Monday, February 15, 2010
2/13/10 Furthur @ Patriot Center - Fairfax, VA
Playin' In The Band
Wang Dang Doodle
Friend Of The Devil
Greatest Story Ever Told
Ship of Fools
Sittin' On Top Of The World >
New Speedway Boogie
Help on the Way >
St. Stephen >
The Eleven >
So Many Roads
Let It Grow >
Playin' In The Band (reprise)
Encore: Johnny B. Goode
Despite the fact that the show was nearly sold-out and a large portion of the parking lot was filled with giant mountains of snow, we got in and got a great parking spot with no problem. We hooked up with one of Don's friends before the show, had a couple beers and we were inside at around 7:40.
I guess the stage was bigger than the seating chart indicated, because rather than being one section out from the stage, we were right at the front corner. We actually had a great view of everyone except the backup singers, but the sound was a bit lacking. Still, you couldn't get much closer than we were without being at the very front of the floor.
This was my first real Dead-related event since the Obama benefit gig back in 2008. The big change with this line-up is the addition of John Kadlecik of Dark Star Orchestra on guitar and vocals. I've seen John a bunch of times with DSO and he can totally nail Jerry's sound - both vocally and his guitar style. Hopes were high that they finally got it right.
The first set was quite nice, but a bit of a mixed-bag. The opening "Playin' " was ok, but I don't like it in the opening slot. It's one of those balls-out jamming songs that they do better after they've warmed-up a bit. "Wang Dang" was pretty forgettable, as it usually is. We finally got John singing on "FOTD". They played the fast version, which I had never heard the Dead do before. I'm pretty sure there was a major vocal miscue in there, but it otherwise sounded fine. I still wanted more from John though. "Greatest Story" was a bit perfunctory and seemed to drag a bit.
But then things took a turn. They did "Ship of Fools" (with John singing) in a different manner than I'm used to. It was quite bouncy and fun, with a vibe almost like "Loose Lucy" used to have. They did a great job with it and John started getting approval from those around us. They followed this with the highlight of the set - "Sittin' On Top Of The World" - a song from The Dead's very first album that the Dead stopped playing many, many years ago. And they nailed it. John's guitar playing was fast and furious - almost a bluegrass-style - and the rest of the band played with a fire that hadn't been seen yet in the show. Sweet. The set ended with a rocking "New Speedway Boogie" which turned into quite the sing-a-long by the end. The first set started a little slow, but ended on a great note, leaving me anxious for the 2nd set.
Set 2 started out with what turned into the highlight of the evening - possibly one of the best "Help->Slip"s I've ever heard. Certainly the best post-Jerry one I've heard. John took the vocals for this one. The "Help On The Way" was tight, fun and had the drive needed to push the song to "fantastic" status. Then came the "Slipknot". Holy crap. Tight when it needed to be. Loose and spacey when it needed to be. It was perfect Grateful Dead music. I just closed my eyes and got lost in it. [Lucky for you I deleted the long, hippy-dippy description of what the song was doing to me at the time and my related thoughts. You're welcome. ] It really was absolutely perfect.
And, as expected, after the lengthy jam, "Slipknot" tightened up, ended and fell seamlessly into "Franklin's Tower". The crowd went nuts. Everyone dancing, smiling and jumping around, knowing they're in the middle of a great version of one of the quintessential Grateful Dead combos.
And then Phil started to sing.
Phil Lesh has got to be completely tone deaf. The man can't sing for sh-t. With the exception of the few songs he used to rarely sing with the Dead, he completely ruins everything he tries to sing. He really just needs to play bass (which he is masterful at) and otherwise STFU.
So in a matter of seconds I switched from one of the greatest post-Jerry musical moments I've ever experienced, to cringing at the sound of this terrible voice ruining what should have been a stellar moment. It was painful. Soul-crushing. I had to leave. I went out to the concourse and walked around until the song was finished.
"Cassidy" and "Lovelight" were good, but I hadn't quite recovered yet. It was around this time that Don was wandering around the arena and we discovered just how bad the sound was where we were. Oh well...
"St. Stephen" started out ok, but they seemed to keep dropping it down to a real quiet and slow mode. Every time they got it built-up to a new level, they'd drop it down again. They'd build it up again to an exciting apex, then bring it down. Frustrating. Seemingly out of nowhere they went into The Beatles' "Revolution". It was an OK version, but there's really not much to the song and I thought the placement was odd.
THEN they went into The Eleven. A terrific version of a difficult song. Bob pulled-off the lyrics just find and John sounded really nice. But I have to wonder about this combo. Why on earth would you split one of the classic combos ("Stephen-> The 11") by inserting a mediocre cover song? The playing on all of them was fine - especially "The 11" - but "Revolution" killed the flow and the power the other 2 songs usually develop.
As "The Eleven" wound down we recognized the opening notes to "So Many Roads" - a nice latter day Jerry ballad. Don and I just looked at each other and went "Oh no." Please don't let Bob sing this and PLEASE don't let Phil get anywhere near it. Luckily, John stepped up to the mic. And he f--king nailed it. Just beautiful. The voice, the guitar - close enough, but not quite imitating Jerry. One of the high points of the show. This is what this band has been missing. Well done. More of this, please.
We were expecting this to go into "One More Saturday Night" and were a bit shocked to hear the opening chords to "Let It Grow." A very nice version and a great way to end the set. Or so we thought. From there they went into a "Playing Reprise." To be honest - I was dead tired at this point and just wanted it to be over. It seemed a bit superfluous, since they did a complete version "Playin'" to open the show. It sounded fine, but I was done.
We were even more surprised to the the "JBG" encore. It's a bit of a throwaway, but it's always a rockin' good time. This may be the first Saturday "Dead" show I've seen where they didn't play "One More Saturday Night."
So the show was a mixed-bag, but overall I'd say it was very good. I really hope they let John stay for a while, let him gel with the band a bit and let him open things up. This lineup has the best potential the band has seen in a while. When they're hitting everything just right, it's absolutely incredible. I'd definitely go see this lineup again.
Just don't let Phil sing any more.