Listening to everything, so you don't have to

All the new stuff will be here: RatDog, Furthur, Phil & Friends... I listen to the rehearsal tapes that surface on etree, I watch the videos from Dime and Trader's Den. I also occasionally post little research projects on various periods and people that were pivotal in the life of the Grateful Dead.
Everything you never got around to checking out, I did.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Furthur, December 2009 - Wallingford and Asbury Park

Sorry for the delay, folks. The Wallingford show only appeared online yesterday (I wound up buying it from Livedownloads, as the only source on etree came with a warning about poor sound quality).

The band was tighter in the second half of the run that on the first two nights, and the sound was noticeably better than at Hammerstein. The interpretations remained standard, though. On one hand, of the six band-members, five have played Grateful dead music for a living for at least 12 years, so naturally, everyone is on the same page, and there are few challenges to the basic structure. By the same token, it can be treacherous. I agree with the assessment that they are under-rehearsed. There were some noticeably sloppy entrances and exits. Greatest Story was most painful in that department, with two false endings going back into the end-vamp. The first was JC's fault, while everyone else continued, and the second was Phil's; he just kept hammering on even though everyone else wrapped up.

On the other hand, half the band is from Ratdog, and it shows. Wallingford set 1 witnessed a few notable RD moments: the "shake it down" stop in Shakedown was followed by a more definite hit than when The Dead did it in the Spring; Good Morning Little Schoolgirl was played the way RatDog rearranged it, and it took Kadlecik a minute to settle in; Loose Lucy got the stop-time call-and-response "Yeah", "yeah!" that Jay worked in over the past couple years; and Minglewood Blues was the RD version, without a chord change on "my number one occupation." At Asbury 2, Wang Dang was very RD-heavy. Finally, at the end of Franklin's, Weir went for the outro and stopped himself, but not before Chimenti had followed him.
The disadvantage to P&F's approach - lots of different line-ups and lots of experimentation - is that Phil has not been able to craft any real reinterpretations of the material, so that in the context of Furthur, Weir has more to contribute in terms of the song structures.

There were a few extended independent jams as well (as opposed to in-song jams), and some of them very interesting. Most notably, the jam into China cat (set II opener at Wallingford), the one into Passenger (set I opener Asbury Park night 1) and one between Terrapin and Help (set II Asbury Park night 2). That one opened with a very jazzy feel, with some of that muted-trumpet-MIDI Garcia liked so much, and got much funkier with a JC lead.
At the same time there's a lot of noodling going on, where nobody stops playing, but nobody's really doing anything either. The sets have tended to start like that, and it occurs in transitions without necessarily evolving into anything.

Kadlecik has a lot to bring to this music. As I mentioned in my last post, he plays in his own style, but he's fast and clear, which fits well. Warren, for instance, did much more slide work, string-bending, long sustains etc, which tends to prevent the other guys from responding or making suggestions. He was more and more prominent as the shows went on, and he led some innovative jams.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the shows. The band can't be expected to reinvent the wheel with nine shows in three months, but they're perfectly competent. Who knows if perhaps not rehearsing too much will leave more space for evolution later. They do all know what they're doing, and I think it's useful to have the RD core; it provides some leadership for the sound so that everybody can be responsive rather than trying to make decisions.

I don't know what to think about the human dynamics involved here. I hope we don't get the Phil v. Bob tension we used to. Business-wise, Phil's in charge, but Weir has a better handle on more material. Phil can be bossy, Weir is stubborn. I'll spare you the internet gossip or my own theories.

I personally can't decide what I'd like to see from this band. I really think it's time for new material, or some significantly revamped songs. If they're going to be together for a few years, it might be possible, but it's going to mean a lot of touring. Word came the other day of some mid-april shows in Florida, suggesting a spring run, and I can't imagine they won't do a summer thing as well. We'll see.

Next up: GD rehearsals in February '92, working out So Many Roads. After that, Angel's Camp '87, followed by two LA Shrine shows from November 1967. As always, suggestions are welcome.

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