Coney Island High
For a few shell shocked moments, it was eerily quiet on the way out of MCU Park on Saturday night. And it was just as well, because after Furthur’s performance in Brooklyn’s cozy minor league digs, there was nothing left to discuss.
From the very first collective and decisive musical breath it was obvious that all notions of past vs. present, nostalgia trip vs. new adventure and so forth within the Land of the Dead can and should be put to rest for good.
It all starts with the sound. From the very first lick of “China Cat Sunflower,” it was crystal clear that everyone has found their rightful place in this mix. Bob Weir’s pink Fender, with that delicious disco flanger effect, allowed him to sprinkle in his signature riffs with diamond-like precision. Phil Lesh, back on his Modulus, is playing clean and thick, his handy work as complex and bone bending as ever.
It’s no longer a secret that the secret of Furthur is the new blood. John Kadlecik has simply stepped past all discussions of comparison to take this music and this project by the horns. When “China Cat” made its glorious, mad dash for “I Know You Rider,” Kadlecik was driving the bus 100 mph in the turns, he and Weir hitting every classic Europe ’72 riff with a sense of near desperate passion along the way.
And then Furthur’s true stalwart made his presence felt in the strangest of spots. In the usually disjointed and punchless “Black Throated Wind,” solo drummer and Brooklyn native Joe Russo found what can sometimes be elusive in Grateful Dead music – the deepest, strongest groove. And he never let it go.
Russo is simply so good and so solid, that the band can do no wrong as they float over his time. He is the best of Grateful Dead rhythm coming from one wellspring, simultaneously embodying all of Mickey’s muscle and Billy the K’s swingin’ pulse. And like Kadlicek, he has fully fused himself to the material.
“High Time” was airy and blissful as Kadlecik stepped to the fore and sang beautifully, as did Sunshine Garcia Becker and Jeff Pehrson, Furthur’s two backing vocalists who have plugged the leak in the all important harmonies. The result is shattering in its beauty, Hunter’s words once again getting the full angel choir treatment they so richly deserve.
The notion of improved tone served Weir well once again in the closing first set couplet. Both the timelessly prophetic “Throwing Stones” and the requisite “One More Saturday Night” (replete with newly arranged religious revival double coda) allowed Bobby his full rock star stylings – and his new kick ass sound backed it all up.
With a light shower, late June night fall and Coney Island lit up in the background, Phil came out dropped the bomb to kick off “Shakedown Street.” Russo dug in deep and started swingin’ right out of the gate, taking the entire band with him. Once they got into heavy jazz/disco mode, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti started pushing and pulling Kadlecik into some deep and daring spaces. The two traded a long flurry of arpeggios and pushed each other through bar line after bar line; creating brilliant helixes of melody and counterpoint. Bobby slashed and burned in and around the fiery core, while Phil and Russo found the deep pocket and grooved long, lean and mean.
Russo shifted gears on command and the entire band took a quick and hard left into the acid blues fury of “Caution (Do Not Step on the Tracks).” As Bobby cooked and growled, Phil ran the gamut in perma-grin mode while Kadlecik slowly loosened his grip, going for a bigger hard rock sound, laying in sheets and washes of Lifeson-esque solos – violent, daring, blindingly brilliant stuff.
“Jack Straw” once again allowed Bobby his rock and roll space and he used it to the hilt, he and Phil landing all of their big hits and accents with drama and conviction, Jeff and Kadlecik once again pushing each other to punch holes in the night.
Then came the beautiful math and majesty of “Playing in the Band” > “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven” > “Dark Star.” The transitions and jams veered from intricate to breathtaking to breakneck. In the thick of “The Eleven,” the magnetic tension and release of the band splitting into geometric subsets of 11 over 12 was palpable and impossible.
For the “Terrapin Suite,” once again it was Russo who revealed all, deftly executing the polyrhythmia of “Terrapin Flyer” with a stunning blend of sheer power and furious, complex chops. Chimenti and Kadlecik ripped their parts to perfection while Bobby and Phil smiled, melded and danced.
Before the encore, my attention drifted to the leftfield grandstand. There, among the retired numbers, above it all, shepherding a soft and elegant Brokedown Palace:
#6 – Garcia
So even the hardcore pundits and purists can rest. Everyone has found their rightful place, indeed. Let 6/26/10 stand as evidence and invitation to those who would prefer to compare and contrast than listen and dance. Furthur has left the station and it ain’t lookin’ back. Why should you?