Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review:Furthur - Hampton, Perpetual Groove, Dave Alvin

We'll kick things off tonight with my review of the Furthur show which took place last Friday night, February 12, at Hampton Coliseum. Furthur features Bob Weir & Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead along with Jeff Chimenti (keys from Ratdog), John Kadlecik (guitar, formerly of Dark Star Orchestra), Jay Lane (percussion, Ratdog), Joe Russo (drums, Benevento-Russo duo), and Sunshine Becker & Zoe Ellis on background vocals. I am a veteran of about 100 Grateful Dead (60 - 70 shows) and post-Jerry Dead shows and I'm usually the one in the group who will always try to put a silver lining on a show, even if it wasn't the greatest. But it was hard to find a lot positive in Friday's show. The show was plagued by bad sound in the first set, poor song selection that seemed to bring the energy down every time things got going, a lack of decisivness among band members, and poor flow and segues between songs.

The early reviews for this lineup had been good to great so I was looking forward to a good show. The stage setup had the stage just beyond center ice, cutting the Coliseum in half and promising an intimate show. The floor was full and the seats were maybe 2/3 full, which was good because everyone had room to spread out. We were about a section away from the stage and right on the rail overlooking the floor.

The show opened with "Shakedown Street" and though well-played, the sound was lacking low-end and volume and this would continue through most of the first set. The band segued into "I Need a Miracle" and while the tempo was a tad slower than normal, this still was a pretty good start, though the crowd didn't seem quite into the sing-along parts of the song as I thought they could have been. The band then chugged along into the rarely played "Till The Morning Comes" and this was going well, with good energy and some good playing from John Kadlecik until they missed the vocal cue to come back in after the instrumental mid-section of the song. This seemed to throw things off for the rest of the song.

Weir then took us into Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again", which I thought was a good choice as this is fairly straight forward musically and would allow the band to get its footing back. But the lyrics, oh the lyrics. This is a pretty complex song lyrically, with nine different verses, only tied together by the title at the end of each verse. While Bob has a teleprompter, he also has dyslexia. I don't know how much that played a part but he flubbed the lyrics on one verse, then a second, then a third. It went from kind of funny (Bob & Jerry often would flub some lyrics during a show) to painful. At one point I was thinking they should just end the song prematurely and move on. Add to this that Bob was thrown by the whole thing and didn't put his usual rocking emphasis on the ends of the verses and the energy was pretty much out of the room at this point.

The band went into "Dire Wolf" , then "Picasso Moon" and "Big Railroad Blues". All were well-played but unremarkable and never seemed to ignite. During "Picasso", I went out to the concourse to fill my water bottle and ran into a woman I had met in the parking lot prior to the show. She said that she and her husband had been moving around to different spots on the floor and in the stands looking for some crowd energy but it was hard to find.

The set closed with "Two Djinn", a song from Weir's band, Ratdog. The sound finally got right during this song and this was the highlight of the first set with the band locking in to a nice groove. With the sound back and things seemingly right again with the band, I entered the set break enthusiastic that the band would come back with a nice second set and leave us forgetting the miscues of the first.

And that seemed to be as they started the second set with a very nice "Scarlet Begonias" that got the refreshed crowd moving. Usually "Scarlet" segues into "Fire on the Mountain", but the band moved into "West LA Fadeaway", a Garcia song from "In The Dark". I found this a little surprising. While I usually like to see some shakeups to song pairings that have been around for a long time, I thought that after the shaky first set, the band probably should have played it straight and stuck with the tried and true. But I like "West LA" so I figured "let's see where this goes".

As they were meandering into the song, Weir motioned to the band to watch him and I wondered what he was up to. Turns out he was calling an audible with the lyrics and decided to insert an extra bar in between lyrics and between verse and chorus. I'm all for some improvisation and actually hope for it, but more in the instrumental sections. If you are going to change up the basic arrangement of the song, couldn't you have practiced it once or twice in soundcheck? The audible threw the band off for the first 2/3 of the song, threw the audience off who tried to sing along with the chorus the first time it came around and combined with the world-weary delivery Bob gave the chorus (I don't know if this an intentional reading of the song or if Bob was just weary), robbed the song of its tension (verse) / release (chorus) dynamic and took the energy out the room again.

Next the band went into the somewhat obscure "Mason's Children", that again was well-played but unremarkable but started to bring the energy level up again. The band pretty much stopped almost cold after that and languidly went into "Dark Star". While a big fan of "Dark Star", I thought this was poorly placed and the segue into "Dark Star" was less of a jam and more of a plunk the strings and stare at each other wondering who will start the song, again losing the energy in the room.

Phil finally stepped up with bass line opening and once they did get the "Dark Star" going, it was very well done and the jam really was developing into something nice and funky. I thought they might run this right into a "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" or something else that would take the energy they had just developed and channel it into something danceable. But the jam seemed to almost stop dead again and they went into Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy". At this point, it seemed they were abandoning all sense of flow and just trying to get to the songs that were on their set list. I believe I turned to my friend, Angie, at this point and said, "Its like they keep putting men on base and then grounding weakly out to the pitcher to end the inning."

After "Fantasy", there was a brief Drums segment that segued right into the highlight of the night, "King Solomon's Marbles". This rhythmically intricate instrumental was tight, the band was crackling with energy with the drummers leading the way. I turned to my friend, Phil, and said, "Where the hell has this band been all night?" At this point, hopes rose again that they would pull off a turnaround and really end the show strong.

KSM ends and Bob and Phil have a conversation that went: Bob says something. Phil shakes his head "no". Bob says something. Phil throws his arms up and turns his back to Bob to get a drink and play with his bass cabinet. I don't know who "won" the argument, but the audience lost as the band goes into the slowest of all Dead ballads, "Days Between". "Days" was always iffy when the Dead played it (usually out of Space) depending on how much energy Jerry had that night. This version seemed even more stripped down and slow than usual and that hissing sound you heard was the energy escaping from the room once again like air out of a balloon. At this point I had to go outside for a smoke break even though I don't smoke but just to get some fresh air on the balcony and wonder what the hell was happening.

After "Days", they went into the blues stomp "Viola Lee Blues" which was highlighted by keys work from Jeff Chimenti, who was on for the whole second set especially "Mr. Fantasy" and "Mason's Children". This was good, but again never completely ignited, and again, just when some energy seemed to be coming back, they pulled the plug, slowed it down and went back to "Dark Star". The "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad" (which pretty much summed up the show nicely) was too little, too late and I was out the door before the a cappella (again, can't seem to rock two songs in a row tonight) encore, "And We Bid You Goodnight".

I don't know where the roads will lead the guys from the Dead next but after my last three "Dead" shows left me with two bad (Ratdog at AllGood and this one) and one good to great (Ratdog at Innsbrook), I beleive my days of paying anymore than $30 and travelling any further than Innsbrook to see them are over. I've got a limited entertainment dollar and though the Grateful Dead will always be one of my favorite bands, their latest average of .333 may be good for a baseball hitter but is shitty for a band.

Onto this weekend's happenings in Richmond. Thursday night, the identical twins indie pop-rock band Tegan & Sara play The National. Doors open at 7, show starts at 8, tix are $32.50. Openers are Holly Miranda & Steel Train. Here's the video for their song "Back In Your Head":

Roots-rocker Dave Alvin (anyone remember "The Blasters"?) & a Couple of Guilty Women will be performing at Ashland Coffee & Tea on Saturday. Show starts at 8 and tix are $22 in advance, $27 at the door. Here's Dave performing "Dry River" last year in Vancouver (cheap Olympics tie-in!):

Also on Saturday, if you are a jam band aficionado and want to wash the taste of the Further Hampton show out, you might want to try Perpetual Groove at The National. Tix are $15 in advance, $18 day of show, doors open at 8 and show starts at 9 with Larjar. Here's P-Groove a few nights ago in Charlotte opening the show with "Occam's Blazer" (camera work is a little shaky but the sound is good):

On Tuesday, DJ Willims Projekt has their regular gig at Cafe Diem. The gig starts at 9:30 PM.

And Wednesday night at The National, smoke 'em if you got 'em 'cause Snoop Dogg is in town. Tix are $30 in advance, $35 day of show, doors open at 7, show starts at 8 with openers Black Liquid and Photosynthesizers. If you want to check out Snoop's latest hit, "Gangsta Luv", click HERE because they won't let me embed it.

That's all for this week. I leave you with Stan Bush doing "The Touch". I thought this was just a crappy song that they made up for Dirk Diggler to sing in "Boogie Nights" when he was trying to go legit with his music career. But no. When I first got MTV2 back in the late 90s, they were doing Every Music Video from A-Z. Literally they were playing every music video MTV had in alphabetical order. I was in the kitchen when I heard this playing. I ran into the room and stared and listened in disbelief as I found this was not only a real song but had been in the original "Transformers" animated video. How 80s can you get!

And just in case you don't remember one of the GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME, here is Dirk Diggler singing this one in "Boogie Nights" (with a cameo from Michael Penn as the producer). Dirk was right. The bass was totally taking away from the vocals.:

Have a great weekend!

Tony Jordan