|Jerry Garcia Band - Live at Shoreline|
|Written by Jeff Fish|
|Tuesday, 09 August 2005|
What we have here is a band filling a void. On September 1, 1990, the Grateful Dead were to play a show at the Shoreline Amphitheatre (Mountain View, CA), but in July of that year, Brent Mydland (keyboardist for the Grateful Dead) unexpectedly passed away. Rather than cancel the gig, Jerry Garcia brought his band to play at Shoreline. Watching this reminds me of why I love Jerry’s music so much. It’s not all about technique or how much of a virtuoso you are with your instrument, but rather about how passionately and introspectively you can play. If you want to watch a band play with absolute perfection, then this isn’t the disc for you, but if you want to see how the creative process works on the fly, then this is a concert DVD to see.
First and foremost, Jerry Garcia was a musician’s musician, but he also had the uncanny ability to write songs that would connect with people on a deep and personal level. Sure, some of the early Grateful Dead songs were spacey at times; occasionally, it did take some getting used to, but with this band, the songs were the key. Just take a look at some of the songs included here: “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved by You,” “Dear Prudence,” “I Shall Be Released” and “Deal.” And that is just from the first set! This disc is full of closet classics, as well as some that were hits. And in this release, The Jerry Garcia Band attacks them with full vigor. Melvin Seals and Jerry are the melodic center of the band, but the rhythm section of David Kemper on drums and John Kahn on bass keeps the grooves rolling. In the Dead, Jerry had an adventurous bassist in Phil Lesh, with whom he would take these long strange trips to outer and inner space. But with John Kahn, he had a pocket master at his side. With this band, Jerry could go investigate jazz, blues and soul. Backup singers Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch bring a sense of elegance to the proceedings; oh, that and their awesome voices.
Of all the songs in this release, there are only two Hunter/Garcia compositions presented here, the aforementioned “Deal” and “Run for the Roses.” Everything else in this release is a cover tune, and I don’t know about you, but I really like to hear a master give his interpretation on familiar pieces of music. Hearing the different arrangements on such classics as “Dear Prudence” with its funky and soulful vibe was a real treat. “Tangled up in Blue” is another example of taking a classic and making it sound like an original. Bob Dylan was once quoted as saying that he thought that Jerry Garcia was the best at interpreting his music. That is quite the compliment, considering that just about everybody has covered his music at one time or another. On this disc, we not only get “Tangled Up in Blue” but also the previously mentioned “I Shall Be Released,” which is given a real nice treatment here. All the songs on this disc are given a full workout, yet they all remain intimate. Another treat in this release is that every song on the disc has a couple of minutes of history for each song: how Jerry found it, what it meant to him or even where he found the arrangement that they were playing. There are also two interviews in this DVD. Even though the Robert Hunter interview was only eight minutes long, it was very revealing. You can just tell that he still misses his friend so much and hearing him tell of how he and Jerry would write was insightful.
Having been at Shoreline countless times in the past, as well as seeing the very last performance of The Jerry Garcia Band there, I was struck with how tight this band was. Not necessarily musically, but how tight they must have been as friends and bandmates. Shoreline has an absolutely huge stage and, while I was watching this release, you barely see any of it, since they are all standing right next to each other. That really cracked me up, because you could have been seeing them in a venue a tenth this size, but that really didn’t matter to them, they were playing music for a fallen friend and bandmate of their leader. This is intimate music played on a grand scale at a large venue with a band that understood the importance dynamics, vibe and what the songs meant. If you’re a fan of the Grateful Dead or of the jam scene in general, then you owe it to yourself to pick up this release. These songs are played with passion and love by a band that understood that life is for living and songs are meant to be played. I really enjoyed this release.