Los Angeles, CA
We got stuck in the peanut gallery at the Furthur concert at the Greek Theatre. An older guy
wore what looked like an armor suit made out of trash lids. Burning Man
had been over for almost a month, but this guy was so fucking spaced
out and slurring his speech that he thought he was still at Burning Man. We were surrounded by freaks,
both old and young. A 20-something wook with nappy dreadlocks was
bragging about his latest brush with the law and he wouldn't shut up
about his DUI bad beat story. Next to Nicky sat a young college-aged couple who chain-smoked joints. At one point he blurted out, "Baby, I'm booooombed!" and Nicky burst out laughing.
In front of us, an elderly woman in
her 60s sporting a jean jacket and stonewashed jeans was slumped over in a
chair and moaning like a whimpering dog bloated on Jager. Her pissed-off biker husband was not enjoying the Furthur show because last thing he wanted to do was take
care of a shithoused drunk old lady, who couldn't
successfully re-live those old glory days and passed out from too much
partying. She gave an embarrassing performance because of
her inability to manage her buzz. Hey, at least she didn't blow chunks
all over Section B.
You couldn't miss the tweaker dancing like a
maniac a few rows in front of us. Speed is a helluva drug, especially when you're on 12th gear of a 5-gear spaceship. He stuck out because Furthur attracts aging Deadheads looking for a mellow walk down memory lane. The crowd at the Greek Theatre was like 80% old
hippies. They were much more mellow and stuck with dragging a little
weed or on a natural high. They got off on the lingering vibe of the
Grateful Dead's music. The older crowd saves their energy for special moments at the show and then they go nuts. They were pacing themselves, but the tweaker guy was letting it all hang out from the moment he arrived with his date for the evening... a lovely, voluptuous working girl with a big bootie and bigger boobs. He would slap her on the ass every twenty seconds or so and then he'd grope her every few minutes. Nicky thought he was a former washed-up actor because of an
abundance of Botox shot up in his face and a glowing fake orange spray
tan. Upon closer inspection, he was in his late 40s or early 50s and he dressed like a teenage skater punk. He rubbed his nose nonstop and took a few bumps of something during the show. Nicky swears he was riding the cocaine train. I was convinced otherwise and he was railing meth. Either way, both drugs are uppers that rocket your ass into the upper echelons. Tweaker boy was flying high
high high high and soaring the entire show.
Toward the end of the first set,
someone barged into our row and started yapping nonstop, explaining the
entire history of the band. A 40-something guy brought his 70 year old
mother. She wore stockings with shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Her first
(obvious) observation was"Everyone is smoking a lot of dope!" She said
that as Nicky was blowing out a hit of Purple Kush that we had brought
into the show. I eavesdropped on their conversation at setbreak. He was
released from jail for some infraction (I think it was possession) and
he had to prove that he had a job or was looking for a job with his
probation officer, but he didn't actually have a job because he was
sponging off his mother and dealing weed to the local high school
derelicts who had clue that this burnout was pinching big-ass buds out
of their bags.
I caught Furthur over the weekend with Nicky and my bud Darren from Canada (otherwise known on Twitter as @SetlistArt). He had not seen Furthur in a while, but more importantly, he had never seen a show at the legendary Greek Theatre. Los Angeles has two super cool venues that are nestled into the Hollywood hills. One of them is the legendary Hollywood Bowl and the other is the chillax Greek Theatre. It's not quite like the same Greek Theatre in Berkley (on the campus of Cal), but it definitely has a similar intimate vibe in that you're surrounded by nature and totally forget where you are.
The last few years Furthur played a three-night run at the Greek, usually in early October, when they were either winding down a short fall tour, or to kicking it off. It's cool to see these shows in California, because whenever the original members of the Grateful Dead have a side project, all these OG hippies come out of the woodwork. Some of them still have long hair, albeit grey or white. Lots of guys walking around who looked like Gandolf or Santa Claus. You also got to see plenty of acid casualties from the 60s and 70s... some folks never got over that one dose that put them over the edge. I'm almost always the oldest person at a Phish concert, but at Furthur shows I feel like a spring chicken.
I attended the final show at the Greek on Sunday, which closed out their entire tour. This was supposed to be the last U.S.-based show for an indefinite time. The band announced a hiatus for 2014, minus a special event in Mexico in January at one of those swanky all-inclusive resorts. Those destination shows have been a profitable trend the last few years in the jamband scene. Just put up _____ (insert jamband name here) in a remote area like _____ (insert somewhere with lots of sun and good drugs), and sit back and count your money when rich hippies flock to wherever the wind blows.
Furthur's last shows could theoretically be in Mexico before they hang it up for good, or one of the principle members (Bob Weir or Phil Lesh) gets ill or dies. Both members will continue to play music, but with their own bands. That's fine with me. I was not a Bob Weir fan and his side project Ratdog. Sure, I've seen a dozen or more shows over the years, but Weir doesn't appeal to me as much as Lesh's different lineups with his Phil Lesh & Friends shows. Phil never has Bob Weir with him and instead has a much better guitarist (either John Scofield, Jackie Greene, or Warren Haynes).
The Furthur lineup will not be active next year, but who knows if they ever re-join. Lesh is already past 70 and survived a liver transplant almost 15 years ago. And although Weir was always the youngest member of the Grateful Dead (Weir was still in high school when he met Jerry Garcia, who gave him guitar lessons in the back of a music store and became his music teacher), he's no spring chicken. It takes one severe medical issue and either musician is dunzo. The music of the Grateful Dead might live on forever, but the days that they remaining members perform together are numbered.
Bobby and Phil never got along as BFFs. Lesh wanted to kick Weir out of the band in the late 60s and again in the 70s. Jerry Garcia and Weir were tight. Jerry treated Weir like his little brother, so he was always very protective of Weir and shielded him from the rest of the band and management. So long as Jerry was around, Weir was spared. After Jerry died, Weir and Lesh butted heads over the internet of all things. They had diverse philosophies on digital music, specifically if Deadheads can swap music via the internet. They eventually buried the hatchet and the remaining members of the Grateful Dead reunited and even toured under the new (yet abbreviated name) The Dead. That incarnation toured for a bit, but then stopped. I always suspected that as much as Weir and Lesh didn't see eye-to-eye, they both hated drummer Mickey Hart, who was horrendously high maintenance, especially on the road.
Weir and Lesh toured with their solo bands for decades but finally decided to join forces and create a new off-shoot of the Grateful Dead called Furthur (minus the original drummers because Mickey Hart is a dick and Billy Kreutzman loves living in Hawaii and didn't want to tour much). They named their new band after Ken Kesey's bus. The Grateful Dead always had a spiritual connection to Kesey and the Merry Pranksters because they honed their skills as the house band for Kesey's acid tests in the Bay Area. Plus, the whole concept of "Furthur" is pretty rad. They want their music to go on forever, so they decided to pass along the torch to a new generation of younger musicians. Hopefully those guys will continue on the spirit of the Grateful Dead long after the remaining members pass on.
Furthur needed a break, or I should say, Lesh needed a break from Weir. During the last few years, I heard whispers that Weir's boozing was interfering with his professionalism. Sure, it's one thing to eat a ton of acid and play (or not play) for six hours during Kesey's acid tests, but that was 40+ years ago. Today, especially with massive ticket prices, it's not cool if band members were crocked to the tits. It's bad enough we're getting water-down greatest hits, but seeing members stumble around stage is heartbreaking and a stark reminder of the last few years of the Grateful Dead, when Jerry Garcia was so strung out on China White that he'd stare at his feet the entire show and flub lyrics left and right.
It's hard to ignore those two instances when Weir was visibly fucked up during a gig. In the days of YouTube, you can't hide the truth. The first time it happened in New York, the word on the street was that someone dosed Weir backstage, however, the official cover story involved a faux pas with prescription medication. Ha! That's sounded like a typical PR 101 move... when your client misbehaves in public, blame Big Pharma! Earlier this year in April, Weir collapsed on stage. He looked drunk as skunk, but the official story was that he had hurt his shoulder a few weeks earlier and did everything possible to finish the tour (including getting a lighter guitar). On the night in question, Weir was in so much pain that he took a muscle relaxer before the show and it didn't quite work, which is why he tumbled over. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the 12-pack of Heineken he polished off before the show. Lesh suggested Weir sit out the show or even cancel it, but Weir wanted to play through the injury. When Weir fell over, roadies rushed in and gave him a chair. Lesh gave him a death stare, like "You fucking silly drunk!" I almost expected the easy-going Lesh to fly off the handle like Buddy Rich (during one of his infamous rants bitching out his lazy band members).
Then again, only the band and crew knows what really happened that night. Maybe Weir really had a bum shoulder? Or, maybe he hurt his shoulder because he was too drunk and fell down a flight of stairs chasing after a half-nekkid hippie chick? Maybe the word on the street is accurate and Weir is a bad drunk who doesn't give a shit anymore? Regardless of the truth, Furthur is not touring anymore.
I caught the last show for a while. Better than average show, but at this point I always go in with low expectations. It was quite the burnout scene. The venue was understaffed and it took us a while to get inside. It was a clusterfuck to find our seats because there were not any ushers anywhere and everything was dark after the lights went down and the show started. We kind of knew where we should go, but getting their was tough because all these dirty hippies clogged the aisles. By the second song, we ended up in the right row, but we sat the wrong seats the rest of the show.
We got a few random songs that are not in the usual rotation like They Love Each Other, Pride of Cucamonga, and Doin' That Rag. I even got a cover of Traffic's Dear Mr. Fantasy that was the highlight of the second set. I was having a bad back day, so I took a painkiller at setbreak. It hit me kind of hard (it didn't help that I was up at 6am for football stuff and smoking weed from roughly 12 hours before the concert even started) and I almost got a little woozy during a lull in Days Between. It was a slow part of the song and it seemed like I was caught in a slow motion loop and the song got slower and slower and it was putting me to sleep! I sat down for a few moments to catch my breath before the segued into Dear Mr Fantasy and I rallied for the rest of the show. Glad I didn't end up like that passed-out biker chick.