Sunday, April 8, 2012

Furthur in Boston, April 6 2012

So woke up on Friday … oddly not feeling bad after an amazing Thursday night that stretched out to 1AM or so, and went to work.  3:30 rolled around (it was Good Friday and so they told us to take off early) and I took off for home to pick up the boys.  David, Ricky, Sam, and I crammed into the car and drove into Boston, cranking the Syracuse show from November.

We phoned Sarah en route and she was waiting for us when we got there.  The boys jumped out and Sarah jumped in, but then a newbie security guard needed to be convinced that we were allowed to park in the basement of a government building.  We convinced him that we were sober middle-aged people (even though he’d just seen three wild-haired young men jump out of the car) and he was all set.

The boys were very impressed with inner Boston’s mix of high-rise government buildings and brownstone apartments and restaurants.  We got them in tow and marched through the rush-hour swarm on another lovely early-Spring day past the State House and into the Common, where they were even more impressed with the open space in the Common, the closed-in streets, the birds, the public monuments, and the sense of place.  It’s easy for us residents to forget, but Boston is a historic old city where lots of things happened and are still.

Got back to Jacob Wirth’s and had to wait a bit for our table (it had been so crowded on Thursday that we wanted to be sure to get there early and we did but then had to cool our heels).  But we were seated pretty soon and got beers/drinks (from the same waiter we had had the night before who was not so over-taxed by the crowd this time and was excellent both nights … I recommend Jacob Wirth’s wholeheartedly if you can stand the crowd) and fried pickles and waited for Scott and Michelle and talked and talked about what was about to happen.  We had plenty to rave about about the show the night before and what we could expect that night.  Scott and Michelle arrived and we all experienced the same thing we had the night before, trying to talk about life and work and mundane stuff but going back again and again to Furthur and the Dead and what our hopes were for that night and for the future.

OK, all done and time to trek on over to the theater, past the sidewalk vendors and the seemingly hundreds of people desperate for tickets.  A few of us couldn’t finish our dinners and had them wrapped up and then gave them to people waiting outside the theater.  We chuckled that they may have been disappointed when they found the food wasn’t spiked with acid!

Got inside again … Sarah and I were used to the opulence of the theater but the others weren’t and had to spend some time staring.  Scott and Michelle had separate seats from us other five, but the people in the row behind us never showed up and so we could all sit together.  This time our seats were not as good but we were about halfway up the balcony in the right-middle and that was not bad at all.  Fred had been sitting in that area on Thursday and reported that he didn’t think they got the sound quite right until the middle of the second song.  We hadn’t experienced that in the front of the mezzanine … it was great from the start … but we had the same experience in mid-balcony.  But they did get it right very quickly and the aural and visual environment was top-notch.  I’m so glad we had these chances to see Furthur in a theater rather than in a hockey rink or a baseball stadium.

The band came out again … the most significant difference being Sunshine wearing a baseball cap, maybe to keep the lights out of her eyes.  They launched right into another “new” song for them, Foolish Heart, but then gobsmacked us all with a segue into the venerable Dead song Dupree’s Diamond Blues (“there ain’t really very far to go”), sung by John of course … they may have had a spy in the bathroom last night.

Here’s the first set:  Foolish Heart > Dupree’s Diamond Blues, Estimated Prophet > Must Have Been the Roses, Just a Little Light, Feel Like a Stranger > Viola Lee Blues.  Comments:
  • I was afraid that after a stellar opening night they would phone in the second night, but this was far, far, far, from that.  You could tell from the first notes of Foolish Heart that they had plenty more new stuff to roll out and they continued or exceeded the pace they had set the night before.  And then Dupree’s set us on our ears, which is perhaps another way of saying that we were set on the right tack.  And goddam!  We were lulled into Estimated but to then have them go into Roses!?!?!  They signaled to us early that this was going to be another special night.
  • Bob was far from tired, he was fired.  When I’d seen them before and heard tapes, he seemed to be tiring by the end of the concerts.  He did not tire in the second set Thursday night and on Friday he was right on for long into the act.  He had his three guitars out again but opened on the old Gibson and stuck to that all night, the other guitars be damned.
  • As mentioned, JeffC had ignored his Fender Rhodes on Thursday but was all over it (and the synth keyboards he had on top) like a long-lost lover on Friday.  I don’t mean this in a snide way, but JeffC seems almost autistic in his ability to concentrate on his instruments and to get them to talk.  He is an amazing musician in his ability to supplement and to rock out.
  • Phil was a bit of a different person on Friday.  He hadn’t sung much on Thursday but on Friday he was a recluse: he was almost hugging his speakers he was so close to them, standing in the shadows of his towers.  The only exceptions were the few times he went dashing out to his guitar techs to demand a little tweak (in one such episode he was in the middle of an incredible bass run and he did not miss a beat of the whole run even though he was negotiating with the techs throughout), and the second set and encore … see below!
  • Approaching the end of the first set (all of us dancing and raving and even more of the theater than the night before spread out in front of us like a sea of joy), I was hoping for a rocking end … all of us were hoping for the “cowboy songs” like Mexicali or Big River … or some old Chuck Berry … but instead they went into (OMG) Viola Lee.  Again, this was one of the most magical moments of the whole Boston stand.  To have experienced a precision first set like that and then to have them explore that old jug-band, Noah Lewis song was not only an example of eclecticism but a more-than-rousing tribal romp: “some got six months, some got a solid year.”  We were all (ok, 90% of us, 10% at Dead shows sit still) gyrating and jumping up and down and thrusting our fists in the air.  How can you not be moved by a funky, funky song that talks about our fears of authority and our determination to press on despite that?  Oh well.

No bathroom interludes on Friday night, but Scott and I were in the beer line together and stood in the beautiful atrium and discussed the first set while loading up for the duration of the show.  Furthur took a long between-sets break on Friday but we were all having a great time.  It was incredible just imagining what might be coming up in the second set.  And then it happened.

They opened with the one “non-Dead/Furthur” song of the Boston stand in Dear Mr. Fantasy, which they have now performed possibly three times as much as Traffic ever did.  This is a great showcase for John and Mr. Fantasy really has to be up there on the list of best songs ever written.  BUT we were just getting into the easy rock and roll when they went into Jack Straw and Bob and Phil started exchanging lyrics while that incredibly-paced song took us higher and higher until we were all staring at the eagles circling above us in the brilliant sky on our nation’s holiday, wondering where the road and our inescapable fates would take us next.

OK, second set on Friday: Dear Mr. Fantasy > Jack Straw, Mountains Of the Moon > Mason’s Children > Dark Star > Let It Grow > Dark Star, Throwing Stones, Passenger > Morning Dew.  Comments:
  • Great Mother Macree!!!  Mountains Of the Moon??  Are you kidding me???  No, Mr. Lesh, I am not kidding you.  To pull this chestnut out of their repertoire really, really shows a total lack of propriety, which I applaud.
  • Furthur debuted Mason’s Children at the concert I attended last summer and to hear it again, played so precisely, was like hearing an old friend detailing to me things that happened way before either of us were born but that had an inescapable relevance to what we were about to face.
  • I’ve mentioned the Syracuse Dark Star and I’d put this one up against it.  It perhaps doesn’t come through as well as Syracuse when you compare it to recordings of the Friday show, but Joe Russo played the drums better than I ever could have imagined, accompanied by that bass player what’s-his-name.  Dark Star is a song of the imagination and also the ticking reality of the spheres.  Joe is not a shrinking violet and he banged those toms and those cymbals over and over until his whole kit was making the sound he wanted, and then he started to mold it, with Phil’s influence.  This was an incredible interlude.
  • And then … OHMYGOD!!!! … they went into Let it Grow.  The plowman is broad as the back of the land he is sowing.  Sunshine and Jeff add so much more to this song than Donna (sorry) ever did.  Did I ever think that Bobby might get tired?  Not when he has this to say.
  • The end of Dark Star required as much (or more) re-gathering of my mental/emotional faculties as King Solomon’s had the night before.  Luckily I could look at the friends around me and realize they were going through the same thing.  Throwing Stones and then Passenger were good crowd-participation things after that as we could all join in on the “ashes ashes” and "only game in town" lines.  But then they ..
  • … went into Morning Dew.  We had talked about what songs we most wanted to hear, and this was first or second on my list (fighting with Box Of Rain for top spot).  How could a “modern” folk song from a 60s Canadian writer become so iconic and at the same time become such a guitar-driven anthem?  It’s one of those things that I don’t think anyone could explain, which is a great mark of the importance and un-explicableness of music.  To me, it’s about an awful morning but a morning nevertheless.  And John was fucking great on this.  To me, this showed for once and all that this is a human anthem, not a Garcia one.

Jeez, I was too tired from that to even applaud and was very thankful that the whole theater was going nuts to supplement for my lack of aplomb.  Furthur left the stage and the crowd continued to rock and rock and rock.  Then Phil came out for his donor rap and introduced it with some nice comments about coming to Boston for 45 years (I was there 39 years ago!).  Easy to commoditize the organ donor rap since Phil does it at every show, but please do not ignore his message about what we all need to do to spread life: sign up as an organ donor, it’s easy to do and will make you feel good.

And then the encore.  They noodled for a bit and then broke into Box Of Rain.  I’ve been to many, many Dead/Furthur shows and never seen my favorite song performed before this.  As with all of the songs they did in Boston in April 2012, this was polished and up to date, but still more than true to the vision the song expresses.  This song whispered to me the first time I heard it and since then has spoken very loudly to me at various times; there is much material available in books and videos on what it has meant to others, including its authors and performers.  In one phrase, I feel it’s about how openness can help one manage sorrow.  This was the crowning touch to a delightful two nights of music.

Stumbled out of the hall and onto the sidewalk, where everyone else was in the same state we were.  Michelle was dog-tired and really the rest of us were too.  We parted ways and made it back to where we’d parked the car, and then home.

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