Furthur guitarist John Kadlecik is still pinching himself. Four years after being asked to join the jam band co-founded by the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Kadlecik still can't quite believe he gets to share the stage with these iconic musicians every night.
"I pinch myself to (believe that we) play with that level of musicianship in a very open environment, where we can make mistakes," says Kadlecik, who performs with Furthur on Saturday, April 27, at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
"We're encouraged to push things hard enough that we will make mistakes, and to have fun with the mistakes, instead of being upset by it. That's as much a treat as to play with musicians who have produced a body of work I deeply admire."
Kadlecik, having fronted Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra for a dozen years, was hardly plucked from obscurity.
But performing with Lesh and Weir has raised the musical bar. Furthur comes to A.C. following a run of nine sold-out shows at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. The band should be firing on all cylinders, and ready to play almost anything from its vast catalog.
"Bob and Phil take turns picking the setlist," Kadlecik says. "They try and put a few of the big songs everyone's expecting - there's like 30 of those.
"There will definitely be different setlists in all 10 shows, and probably only a small handful of songs will be repeated."
While perhaps the ultimate Dead tribute band, Furthur is meant to be more than a nostalgia act.
"They're intending for this to be as much of a 'now band' as the Grateful Dead were," Kadlecik says. "The Grateful Dead were very successful at shrugging off the nostalgia act. They were on the cutting edge of their own playing and where technology was supporting for music."
Reaching toward the same goal, Furthur has become a tighter unit, as relationships have deepened among its seven members. The band also features Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, Joe Russo on drums and Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on vocals.
"There's just certain things you can't rush with an improvisational ensemble," Kadlecik says. "You can't force the equivalent of collective running jokes you get with any team. It takes time to build and grow and acquire new reflexes for how to interact with each other.
"We have definitely been on a hot streak for six months or a year. The first night of not playing together for a couple of months, and we can just launch into outer space with the first song."
For Kadlecik, who briefly studied classical guitar at William Rainey Harper College in Illinois, The Dead's late guitarist and co-founder Jerry Garcia has been a prime influence; albeit not the only one: Kadlecik first got obsessed with guitar licks as a teenager when he started listening to Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Rush's Alex Lifeson.
"They were the two artists that, when I was 15, I learned their entire catalogs," he recalls. "I transcribed their solos, picked apart their arrangements, and learned stuff even though there was never a chance in hell I'd play with a band."
Having later attended some five dozen Dead shows, Kadlecik also concedes a strong influence on his style of playing by Garcia, who died in 1995.
"The Garcia influence is definitely always going to be there," he says. "The tone he was working on, especially from the late '70s on - the fact that you can identify it just from a tone, speaks volumes for what he accomplished."
Despite performing this improvisational style of music for much of the past two decades, Kadlecik is still unsure what to call it.
"I've been trying to find a label for what it is from way before the jam band term became really popular," he says. "I find jam band as meaningless as what they used to refer to as alternative. Any band that's good live jams, whether it's Michael Jackson's band or what we used to call psychedelic rock.
"I loved what Leftover Salmon called themselves - 'polyethnic Cajun slamgrass.' I coined the term 'poly rock' at one point to mean post-rock, meaning to blend anything that comes across your radar."
Steal Your Face headlines Furthur After-Party
Steal Your Face, a Philadelphia-based jam band inspired by "the spirit of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead," will perform at the Furthur After-Party on Saturday, April 27, at the Hard Rock Cafe at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
Admission is free for the party, which will run 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. The event also will feature an exhibition and sale of artwork by the late Jerry Garcia, co-founder of The Dead.
Steal Your Face, which made its debut in 2007, mixes the music of the Grateful Dead with material by Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Motown artists, as well as original tunes.
The band previously has performed locally at Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, and also has appeared at the Out of the Garden Music Festival in Morrisville, Pa., and The Gathering of the Vibes Music Festival in Bridgeport, Conn., where Crosby, Stills and Nash and Ratdog were headliners.