LIVE: Furthur @ the Times Union Center, 11/15/11

Furthur, led by rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh, returned to Nippertown for their second show in just four months, and unlike their appearance at SPAC this past July, there were some sparks coming from the stage this time.

Weir and Lesh have never been traditional rhythmic components of a band, but at their best they provide unexpected accents, fills, and phrasing that were and are critical to the “Grateful Dead” sense of musical improvisation. In order for Furthur to live up to their name, the other band mates have to be given opportunity and space to step up.

And step up they did; the star of the evening was drummer Joe Russo. He provided a foundation for the ballads, propelled the up-tempo numbers, but most importantly provided rhythmic direction whenever an improvised section of a song started to stumble a little.

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In addition to the drumming, the harmony vocals, never a strong suit of the Grateful Dead, have dramatically changed. The sterling vocal support that Jeff Pehrson and Sunshine Becker provided all evening was evident from the opening two songs, “Here Comes Sunshine” that seamlessly rolled into “Row Jimmy Row.” The strength of their vocals added another dimension to the band, particularly on the ballads.

John Kadlecik – who played “Jerry” in possibly the best Grateful Dead tribute band, the Dark Star Orchestra – seemed restrained this summer at SPAC, but not at the TU Center. The spiraling guitar solos that felt like they could sweep you off your feet and carry you to destinations unknown were clearly in evidence, but there was more to his playing than simply being “Jerry” and this was most evident during the “Cryptical Envelopment” > “The Other One” > “Cryptical Envelopment” improvisation. And one of the vocal highlights of the evening was Kadlecik’s plaintive rendering of “Stella Blue.” Jerry must have been smiling.

Last but not least of the newcomers, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti added critical solos to a number of songs and provided the lift that the band’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” needed. Weir led a number of songs, but his reading and playing of “Estimated Prophet” was a high point, as was Lesh’s bass in the introduction and closing of “Row Jimmy Row.”

The Arena in Albany has been home to a number of Grateful Dead runs, one of which occurred from March 24-26, 1990, and was considered exceptional enough to be released as the 3-CD set, “Dozin’ at the Knick.” Whether it was their previous fond memories of the shows that they had played here or not, both Weir and Lesh were in good form on Tuesday, and each contributed a post-Jerry song. Weir’s “Big Bad Blues” has to be good news for fans, as it is very new. As much as you want to hear the classics, it’s the new stuff that will provide the juice to keep the band moving forward.

At their best, “Dead” shows reflect a sense of community that requires reciprocal energy between the band and the audience. The energy was there – along with the dancing and singing that the audience provided all night – and it peaked at the end of the evening during “Uncle John’s Band” and the encores of “Not Fade Away” and “Brokedown Palace.” There were smiles all around as the lights went up.

Review by Richard Brody

Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union

Here Comes Sunshine > Row Jimmy
Big Bad Blues
Magnolia Mountain
Minglewood Blues
Dire Wolf
Loose Lucy
Cosmic Charlie
Here Comes the Sun
No More Do I > Estimated Prophet > Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment > All Along the Watchtower > Stella Blue > Uncle John’s Band
Not Fade Away
Brokedown Palace

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