The Furthur tour officially wrapped up in Portland on March 8th with Phil telling the crowd how it always seems that things are getting really good just as the tour is ending. Having listened to 28 consecutive shows, I have to admit I’m a little burned out, but the overall quality stayed high for the duration. I’ve said most of what there is to say about the band in my first two posts but a few things are worth mentioning in overview.
By the end of the tour, Phil had stopped chiming in at the end of the first set, the RatDog material had disappeared, Weir finally got his Duck joke straight and Scarlet Begonias had become their favorite set opener (5 times including 3.12). Bob continued to introduce little things: the reggae jam I mentioned in my last post, which is something RatDog did for years, came back two more times now prefaced by an audible “Pressure drop!” from Weir (check out Memphis Blues in Uncasville). He also likes one-chord jams, which I find awkward because there are no built-in points of reference for dynamic movement. For years, Odessa had very few changes; recently, Minglewood lost a 5-chord at the end of the form, and in the second half of this tour there were a few instances where there was a one-chord vamp in the middle of the tune (After Midnight and Mason’s on 2/23 for example). RatDog also did a lot of reprises, wherein they ended the song and then jumped back in for a last chorus; Furthur did this a few times towards the end of the run (US Blues, Lovelight, Touch). Finally (I don’t know whose idea it was), there were two occasions on which they started the tune in double-time for a few bars before jumping in fully.
Two things surprised me about the tour, or rather two absences. First, the Throckmorton shows featured some nice jazz jams and I was surprised not to hear any others during this tour. Second, Kadlecik used a MIDI doubler occasionally (both the guitar and the effect were audible) and I thought it sounded interesting, but I only heard it three times (I might have missed some).
Any highlights are subjective but I might as well throw my two cents in anyway. I had a lot of fun listening to the first night at Radio City, even if it had a lot to do with Joebeacon’s recording, which was vastly superior to those made in the foregoing week by the tapers in New Hampshire, Delaware and Utica. The second set in Atlantic City was highlighted by Dark Star, which took a really funky turn holding out through the second verse, and Weir sounded like he was having a lot of fun on the Gloria encore. Lastly, the second night in Chicago was real interesting just because it essentially consisted of two second sets. After the show, Jay Lane introduced two people: the daughter of Johnnie Johnson (founding rock pioneer –starting with Chuck Berry in 1952 - who did a stint with RatDog in 96-97), and his own birth sister, whom he had met that day.
While it was not technically part of the tour, the birthday benefit is worth hearing if only for two long-lost classics: Pigpen's Two Souls In Communion, in the acoustic 1st set, and Garcia's Cream Puff War at the end of the third set (though RatDog played that one a few times in 08-09). The acoustic Mountains of the Moon, sung by Phil was a treat, and the 1st electric set roared throughout. I think there's a chance they'll release the soundboard for free; keep your fingers crossed.
In other news, it was announced on a Philzone thread, and confirmed by Phil, that Jay Lane has elected to leave Furthur and go back to playing with Les Claypool. At the end of the tour, Jay told Bob he’d been offered the spot and they decided it was logical to do so after the birthday show. Phil was consulted and agreed. There doesn’t appear to be a replacement percussionist in the works. I don’t think Jay was integral to the Furthur sound (Joe Russo, as far as I can tell, is flawless), so it makes sense that he would want to get back to something where he is more valuable, as it does that Phil did not object. Phil also said that the backup singers are theoretically on board, but they are both new moms and have to “figure out their logistics.”
The next stop is Futhurfest at the Calaveras County Fairground on May 28th. The other acts are Jackie Greene and Mark Karan with their respective bands; Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams; old friends Electric Hot Tuna; the Waybacks, with whom Weir sat in a few years back; Galactic; and a handful of others I’m not familiar with. It’s not Bonnaroo. It’ll probably be a low-key vibe compared with the circuses that are common these days, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. I’d also be curious to know how much rehearsal they do and how much serious conversation goes into the repertoire.
Next: as I said, I’m a little burned out on Furthur, so I’m going to go back to Weir’s solo work throughout the 80s. I have seven shows at two-year intervals from 1978 to 1990 lined up. It’s a start into a long-term look at how Weir dealt with the 80s, Garcia’s increasing unreliability, and the need for him to step up and carve out a leading position. I’m curious to see if his vocal and rhythmic presence changes significantly. Also, if anyone has a line on where I can get a hold of anything he played with Jaco Pastorius ("Nightfood," 09.86 - 05.87), I’d be much obliged. So long.