Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Further - Columbus OH, 2010

Here is a guest review by author and friend of Twist and Shout, Joe Miller. Joe was a student of Paul's when he was in High School and has since gone on to become a recognized author. He wrote an excellent book about his experiences teaching an inner-city debate team called Cross-X. Check it out.

Stephen Stills once called the Grateful Dead "the world’s greatest garage band," and there were times during Furthur’s show in Columbus when I saw them that way, too. Phil Lesh in his jeans and black T-shirt and Bob Weir in Birks and billowy yoga pants and his crazy gray beard — they looked like a couple of crazy northern California millionaires who pulled together a few neighborhood kids to kick out the old tunes, which they kind of are. But the more I watched, the more I realized that they’re the Grad School of Rock, with Phil and Bob as tenured professors still doing cutting-edge research with a little crew of top-notch students. You can especially see teacherly ways in Phil, how he watches keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and guitarist John Kadlecik when they take the lead during improv passages, sometimes closing his eyes and waving his head back and forth as though enraptured and other times nodding in encouragement. There was one moment like this in particular that I’ll always remember from this concert. At the end of "Scarlet Begonias," which began the second set, Chimenti took off on a long solo that went all over the place, through jazz and classical constructions and strange blends in between, and Phil was cheering him on while Bob stood there staring down at the stage, listening. The solo just kept going and going and Bob started laughing and nodding along with Phil who was cracking up too because the solo was just so audacious and awesome you had to laugh.

I realize my analogy isn’t really fair to Chimenti, Kadlecik and Russo, who are hardly kids themselves. They’ve logged hours and hours on their instruments and have clearly mastered them. But still, Lesh and Weir are rock and roll gods. They’ve been at it for about a half a century and their experience and styles are without peer. And of course it’s impossible not to think about Jerry Garcia. I agree with everyone I’ve talked with about Furthur: Kadlecik brings the element that seems to have been missing from the most recent Dead tour. But the differences are noticeable. For one, Kadlecik isn’t a straight Jerry clone. In fact, I liked his licks best when he brought his own thing into them, a touch of that early eighties heavy metal screaming speed that, according to a recent interview I read, he learned to play guitar on. On the classic Garcia numbers, such as "Loser" and "Comes a Time," I’m reminded of a great scene in the movie Crumb, where R. Crumb is drawing with his son and they compare pictures, both of the same subject, and Crumb says, "You haven’t learned to cheat yet." The camera pans to their pictures and they’re nearly identical, but Crumb’s has a little something more to it, a couple of lines exaggerated ever so slightly such that his rendering seems more real, more alive. It’s the same thing with Garcia and Kadlecik solos, tiny moments of held notes and silences. And that thin margin of difference, I think, is the space between genius and pro. It’s my sense, though, that the more Kadlecik develops his own peculiarities the narrower that margin will become. He’s certainly got some great teachers to help him along the way.

The first set was all about the words. Braced on both ends with "After Midnight" and "Midnight Hour," Columbus Part I was a bookshelf full of literary rock — from campy potboiler ("Hell in a Bucket") to Americana tragedy ("Loser" and "Brown Eyed Women") to Ayn Rand meets the Hells Angels ("Liberty"). Up close you could really see how much these lyrics resonate with Phil and Bob, how they love to sing them. During "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues," Phil acted out some of the lines with his facial expressions, as if he were a Shakespearian actor delivering a monologue, and he tweaked a few of the lines to make them more autobiographical ("My best friend my doctor won’t even tell me what it is I dropped" and "I started out on Heineken but soon hit the harder stuff"). And then there was "Comes a Time," and with it the main theme of the set: "Got an empty cup only love can fill." (And I have to digress here for a second to say, for an eighties Head like me, it was great to see Bob pull out the old pink Fender for "Hell," and to remember the days when he bound across the stage in his obscenely tight shorts. That dude is nothing if not hilarious.)

In the second set, the old psychedelic love monster came out to prey, especially during the ginormous jam of "Shakedown Street">"King Solomon’s Marbles">"Let it Grow." If you’ve been listening to the recordings of this year’s tours you know they’re playing all three of these songs often and very well, all beefed up and stretched out. I was especially amazed by "Marbles," which is no longer so tightly bound to its main roller-coaster structure. At times the band drifted away from the main melodies into spaces more akin to the off-script passages in "Playing in the Band" or "Bird Song."

A couple of amazing things happened during this stretch of tunes, one for me and one for the whole crowd. As for myself, I was up against the stage again, as I was at my Phish show in early June, and again someone tried to push and connive me out of my spot. This time it was two young, very trashed women, neither of whom were in fairytale costumes. Same drill. They tried to muscle their way in at first. When that didn’t work, they tried for the shoulder rub. When I pushed their hands away and yelled, "Don’t touch me!" they snatched off my cap and told me I need to lighten up. This carried on for all of "Shakedown" and half of "Marbles" until I bugged my eyes out in the craziest "I’m on acid and anti-depressants" expression I could muster and wheeled around and barked a sentence that was very short but nonetheless contained the phrase "my space" three times. I could tell by their freaked out expressions that they knew I wasn’t talking about the social networking site. I felt a nice cool breeze on my back for the rest of the night. I know all this comes with the territory, and it’s at once annoying and very funny and reaffirming of my love for my wife, but I have to admit that I’m hoping my experience at Red Rocks will be different, that I’ll be surrounded in the front rows of the reserved section with other fanatics who, like me, had their credit cards ready for the very second that tickets went on sale online, people who are there to trip out on the music and let those around them enjoy it in their own way without molestation.

On a more high note — or a better-high note — we fans were treated to a killer fireworks show, courtesy of the city of Columbus, that lasted the entire three-song trip. And to our amazement, the grand finale coincided perfectly with the ending of "Let it Grow," with the big flurry of explosions rising as the gentle final note of the song faded out, like a wash of light and cymbal splashes. I mean, come on! What is it about this band? For Dead Heads worldwide, it’s been almost fifty years of weird little miracles like that. Onward, Furthur! A vote for Barry is a vote fun! See you all at the Rocks!

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