When Jerry Garcia 45 years ago suggested that his bandmates change their name from the Warlocks to the Grateful Dead, the switch seemed appropriate. After all, Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, the late Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bill Kreutzmann were more interested in visions than violence -- a distinction that aided their adoption as the house band at Ken Kesey’s lysergic La Honda compound.
Of course, Garcia’s passing in the summer of 1995 effectively ended the Grateful Dead of the psychedelic imagination. But a strange thing happened on the way to the graveyard. Taking its own advice, the band didn’t fade away. There are the tours under the name the Dead. Weir fronts Ratdog. Lesh has stomped floorboards next to Bob Dylan and with his own Phil Lesh and Friends. And enough cover bands have cropped up to ensure that tie-die textile manufacturers remain busy.
But out of the alphabet soup of side projects the survivors have pursued over the last decade and a half, Furthur is the closest approximation to the original article. Fronted by rhythm guitarist Weir and bassist Lesh, the band celebrated its two year-anniversary last month, a stretch that has established it as the go-to tabernacle for those still worshipping “St. Stephen.”