After three shows in Oakland and a stealth show near San Anselmo, Furthur announced five gigs in the tri-state area, NYE in San Francisco, and a 23-date tour in February-March (East coast, Chicago, Colorado, Portland, OR). Weir and Phil brought in Joe Russo (drums), of the Benevento-Russo duo, Jeff Chimenti (keys) and Jay Lane (percussion) of RatDog, and John Kadlecik of Dark Star Orchestra. The latter went so far as to officially resign from DSO (the word is that he will be replaced by the Tricksters' Jeff Mattson) , which suggests that Furthur will be around for a while. I have also read that the organization has been stripped down. The Dead's tours reportedly had issues related to everybody's management jockeying for position.
The band played two shows at Hammerstein Ballroom on December 8th and 9th, showcasing a newish sound and some newish material, but by and large sticking to familiar territory. One noticeable difference in their sound is a thinner low end. Phil's bass tone is not as spread out as it was but rather more mid-register, and the drummers have neither the freight-car intensity of Mickey/Billy nor Molo's intentional leadership. Nobody really sticks out at all yet. I imagine there will be more texture as the shows go on, but for now, the EQ is a bit flat.
I would venture to guess that Weir and Phil are taking turns writing the setlist like on last spring's Dead tour, though they're not selfish about it. The first night was Phil-heavy: Doin' That Rag, Reuben and Cerise (Cherise?) Cosmic Charley, King Solomon's Marbles, New Potato Caboose, which are not in Weir's repertoire, but also featured Looks Like Rain and Days Between, that Bob does a lot. The second night was the opposite: Bob tunes Stranger, Memphis Blues, Jack Straw, Let it Grow and Sugar Mags, but with Welcome to the Dance and Unbroken Chain thrown in.
Welcome to the Dance is a new Phil tune debuted in Oakland on September 20th, played again at the stealth show. It is the first new original by either Phil or Bob since Phil's very short-lived The Real Thing in '04. Satisfaction is a relative newcomer to the repertoire; The Dead played it twice this spring (Weir had played it twice with RatDog in the late 90s). Also, a new Weir touch on Memphis blues: verse four had a reggae groove to it.
John Kadlecik has drawn a lot of attention in the reviews, mainly because he fills the Jerry slot, and was for so many years DSO's Jerry-part. Although some on the Philzone message board have nicknamed him Fake-Jerry (or FJ), which was bound to happen, he does not ape Jerry's riffs or vocal interpretation. With DSO he played all the signature licks and his singing and soloing were intentionally (even eerily) similar to what Garcia sounded like. With Furthur, he knows where to play and what kind of mood to set, but he plays in his own style. So far he has not been especially featured in the songs, except maybe the Scarlet>Fire from the 8th and Deal from the 9th. He does sing quite a lot. A lot of people have griped about Weir singing Garcia tunes on The Dead tours (although he sings those tunes anyway with RatDog). Someone referred to his "Shatnerization of songs," which I thought was hilarious. Anyway, here, Kadlecik is doing almost all the Garcia vocals: Dire Wolf, Doin' That Rag, Scarlet>Fire, Deal, Crazy Fingers. On a few songs he and Weir share the mic, usually trading verses. On at least two, they even split lines between them (Touch and He's Gone), although it sounds disorganized.
Phil stepped back musically but sings more. He sang on Bird Song and New Potato and got four songs in a row on night 2. Weir does what you'd expect vocally: a little freesyling, a little flubbage. He completely blew three and half verses of Memphis Blues. Musically, he is more prominent in the mix than usual. As one guy put it, it's nice to be able to actually hear him play.
Overall, neither show was outstanding, they sounded pretty cautious, which is understandable. One one hand, it's early in the game for this band, and on the other, the two leaders are in their sixties. That being said, there were some nice moments. Looks Like Rain was lovely, the Other One was interesting, and Days Between had a very cool Chimenti-led out-jam. Kadlecik sounded great on Scarlet>Fire, with Fire maybe the standout of the evening. Stranger>Deal was dynamite to open night 2. I liked Welcome to the Dance, and Let It Grow also had a nice closing jam.
I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. I'm sure it will take a while to figure out what works for everyone, but the potential is all there. I would like to see some reinventions in the material. I didn't notice any rearrangements so far, except for two jam>buildups on Jack Straw before they come back in and belt "Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down!" I'd also like to hear more Kadlecik. The space once filled by Garcia has closed up in the last fifteen years, so it may take some work to open it back up.
I'll review the other three shows just as soon as I hear them, everybody stay tuned!