12-31-09: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA
Set I: Shakedown Street, Jack Straw, Mama Tried, Candyman, Loose Lucy,
Viola Lee Blues> Truckin’
Set II: Help on the Way> Slipknot> Franklin’s Tower, Cassidy, Wheel> Jam>
Dark Star> Time> Uncle John’s Band, After Midnight
Set III: The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion> Let it Grow> Cryptical Envelopment> Born Cross Eyed> the Other One> Cryptical Envelopment> So Many Roads, St. Stephen> the Eleven> Not Fade Away
Enc: Sugar Magnolia
“Wow, what a set!” says the guy named Jim who’s standing next to me, about twenty feet out from Furthur’s stage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on New Year’s Eve 2009, right after the second set ends. “That was something alright”, “What a way to end 2009”, I reply. Jim’s not much of a deadhead, in fact, the only reason he’s here tonight is because he works or worked on the Obama campaign and attended the “Change Rocks” concert with the Dead and the Allman Brothers Band in State College, PA right before the election in 2008, and he got into it. It was that event that got the boys back together and ultimately got us all here tonight.
Let’s review, shall we? 2009 started out with a whole lotta hope for Barack to write our off-course ship that’s been taking on water, and a rare tour announcement by the Dead with Weir, Lesh, Hart, Kreutzmann and Warren Haynes on lead guitar. I was ready to jump back on the bus after five years of nothing but little Ratdog and Phil & Friends shows, but surprisingly my old friends that are still around weren’t all that into it, so Tori and I stayed close to home and hit up the two shows at the IZOD Center in the Jersey Meadowlands with some friends, both new and old. A fun time was had by all. Then a few days later I mentioned to Tori that the Dead added a night onto Shoreline and she quickly convinced me to check flights on jetblue.com. Flights were less than four hundred round-trip, so I started to go for it. I mean I paid more to fly there in 1985 to see the Grateful Dead, so it’s kind of a no brainer, right? Nevertheless, it’s a lot of money “all in”, so it better be worth it, I say to myself as I click “confirm purchase”.
Shoreline is Tori’s old stomping ground, so she took the reign when we arrived. I got to meet some of her old friends on Shakedown Street, which was really cool. Then on the way in we ran into Peter Coyote who’s been around this scene since the very beginning. This show was hot, with the female fire-dancers during Drums and Morning Dew> China> Rider E: Scarlet> Fire, Deal ending. It was so hot that it got me yelling out loud, “The Dead are back” repeatedly when they left the stage for the night. I truly felt it too. Something happened and I don’t think it was the fungus I ate earlier. I guess we’ll see…
That brings us to summertime and the “Mighty High Music Festival” in northwestern Jersey where the Dark Star Orchestra was performing with Donna Jean. DSO played a great 1977 show, then while Tori and I were hanging near the stage getting ready to go, John Kadlecik came running up to us and gave Tori a big bear hug, which is out of character for him. He’s usually pretty reserved. He thanks her for helping him and then he’s off. Something’s up, but I have no idea what it is. Let’s fast-forward a few weeks… I’m checking the news on Jambands and see a headline that says a new group named Furthur has been formed, featuring Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and John Kadlecik, but not Bill or Mickey. Now it all makes sense. John knew, but couldn’t tell and he was thanking Tori for pushing him to be even better than he already was. The news is mind-blowing to many, both good and bad. I’m in the camp that says it’s all’s good, let’s do this, but I know there must be a lot of mixed emotions out there, especially since the Rhythm Devils are not involved. Our second trip to California is to see the first three Furthur shows at the Fox Theatre in Oakland in September. It was a wonderful trip back to the past for us. One we truly needed after finally meeting back up in 1995 only to have it all go sideways. In many ways, this was closure and we could not have been more grateful.
After Oakland, the band came back east where they played some pretty small places like the Asbury Park Convention Center on the Jersey Shore and the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. We were both there all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The most memorable thing for me being when they came out for the encore on the 2nd night in Asbury and the roar of the crowd gave Phil this physical jolt that was both comical and inspiring to see, another permanent snap-shot for my dead-head.
And that brings us to the present, with me at work monitoring Jambands for any breaking news about a new year’s show with Furthur and there it is, the news is confirmed, two nights at the Bill Graham Civic Center in downtown San Francisco. It’s time to make travel plans for my third trip to California in 2009. Now that’s something if I do say so myself. If this ain’t the real thing, then its close enough to pretend is my new motto along with let the good times roll.
On the morning of the December 30th, I leave a message on my boss’s voice mail saying that I’m too sick to come in then make my way to JFK to catch my flight to Dallas, Seattle and finally San Francisco. I used True-Blue points, so this trip is free. On my way through security, my boss calls my cell and I answer. He can hear the people around me and asks straight out, “Are you on your way to see the Grateful Dead in San Francisco”, to which I proudly reply, “Yes sir”. He’s a lot older than me and saw them at the Fillmore East in 1970, so he’s cool about it and just asks me to be careful. I feel like I’m 21 again when he was my boss in 1986 and he’d ask me if I was going to or had just gone the see the Grateful Dead and I would always give him my edited stories, which he like a lot. My love Tori, who’s in LA for the Christmas holiday will take a Southwest flight and meet me at the Hilton near Union Square. It’s quite a journey, but I make it on time, getting to the swanky mid-town location near Market St. by 4PM. No need for a rent-a-car, as the arena is close by. I do my best to gear up for the show, but it’s hard sometimes to get right back on the horse and when Tori arrives, she’s beat and wants to take a little nap. So, I wind up taking a taxi alone to the show and plant myself right in front of Phil’s mic at 7:00PM. Tori will meet up with me later. It’s good that she’s a blonde and stands out. There are only about 9,000 here, so she’ll be easy to find.
The lights fall and I see two new members on stage. Back-up singers, alright, we need them. John does not have Garcia’s voice down, so maybe they will help. The male singer looks like he may have a big voice; maybe he’ll be able to recreate Jerry’s vocal tone. They open with “Here Comes Sunshine” and the new members do help with the harmonies. The two drummers, Joe Russo and Jay Lane are doing well too and so is Jeff Chimenti on keys. There’s a young feel to this band. After the opener, during dead-air, Phil starts motioning to John to give the next one some extra UMPH! It was like a father trying to push his son but in a nice way. John plays his heart out on the “Bertha” that follows and he gets the thumbs up and a nod from Lesh at the end. There she is… “Tori, I’m over here!” Okay, that’s going to do it for tonight. I’m here to report on the main event, New Year’s Eve tomorrow night. It will be my first ever New Year’s Eve show with the Dead or whatever you want to call them and I’m psyched. She has gone to many, so she’ll show me the way, if there is one.
I awake late in the morning on the 31st full of hope. No longer am I living in the past, I say to myself. This is actually happening. The band is back… new music, new set-lists to guess. I love it. What could they do tonight to make it special? I guess we’ll see in the midnight hour. We go on a nice walk-about during the day to take in the sights. It’s not too cold and sunny. The city is packed with people too on this Thursday. We’ll get to hang here over the weekend and do some more of this, but now it’s time to get to the show. We pull up together in the darkness, mostly dressed in black. The civic center is a big old concrete building with three huge windows on the upper half of the facade. There are big posters of upcoming events, including Lady Gaga out front and a park across the street where most are milling around. For extra 3D effects, I score a hit there, then we breeze through security, right up to a nice spot near the front.
The show begins with “Shakedown Street” and once again, everything is in motion. Not quite late-80’s motion, but motion none the less. Yes, gone are the days of hallway dancers. Most today dance a bit slower and the band even plays a bit slower. I can see the youngsters trying to make it happen, to get lift-off. Not to say that it doesn’t happen with these amazing songs, just that it’s different somehow. Maybe it’s just me, what do I know? Moving on, we get Jack Straw, Mama Tried, Candyman, Loose Lucy, Viola Lee Blues> Truckin’. It’s a solid first set and there’s still two more to go. Intermission is spent smoking killer buds and getting drinks. After all, it is New Year’s Eve, with a new decade on the way, one that’s hopefully filled with a lot more of this kind of thing. And they’re back with Help on the Way> Slipknot> Franklin’s Tower, Cassidy, the Wheel> Jam> Dark Star> Time> Uncle John’s Band, After Midnight.
Jim and I continue our conversation about the set-list and that from completely out of nowhere Pink Floyd “Time” cover into “Uncle John’s Band” with the “Where does the time go?” line into “After Midnight”, unbelievable. “Time to get more drinks”, I tell Jim and then me and Tori head out to the jam- packed hallways. This place is pretty cool with wide old corridors and tall ceilings. There is a balcony too, which I checked out last night. I like it. And we’re back again for the 3rd set. The lights go down. Bill Walton dressed up as “Old Man New Year’s” walks on stage. Then this huge metallic prism terminator looking skull and roses thing begins descending on us with a young girl on top tossing out roses. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Tori and I kiss and just like that we’re into 2010. The first song they play is the Dead’s first real hit, “The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion” and we’re dancing like its 1967 all over again. The crowd is pumped. The kids next to me are dancing wildly. Maybe there is hope for a better tomorrow! After the balloons are all popped or stuck to the ground, they launch into “Let it Grow”, then it’s on to Cryptical> Born Cross Eyed> The Other One, back into Cryptical Envelopment. Lest anyone think this was a normal set-list back in the 90’s, you would be mistaken. These songs being played back then would have had people freaking out in a big way. “So Many Roads” is next. John does a nice job with the vocals. Good choice for tonight, because we’ve all been down so many roads during the group’s long saga. Everyone is up for the next combo, “St. Stephen> the Eleven”. Then we’re into the homestretch with a timely “Not Fade Away”, “Sugar Magnolia” encore. What a night! What a show! Happy New Year everyone!