Live: Furthur Stoke The Embers Of The Grateful Dead's Legacy At The Beacon
Tuesday, April 17
Better than: String Cheese Incident.
In the ongoing tussle between Deadheads and straights, the straights seem to have wondefinitely this battle, and possibly the War. A handful of vendors, selling pot paraphernalia and Steal Your Face blankets, lingered outside the Beacon Theater before the sixth show of a seven-night stand by Bob Weir and Phil Lesh's Furthur, as did plenty of sketchy-looking young'ns with dreadlocks and mangy dogs, ex-longhairs, current longhairs, and other signs that members of the Grateful Dead were in town. But inside the semi-recently reopened Beacon was a different story, the theater's new crack security team herding Deadheads from the aisles, away from their friends, and intoharshest of mellowstheir assigned seats. And the Deadheads mostly went. Pot smoke was almost entirely absent.
The majority of the crowd was on its feet from beginning to end, at least theoretically ready to boogie. But there were few noodle dancers and fewer spinners to spot, and not even many onely ex-fratboys unskinnily bopping. Thanks to a somewhat reasonable ticket price (most expensive orchestra seat: $69.50), the crowd was made up of far more than baby boomers, butperhaps not surprisingly to manyfar less than a Dead concert. Despite their seemingly silly circumstancestwo original bandmembers, a fake-Jerry, and a pair of stunt-vocalist backup singersLesh and Weir have often been able to make magic for the still-significant amount of people who still care to be in a room with fellow Deadheads, hearing the band's songbook recombined and sharing its subcultural meanings in real time by singing along and cheering in the right places, paying good money to do it multiple nights in a row, and all that. But circumstances may've changed again. (Though not the part about paying good money; all seven nights were quite sold out.)
During the show's hour-long first half, the band focused on sluggish bar-band covers (Weir's Bobby Womack-by-the-Stones' "It's All Over Now," Fake-Jerry's redundant "After Midnight") and midtempo arrangements that seemed to harken to the band's '80s stadium plod instead of their leaner early-'70s incarnations (especially an unnecessarily groovy "Peggy-O"). But the lack of dancing and general good-time Deadhead chaos wasn't necessarily the band's fault. Near the end the set, Furthur played a pair of Dead tunes containing lyrics that Deadheads have traditionally gone berserker for, one mark of the super-fans' ability to make the band's repertoire into a three-dimensional collection by adding their own mass hashtags to songs. But during "Loose Lucy," only a slight gurgle was heard from the room the first time the band came around to the "thank you for a real good time" refrain, and none at all when they returned to it. During the set-closing "The Music Never Stopped"which contained the first of several pieces of breathtaking group improvisationBob Weir reached the line about the "band beyond description," and not a peep was heard from the Heads.
Even with the lack of boisterousness on the other side of the unbreached fourth wall, a short jam in the "The Music Never Stopped" served as a quick reminder to why the band might be worth seeing: a time-warping free trio dialogue between Lesh's darting lead bass, Fake Jerry's quizzical Garcia-isms, and drummer Joe Russo's light-handed cymbal-work. But it was over all too abruptly, Weir leading the band into some kind of vocal rave-up he seems to have affixed to the song in recent years. At the top of the second set, the band played Weir's "Saint of Circumstance," one of the few bright spots from the heroin/coke/booze years' Go To Heaven, which contained a line that the crowd should have cheered for: "if this ain't the real thing, then it's close enough to pretend." But they hadn't earned it yet.