Sunday, July 22, 2012

Got To Try To See a Little Furthur; Bethel Woods 2012

-- by guest blogger, David

Furthur’s concert on July 15th, 2012 at Bethel Woods was the fifth time Ricky and I had seen them, and it was by far the best.  The weather was cool and drizzly as we walked down the path to the lawn in front of the stage and found a good area just a little left from the center of the stage.  Maima and Rose certainly aren’t Deadheads, but they were almost as excited as Johnny, Ricky, and I (the Deadheads) were for the show.  The tensions was building as people filed in and waited for the band to take the stage, and we were getting antsy for the first notes of tuning to ripple through the air.  We took this opportunity to look around at our neighbors for the first set, and it seemed to be the familiar assortment of drunk old hippie couples, strange mountain people (this being upstate New York), neo-Deadheads about our age (dreadlocks, shaggy clothing with Dead logos, and a lot of brown), and college hippies.  A little off to our left and in front of us was a mother, her friend, and a child who would spend the concert in a cosmic game of fetch where the boy would run off in his neon green shirt and she’d follow after him and bring him back after anywhere between ten seconds and two minutes.  There were also two 40 year old hippies who Johnny had parked next to who were smoking – ahem…tobacco pipes all night long.  Finally the ads on the gigantic TV screens on either side of the stage went black, the few house lights we could see in the daylight went down, and the band came on.  Needless to say, Ricky, Johnny, and I screamed like maniacs, Rose and Maima rolled their eyes at us, and the band started tuning up.

Tuning is always an interesting moment for a Deadhead who believes in the alchemical powers of the Dead.  It’s much less them testing the tuning and settings of their instruments than it is them testing the vibrations and qualities of the atmosphere.  The riffs and melodies soar over the audience, feeling out the potential energy that lies therein.  After they decide they’re satisfied with what they find in the soggy crowd in front of them the band cracks into Cold Rain & Snow, and there’s no turning back now.  John has a new guitar this tour, and it has added to the palate of colors with which this genius can play.  He sings us a beautiful version of this classic song, and he opens up the first jam section without hesitation, Jeff wailing on the organ to fill in the empty spaces right beside him.

They close the song nicely, and already the rain is starting to recede.  The band then jams into a Ratdog song, Two Djinn, which we were unable to identify immediately; a new song is not only unfamiliar in its words and chords, but with a band like Furthur it’s hard to pinpoint where a jam ends and where a song begins.  The crowd around us seemed spilt between people who are ready to see what newer things the Dead’s members have created, and purists whose only reaction to Ratdog songs is “shut up, Bobby!”  Johnny was in the latter camp, and there is some validity; who wants to hear an old man singing “sassafras?”  On the other hand, the arrangement of the song is very neat, and it is easy to tell that the band has a lot of fun playing it.  There’s a great hook that cycles throughout it that’s something like a tropical Slipknot, and conjures up a nice desert delirium feeling.  They finish up the jam at the end with grins on their faces, and Rick and I nod our Deadhead approval of the song, and the start to the first set as the rain continues to wane.

The band then rolls out one of their best songs, in my opinion: They Love Each Other.  While it’s a song that the Dead did well into the ‘80s, I always think of it as a ’73 song.  Tonight they played it as if they were back in those golden days, with Bobby rolling across John and Jeff, and Phil thundering in the back.  This was also a great example of how Joe Russo can play his drums like a melody.  He rolls right along with Bobby, hitting notes that aren’t just rhythmic accents, but the true backbone of the song.  In the jam sections the band shows us how tight they’re going to be tonight, with everyone listening to everyone else; the homo gestalt is fully functioning.  Jeff and John clearly have a carnival stuck in their minds the whole show, with melodies whizzing in and out that could only have come from some merry-go-round from the fifth dimension.  Needless to say, we enjoyed every second of this song, and when the line “got to try to see a little further” rang out, even Maima and Rose yelled along with the crowd.  Lord, you could see it was true.

Next up was a song that Rick, Johnny, and I all heard before in Binghamton, Black Throated Wind.  We were a little disappointed to get a repeat, but it was well worth hearing.  Bobby was singing and playing very coherently all night, and it was great to hear such a beautiful song being sung instead of mumbled.  While it’s always funny when Bobby forgets the words, I’d much rather hear what he’s trying to sing, and tonight he didn’t forget a single word.  The rest of the band also played the song better than the first time we saw it, which served as more proof that they were going to be on point all night.  By this time the clouds had lightened up and there would be no more rain for the rest of show.  All signs were pointing towards an amazing night.

Before I go on to the next song, I want to make a quick aside about the expectations of a show.  The weeks before going to see any Furthur show, there is usually a list in our heads that narrows down as the show gets closer.  This list consists of the songs that we really want to get.  Usually we don’t get any of them and the only things that have dropped from the list before this show are Dark Star and The Eleven.  The list leading up to tonight, then, was Terrapin Station, The Other One, Help On the Way/ Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, Eyes of the World, Wharf Rat, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, and Bird Song.  Rose and Maima only had one, Ramble on Rose.

And Ramble on Furthur did!  It was just like Jack the Ripper!  And it was really long and funky to boot, at just about 10 minutes.  If I haven’t mentioned that the band was on point yet, let me take this opportunity: they were perfect!  John and Bobby traded lyrics seamlessly, and as they all sang “ramble on rose,” we all danced around Rose - she was understandably embarrassed.  The jam section in the middle unfolded into John’s cosmic carnival, Phil tumbling down as Jeff climbed up over Bobby’s sideways shuffle, until Jeff brought the jam to what we thought would be the only summit of the song.  Waves of piano broke and crashed around us, erupting into trills that slid down the keys and returned to erupt again, and then John, with some help from Joe, brought the crowd to tears, and swiftly returned to the lyrics.  The sun was starting to slowly push through the clouds, and we were turning into animals at the mercy of the music.  As John took us to the leader of a band, we jumped and shouted, acknowledging that while the grass ain't greener and the wine ain't sweeter either side of the hill, it was still a really great hill!

The set felt close to an end, but we were going hard.  Suddenly a tuning riff ripped through the air and Ricky and I go bug-eyed…was that…?  IT WAS!  Help on the Way had arrived, and I went nuts, knowing that Slipknot! was hot on the heels.  The band proceeded to absolutely kill this gem from Blues For Allah, Bobby and John once again trading off lyrics with Sunshine and Jeff Pherson singing back-up.  The jam opened up and John shredded across the air, followed close by the swirls of Jeff’s piano.  Phil and Bobby helped Joe in laying down the foundations of the song while simultaneously tearing them away.  The lyrics came to a close and the energy started to build even higher as the song slipped away into Slipknot!  Of all the Dead’s instrumental numbers, this one has got to be the farthest out.  While much of the material from Blues for Allah is far out and beautifully arranged, this song combines the structure of a song with the formlessness of something like the Other One or Dark Star; the ‘70s version of the Eleven.  Furthur absolutely nailed this song at Bethel, the band acting as the epitome of group consciousness in coming out of the void into the Slipknot! hook.  The band sped up at the end to give their transition more fire.  Transition into what you say?

Into Franklin’s Tower of course!  John’s guitar exploded into shooting stars on the very first chords, and the sun erupted from behind the clouds.  Everybody was standing and dancing in an ecstatic frenzy; even the one little kid stopped running away from his mother to dance with a grin a mile long plastered on his face.  Jeff’s organ shot waves of energy through the crowd as they rose and fell in the circles he was laying down.  Phil’s singing elicited the cheers it normally does, and everyone was singing “roll away the dew.”  John took his time getting down to business in his first jam, but as soon as Phil sang “if you get confused, just listen to the music play,” the fireworks began anew.  The crowd was starting to get soggy again, but from sweat instead of rain this time, and no one minded.  As the song came to the last lyrics Phil started bouncing his bass along the hillside and the band couldn’t help but bounce right along with him into a beautiful lull before exploding again and slipping back into the ending of Slipknot! to finish the set.  “We’ll be right back,” promised Bobby, and we sat down to reevaluate our situation in life and the world.  The sunset was illuminating the clouds in a way that couldn’t possibly have been real, and a rainbow shot up from somewhere behind the stage.  Maima asked “what now?” and Ricky and I groaned - intermission would be a long time.


The sun having long set, the second set was signaled by the downing of the house lights.  Furthur currently has a wheel of lights as their lightshow’s centerpiece, and we were looking forward to having that visible now.  Tuning rippled through the air again as Ricky and I tried to figure out the opener for the second set; would it be a Beatles tune?  An ‘80s tune?  Would they do the rest of Blues for Allah (having done all of Anthem the night before)?  Terrapin Station.  They opened the set with one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.  I saw Phil & Friends do Terrapin in San Rafael, but I knew at the time that it would never compare to a Furthur Terrapin, and I was right.  Phil Lesh became a whale carrying Terrapin cross the ocean, coming from all directions at once, and John, apart from some filter issues at the beginning of his solo, was playing pure genius.  The main jam in Lady With a Fan (the proper name for the beginning of Terrapin) sounded like it was going elsewhere, but it was just the Grateful Dead machine turning over, and they came beautifully back to Terrapin with maybe a hint of Dark Star.  The Terrapin Jam was as epic as anyone would imagine, and I won’t waste time trying to describe what happened; it was just awesome.

Then they slid, maybe a little sloppily, into a slowed down Estimated Prophet.  While Bobby was very articulate and all the words came out with the proper syllables, Bobby sounds like a schizophrenic old man when he does the song now.  He plays on the line “the voices tell me what to say” just a little too much, but the song (another welcome repeat) unfolded excellently.  The syncopation and time signature (7/4) make in an interesting ride, and the funkiness is undeniable.  The middle jam and final jam both came to full crowd-pleasing-fruition, with angels in shafts of light everywhere.  The end jam was going along wonderfully when suddenly…

Jeff decided to be a prankster and tease the Other One, which they did last night and we had therefore ruled out for tonight.  But then it was more than a tease, and it evolved into a full band Other One Jam in 7/4!  While this felt like it lasted a good 5 minutes, the tape has it at only 2…it still felt great to get part of a song on the list after getting so many already.  We couldn’t have been happier or more far out at the time, and we could feel it was building up to something…but what?

A familiar riff, but it seemed so out of place.  That progression comes from another song, but it was never the Other One or Estimated Prophet…what was it?  And then it started to come together: Supplication Blues!  This made some sense for two reasons: 1) It is also in 7/4, and 2) Furthur has done Supplication Jams before, but never with its original partner, Lazy Lightning.  We were happy with the jamming, thinking they would leave soon, but instead Bobby flew into the lyrics and things were kicked up another notch.  John was shooting off spinning stars and fireworks left and right as the band rocked on and on.  The jam coming out of it was in good shape, until a twist in the vibrations from the crowd came and the jam dissolved into chaos.  Phil, however, seemed to have a master plan as he grooves along and finds a riff then launches the band onward…

…into Eyes of the World!  It was a different intro to the song than I had ever heard, and it took Rick a bit to recognize it, even with me and Johnny looking bug-eyed at him.  It was spectacular to witness.  All night long the light show had been stabbing shafts of light out into the crowd and then retreating to the circle above the stage where they would rotate, but now the lights were going absolutely nuts.  After Phil sang the first lyrics Jeff’s solo section came and it rocked us all right in the face.  His piano brought seeds to life that burst into bloom and decayed, and then whipped us off to some grand ballroom in space where pianos roamed freely in the wild.  John brought us back to his merry-go-round from space a few times, and Phil was just having a great time all around.  The end jam going out of Eyes used to be the Phil Zone back in the ‘70s, but now it was just a jam-fest for the whole band, and the jam they whipped up started morphing into something very familiar to Rick, Johnny, and me.

We first got the Eleven in its proper place, after St. Stephen, back at the Vibes last year, but had since seen that Furthur can be very flexible with it, putting it into all sorts of places where you wouldn’t assume it belonged.  Eyes of the World would not have crossed my mind as a place where it could be fit; just goes to show I guess.  It wasn’t as fast as the others we’ve gotten, and maybe the slowness harmed it a little, but it was still a great time.  While not at its most daring in this version, the band was still very tight, and they absolutely nailed the fierce jam coming out of the Eleven in a way I’ve never seen them do before.  It was going along like a savage, and then, in another example of the group mind, went seamlessly into another repeat for us, and a pleasant one.

Standing on the Moon is one of the ‘80s songs we can stand, and it was damn well time for the cool-down song in the second set.  We would have preferred Wharf Rat, Morning Dew, or something from American Beauty or Workingman’s Dead, but Standing on the Moon is nice.  It’s another one that Bobby took over in the post-Jerry world of the Dead, and one that he has a particular knack for in my opinion.  The crowd was starting to thin at this time, but there was no way we were going anywhere; why leave early?!  The parking lot scene was pretty cool, but you pay for and show up for a concert, the parking lot’s free and is there long after the show ends.  Either way, we enjoyed getting more breathing room and a chance to catch our breath.  The song ended and we braced ourselves for the end of the set.  Would we get another Goin’ Down the Road?  Sugar Magnolia?  Throwing Stones (no thank you)?

The hum of Phil feeding back rumbled through the crowd, and John came straight from a Middle Eastern desert with waves of sand and sun.  Maybe they were doing that Pink Floyd song Time?  Wait, Joe has an idea…and John lifts us back into Terrapin!  At a Siding was never performed live by the Grateful Dead and I’m not sure which post-Jerry iteration of the Dead started it, but we knew that Furthur could wind out a mean Terrapin Suite.  We were disappointed when they left Terrapin to go into Estimated, but to envelop the entire second set in Terrapin was the kind of creativity we love Furthur for.  Bobby sang us through the new arrangement (much more syncopated than the album version), and the band came to the At a Siding jam, trading licks between Jeff and John over the drum fills that Joe was laying down.  The band was starting to let their instruments feedback either out of tiredness or to push the envelope, but it worked out excellently in the end.  Finally the band came into Terrapin Flyer to close the show and we all lost it.  Phil brought us to our knees, John brought us to tears, and Bobby brought the funny mustache.  We waited for the Donor Rap, cheered for Cody, and then came the encore.

Being Sunday, it was time for a spiritual number: Samson & Delilah.  A great rocker, and a great way to end a show, they gave it an a capella opening that felt just a bit folksy.  They wailed out some great rock and roll that got us back on our feet.  I was incredibly sore by that point, but I couldn’t help but dance as hard as I could; I actually danced holes into the ground.  The end fell apart a bit with John missing his cue, but they brought it back together right away and ended on a strong note.  All in all, it was the best show I’ve ever seen, and I want to see more!

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