Jam bands are steadfast in their conviction that lurking within every compact folk or country (or rock) song is a 10-minute improvisational workout just waiting to be freed. Letting it loose is where the fun is.
In that case, there was plenty of fun Saturday when Furthur stretched 19 songs into three hours of music at Toyota Presents Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. The band, a successor to the Grateful Dead, features Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir and draws on the Dead’s extensive catalog. A pair of sets Saturday featured some of the group’s best-known tunes, along with covers of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” songs the Dead recorded back in the day.
The band took its time strolling through the songs, following wherever they led as Weir and John Kadlicek traded guitar licks or laid back in a supporting role when keyboard player Jeff Chimenti took the lead during extended instrumental passages while the capacity crowd danced in the aisles. In fact, Chimenti turned in one of the more memorable solos with his versatile playing on the traditional song “I Know You Rider,” which eventually gave way to a lower-key suite of songs from the band’s “Terrapin Station” album.
Weir and Kadlicek handled the bulk of the vocals, too, though bassist Lesh chimed in with harmonies and few lead spots of his own on “Bird Song” in the first set and a jubilant version of “Eyes of the World,” which bounced along on a disco-laced beat, in the second.
Though there was plenty of variety within them, most of the jams unfolded the same way, starting with up-tempo guitar noodling from Kadlicek. Next would come a slower breakdown section, like a pause for breath before drummer Joe Russo brought the tempo back up for either more guitar work or a keyboard interlude from any of the array of instruments Chimenti played. Eventually, the song would peter out, or cycle back into the melody for one last chorus.
Weir-penned songs were more prominent Saturday than they often are — Garcia wrote (or co-wrote with Robert Hunter) much of the Grateful Dead’s original material, especially in the band’s early years, so his songs have tended to dominate. Saturday, though, Weir’s “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance” (both from 1980′s “Go to Heaven”) showed up, along with “Sugar Magnolia” to close the second set, and “One More Saturday Night” for the encore.
Saturday’s set list is available here.
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