Words: Carly Shields
Visuals: Dylan Carney via Furthur Facebook
You can always tell when Furthur is in town. We take to the streets of New York City in droves; we smoke up a storm like there isn’t a citywide ban; we walk around with our fingers up and ask inquisitive passers by if they have any extras; we walk into Madison Square Garden 45 minutes after printed show time, and we scream and shout in that great, echoing entrance hall.
MSG is a wonderful venue for a crowd like the Furthur fans. It’s big enough for all of us, but they don’t pack out the venue like for Phish, so the walls of people aren’t too overwhelming. As is so typical of this fan base, maybe a handful of people are in their actual seats, some by wherever they can put their coat, and the rest dancing in the isles and darting around the ushers who attempt to keep the railing clear.
I was glad to have been stuck on the will call line for the “Sugar Magnolia” opener because, in listening to the show, it’s lack of energy would have bothered me and set a negative tone for the rest of the set. As it was, I darted into the walkway between the 200 and 300 levels (the best view and sound if you don’t have floor) just in time for the exciting closing jam and seamless transition to “Scarlet Begonias.” The vocals were not great for some reason, but they made up for it by letting Sunshine Garcia (Becker) shine a little herself. “Ramble on Rose” was her moment and the boys really let those harmonies ring out.
Next on the first set’s hit list was a particularly enticing “Tennessee Jed” with special guests Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. These folk-blues stars added a whole separate level of integrity to the song, with Williams’ vocals making it sound almost hymnal and Campell’s additional guitar fitting flawlessly with Bobby and John K. He took up his fiddle as his wife left the stage and created stunning harmonies for a mellow, but long “Uncle John’s Band.” He kept the sound going through “Eyes of the World,” adding complicated levels to an already musically rich song. Until this point, the set had been a wash of singles, albeit great ones, but finally, Furthur pulled out the first-set-stocks for a beautiful and calming “So Many Roads” sung by our beloved Jerry impersonator who, if I closed my eyes during this song, would have transported me back in time. Campbell’s added violin added a depth of emotion that truly pulled at my heartstrings. The “Box of Rain” that followed was anticlimactic, unfortunately.
The second set, rather predictably, opened with a party-inducing “Shakedown Street” that really seemed to rally the crowd, but the jam slowed dramatically to set up for “The Other One > St. Stephens.” In the pacing of the transition, they lost a lot of energy, and while the beginning was strong, it lacked support and Phil’s bass didn’t hit me like it usually does. It got better as the song went on, and “St. Stephens” was great, retrieving that fullness of sound.
One of my favorite things about a Furthur crowd is the diversity of age, and even during this fairly low-tempo set, the whole crowd was grooving to each selection, from senior status men and women to new mommies with their little babies in headphones to the young teens finally getting their first live Dead experience.
Later in the set, they played a short, but sweet “The Wheel,” maintaining the slowness, with some fist pumping-bound-to-cover-just-a-little-more-ground-action sprinkled in. Teresa Williams came back out towards the end of the set for what was the start of an explosive end, leading off with a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” Williams’ passionate vocals combined with her fiery pink dress, ecstatic stage presence, and the phenomenal reworking of the song that the band pulled off made for possibly the best cover I’ve heard from Furthur, including the cleverly planned Beatles selections from 2010. Williams slipped off stage while the boys slipped easily into a basic, but well-played “Fire on the Mountain” and, just as was the case with the opener, you could see a “Sunshine Daydream” closer from a mile away. It was what the show called for, and it made the crowd go wild. It took on a total party vibe as the band was clearly pleased with the set and enjoying themselves.
Both Campbell and Williams returned for the “Attics of My Life” encore, which brought some people to tears, and made others yearn for more Furthur. It wasn’t the best closing selection for MSG, or for that show or that crowd, but I have no complaints about the way it sounded. Like “So Many Roads” had a couple hours previously, this song was a lovely way to wind down and take a second to appreciate the mastery of these musicians. Some people say that when another band can play your music better than you, maybe it’s time to stop but as much as I’ve been disappointed by Furthur before, this show blew me away and made me hope those boys play ‘til they die (which, as we knew we would be told, hasn’t happened yet thanks to organ donors). -Carly Shields
Disclaimer: The views expressed by our contributors, whether in posts, comments, or tweets do not necessarily represent the views of the Oh Kee Pah Blog, it's board members, stock-holders, or employees.