The Year of the Dragon Roars in with Furthur San Francisco New Year’s run

By Producer, Director and Writer Jim Lyons of
Steppin’ Out Spokane

Photos by Jim Lyons and Brian Markovitz

Furthur New Year's Eve 2011

“The wonderful energy you give us and we return to you forms a circle that spirals up…you guys are the home team!” Phil Lesh Donor Rap.  There is always magic at any Grateful Dead family show, but there is a special magic to New Year’s shows in San Francisco. This year the music and energy was indeed a treat for the ears from the first jam and Slipknot>Help On The Way Thursday to the crystal clear energy field of the entire Terrapin Suite that closed the show Saturday in the wee hours of 2012.

Furthur is the big daddy of all jam bands playing today.  It was obvious at these shows that the synergy of these musicians continues to grow.  Any Phil Lesh or Bob Weir performance is special to a deadhead.  The addition of John Kadlecik on guitar, Joe Russo on drums, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards with Jeff Pehrson and Sunshine Garcia Becker’s vocals have combined forces to become the most consistent and powerful incarnation of Grateful Dead Family bands since we lost Jerry.

Each player brings amazing talent and spirit to the music. Chimenti was never a deadhead or really listened to their music while growing up learning classical music. He became a force in the Jazz music scene while attending the College of San Mateo, the same school Phil attended many years ago. The Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock influences Chimenti claims are very similar to the free form jams of Ratdog, The Dead and Furthur. Chimenti also shares Brent’s birthday and plays his Hammond B-3!

Kadlecik is a story you have to love. He co-founding Dark Star Orchestra and gained respect for more than a decade by being a part of DSO’s national touring band and is amazing in his own right. He is a great player and singer of this music, because he believes in it. His comfort zone has grown tremendously. He is playing free and dancing and smiling all the while. Also smiling all the way, Jeff Pehrson is a ball of good happy vibes with amazing pipes that harmonize and compliment the sweet sounds of Sunshine Garcia Becker. Together they take Bobby and Phil’s vocals to a new level.

The San Francisco Civic Auditorium was changed to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in 1992, a year after his tragic death in a helicopter crash. Bill taught us all about how to put on a show, and Phil and Bobby were two of his star pupils.

The song selections were solid and not to formula. Thursday’s opening set continued with Estimated Prophet into Brown Eyed Woman with Phil singing the line “looks like the old man is getting on.” the crowd roared each time he sang it. On to Cassidy, Tennessee Jed, Any Road, Weather Report Suite and Let it Grow.

An absolutely beautiful Box of Rain opened the second set. The transition from China Cat Sunflower to Scarlet Begonias and Trucking was new and cool.  Unbroken Chain again features Phil and he was all smiles as Kadlecik, Bobby and Chimenti ripped it up. The show ended with Franklins Tower and with the encore of It’s all over now Baby Blue, The New Year’s 2011 run was on!

Friday night the boys came out swinging with Jack Straw, Bertha and Eyes of the World. Chimentis’ riffs and jams in Eyes is well, music to the ears. The Music never stopped, and the crowd was treated with Cold Rain and Snow, Lost Sailor, Saint of Circumstance and Deal. Dear Mister Fantasy opened set two followed by Passenger and an inspired Wharf Rat. New Potato Caboose, Cryptical Envelopment and the Other One set the jam for King Solomon s Marbles, Death Don’t have no Mercy into a beautiful and smokin’ The Eleven into Lovelight. A Touch of Grey closed night two.

The atmosphere of San Francisco New Year’s Shows is one that words can’t describe. So I won’t even try.

The New Year’s celebration began on the Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion.  Cosmic Charlie, Althea, Next Time You See Me, into a fun Shakedown Street. Set one closed with Viola Lee Blues.

Set two took us for a walk into the Morning Dew and then the ultimate Dark Star>Mason’s Children> Dark Star. A beautiful Mountain song followed by an in your face I Know You Rider>St. Stephen>Fire on the Mountain.

The cliché “the crowd went wild” is not necessary for any Dead related event because the crowd IS wild, and connected together and individually to the power of the music and the words.  True deadheads find their own unique connection with the spiritual vibe that truly fills the soul. As Phil said we give it to them and they return it…

The lights went down and the roar of the dragon fills the arena. The dragon, on the ceiling, awakens with red eyes and smoke from its mouth. A beautiful blonde woman is on the dragon as it emerges with fire out of its mouth for the countdown to Start Me Up. The dragon makes its way to the stage with the woman dropping rose petals to the crowd. She joins Father Time { Bill Walton} and the medieval pranksters on the stage as thousands of balloons fell into the crowd. Sugar Magnolia’s blossoms were blooming! Playing in the Band>Uncle Johns Band> Colors of the Rain>Born Cross Eyed>The Wheel>Playing Reprise.

The encore of  the complete Terrapin Suite was crystal clear goodness setting the tone for what lies ahead Furthur down the road.

Editors Note: Special thanks to Brian Markovitz of www.deadheadland.com and Jim Lyons of Stepping out Spokane for the images for this article.


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