The place affectionately known to Grateful Dead fans as “The Knick” was full Tuesday night, but not with the lineup of yesteryear beating it on down the line; no, what is now known as the Times Union Center in Albany featured two of the Grateful Dead’s original members with their ever evolving touring band Furthur.
Featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir on their four decade tenure of bass and rhythm guitar, these two lead the band in carrying the sound and the spirit of the San Francisco pioneers hallowed to so many.
From the opening burst of “Here Comes Sunshine” and through its climactic choruses, a set list of marvels started to unravel as Phil dragged out the base line into a beautifully transitioned “Row Jimmy” that featured guitarist John Kadlecik in the spotlight as he tore through a string bending Jerry-esque solo.
John would spend much of the evening wowing the enthusiastic crowd of dead heads with his Garcia mirroring vocals on classic songs like “Dire Wolf” and the beautiful ballad “Stella Blue.”
The highlight of the first set was Bob Weir taking center stage to sing a mind rocking “New Minglewood Blues” and again for a bluesy “Loose Lucy” that featured a strong vocal arrangement with backup singers Sunshine Garcia and Jeff Pehrson.
Bob and Phil have been performing music on the road for over four decades; since they are pieces of American rock history, it is no surprise how comfortable they are on stage as the ambiance of their sound and visual displays seem to shine upon them and fill the arena.
Phil Lesh is a steady old war horse; at 71 he still is able to hear those spaces in each song where he can fit in mind blowing scales and drop his ‘bombs’, while Bob switches out guitars and hacks away at them, his hand meeting every fret at one point or another.
This ability to fill a bottomless pit of sound is Furthur’s tradmark. Joe Russo drums himself into a constant flow of perfectly placed symbal crashes and drum rolls that sounds at times like the work of two.
Songs like “That’s It for the Other One” feature this percussion tornado as a multitude of speed changes and pace changing jams explode into each verse.
Not uncommon to most Furthur setlists were the covers. The Beatles cover of the evening, “Here Comes the Sun,” was a beautiful interpretation as each element of the band rang in at once. Jeff Chimenti added intrinsic layers of piano and organ, jumping from keyboard to keyboard throughout this and every song. The second of the evening’s covers “All Along the Watchtower” was Furthur at their finest; Bob’s vocals, Phil’s bass progressions, and Kadlecik and Chimenti’s trade-off solo’s made this Dylan classic a highlight.
And “like an angel, standing in a shaft of light” Bob found himself under the ominous blue lights to sing perhaps his finest song. “Estimated Prophet” the mysterious, glorious, prophetic masterpiece was brought out to a roar from the crowd as Bob cocked his head up, and from under his gray beard belted out, “My time coming anyday, don’t worry bout me no.” As we rose with Bob to glory, John squeeled out a solo that built anticipation to a peak.
As rainbow strobes shot down on the audience, “Uncle John’s” happy musical demeanor provided a collective sing along to end the show.
An extended encore was presented to the crowd of balding fans who remember the glory days and the dread-headed young faces of those who never were lucky enough to see Jerry Garcia play. “Not Fade Away” tore the roof right off the Knick as the crowd took over singing and clapping as the song drifted off. “Brokedown Palace,” one of the Grateful Deads oldest and most beautiful tunes, was brought out as a lullaby farewell for the endearing Albany crowd. “I love you more than words can tell,” Bob sang. If one looked at the faces of the thousands there it was evident; the feeling was mutual.