heard Kadlecik and Lesh sing in place of Jerry, “So many roads I tell you New York to San Francisco all I want is one to take me home. From the high road to the low road so many roads I know. So many roads, so many roads. From the land of the midnight sun where ice blue roses grow long those roads of gold and silver snow. Howlin wide or moaning low so many roads I know. So many roads to ease my soul.”
Next Furthur dove into more psychedelic-esque Live Dead material, picking up where “Dark Star” had left off earlier in the second set by playing “St. Stephen,” into “The Eleven.” The fans really reacted strongly for these two songs, gathering out some of their last ounces of energy for the night to dance and shake their bodies around on the floor and balcony. Kadlecik composed a loud intro solo leading into harmonious opening chants by Lesh, Weir, Kadlecik in unison, “St. Stephen with a rose, in and out of the garden he goes. Country garland with the wind and the rain. Wherever he goes the people all complain. Stephen prosper in his time. Well he may and he may decline. Did it matter? Does it now? Stephen would answer if he only knew how.” “St. Stephen,” flowed majestically into “The Eleven,” and was another prime example of how Furthur are just as capable as The Grateful Dead playing half their sets into one long jam without ever stopping once.
The final song of the third set was “Not Fade Away,” the old time Buddy Holly cover The Grateful Dead have always mastered at live shows, which Bob Weir sang passionately, “Though our loving not fade away.” There was a short break and Phil Lesh delivered his “everyone please be an organ doner speech.” “Lesh’s life was saved by an organ donor when he needed an instant liver transplant. One was rushed into the hospital he was in, belonging to a young man named Cody, who had died in motorcycle accident that day. The set closed with a spectacular version of Weir’s “Sugar Magnolia” the classic set closer at most Dead shows that was sometimes referred to as “Sunshine Daydream,” which is chanted by the band over and over again as the final part of the song.
It felt so surreal being there at the Bill Graham Civic Center watching Bob and Phil play once again together, with such a good lineup of talented musicians behind them, from Kadlecik’s superlative renditions of Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead songs, to Chimenti banging away hard on the keys. Jay Lane and Joe Russo were both a fantastic combination of drummers because of their different drumming styles. As women in silk white dresses and long golden locks danced away to the sound of Weir singing, “She’s got everything delightful, she’s got everything I need. Crazy in the sunlight yes indeed,” I knew I had come to the right place to spend New Years Eve. This was beyond a blessing to be at this show amongst good hearted people and some of the most fantastic music ever written and created by a group of musicians that were known as The Grateful Dead.