Of the various post-Jerry Garcia iterations of Grateful Dead, the nearly three-year-old Furthur is the one that behaves most like the original band in some respects - the tour cycles, the vintage material, the two-set show structure - but in others has moved farthest from the musical cliff it once danced along.
Led by the Dead’s Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Furthur launched its spring tour Thursday from the Wang Theatre. Seemingly inspired by its surroundings, Furthur conjured a majestic, stately tone through three-plus hours of music. The band had a second sold-out show at the Wang scheduled for Friday.
Technically, Furthur was spot on. Guitarist John Kadlecik - plucked from Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra to fill the “Jerry spot’’ - is better at putting his own accent on the indelible licks and leads originated by Garcia. Guitarist Weir and bassist Lesh were in fine voice and instrumental form. The rest of Furthur - keyboard whiz Jeff Chimenti, drummer Joe Russo, and singers Jeff Pehrson and Sunshine Becker - played with the zeal and acumen this band has been wielding since its start.
But the generous amount of well-played music came at a cost - namely, risk. The set list was devised in advance and the lengthy instrumental jams seemed more orchestrated than improvised. That could still work to the band’s advantage, yet Furthur played an idealized version of the Dead’s music, focusing almost entirely on the hippie cheer with little attention given to the darker undertones that were never far from the surface of Dead tunes.
So in a way, Furthur came off as the caricature casual observers of the Grateful Dead imagined the band to be - cheery, trippy pranksters.
The first set opener “Playing in the Band’’ sounded opulent and flowed into a gauzy “Crazy Fingers.’’ Weir mustered the first set’s high point with his country-tinged “Black-Throated Wind.’’
Interesting song choices - “They Love Each Other,’’ “Built to Last’’ - didn’t shake up Furthur’s relaxed pace.
The second set followed suit. The opening sequence of “St. Stephen’’ and “Cosmic Charlie’’ was sprawling psychedelia replete with tantalizing lights and punched-up vocal arrangements.
Yet, except for the jazz-fusion blast of “King Solomon’s Marbles,’’ the tone and texture of the set varied little as Furthur moved through “The Wheel,’’ “Uncle John’s Band,’’ and “Black Peter.’’
Furthur’s thoughtful, measured approach is nicely keeping the Dead trip going, but the band could afford to make it a little stranger.Scott McLennan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcLennan1.