When Furthur hit the stage for their third consecutive headlining show at Radio City Music Hall last night (and their eighth show in New York City this month), surprises were expected. But it’s safe to say everyone was shocked when, after two songs, Elvis Costello sprinted out wearing a navy checkerboard suit, silver hat and thick-rimmed glasses strapped on an acoustic guitar and fronted the band on a stomping, joyous rendition of “Tennessee Jed,” trading verses with guest guitarist Larry Campbell in front of vintage psychedelic visuals. Afterwards, he waved to the crowd, appearing he was leaving the stage, but simply took a sip of water and headed back to the mic, where he stayed for the majority of the first set.
Costello and the Dead may sound like a weird pairing, but they have some history; Costello and Jerry Garcia sang country songs together at a 1989 show in Mill Valley, California. Last night, Costello easily adapted to the band’s loose sensibilities. He delivered an uplifting “Friend of the Devil” and then turned into a balladeer on a 13-minute jam of 1973’s “Ship of Fools,” which shifted into the boozy sing-along “It Must Have Been the Roses,” with Larry Campbell adding soaring fiddle – and then seamlessly moved back to “Ship of Fools.” Costello covered the two songs acoustically on 2000’s Stolen Roses tribute disc, but hearing him belt over Lesh and Weir’s wall-of-sound sounded otherworldly. Costello capped the set duetting with wife Diana Krall on a gorgeous “Ripple.”
The 10-song set two was performed without Costello, and included impassioned performances of “St. Stephen,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Morning Dew,” delivered excellently by guitarist John Kadlecik. Weir and Lesh have been playing some of the songs for four decades, but it was amazing how aggressively they are still willing to break the mold of the studio recordings. For the encore, about three hours after first emerging, Costello emerged with Krall and sang the blues classic “Fever,” Costello jabbing screeching high notes out of his black Les Paul next to Weir. To close out the night, they invited Teresa Williams out and all harmonized American Beauty’s prayer “Attics of my Life.”