Next in the ongoing series of archival releases coming from Jerry Garcia is a three-show collection taken from Jerry Garcia Band’s summer shows recorded three decades ago at French’s Camp on the Eel River in northern California. All are complete outings and, from the distinct lack of crowd noise, it can be safely deduced all are unretouched soundboard recordings. As such, they vary slightly in their sonic emphasis: the 1987 leaning on Garcia’s vocals and guitar; the 1989 performance elevating John Kahn’s bass; the 1991 concert, the best balanced among all. Accordingly, each has its own unique appeal despite repeats in song choices, in performance and sound, particularly within the ’87 and ’89 appearances.
The 1987 show swings pleasantly right from the outset. “Run for the Roses,” with a distinctive reference to “Touch of Grey” in Garcia’s solo, is an early highlight. The band touches on Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, among others, in cover nods, but it’s the set-closing Garcia original, “Deal,” that really cooks. Comparatively, this first performance seems to possess both the energy and the sharpness to make it the standout concert among the three.
1989’s entry bares many similarities to the ’87 set, though the renditions that double-up are different enough as to not be redundant, if not as crisply executed. After a laid back “I’ll Take a Melody,” starts the festivities, the band offers an energized “They Love Each Other” worth the price of admission. The 14-minute “Don’t Let Go” allows the ensemble the freedom to explore the outer reaches of a jam, while the sweetened gospel “I Hope It Won’t Be This Way” that precedes it marks the first appearance of that song on a Garcia release.
The final show of the trilogy, in 1991, is distinctly different enough in song choices and in its feel overall to separate itself from the previous two. A wonderful demonstration of Garcia and his band’s ability to emote with the best of them comes on “Shining Star” and The Band’s “Twilight,” showing off the rich patina of his voice and the inspiration of his longtime group behind him, supporting his every move. Even when they tackle Clapton, surprisingly twice, and Chuck Berry, as well, they still find the way to make it all appear as vintage JGB.
These are all strong representations of what a trademark Jerry Garcia Band show sounded like in these respective years. And yet, given the setting and the season, there is also a unique homegrown quality to the playing, as though the group is quite content to be providing the entertainment for the best backyard barbeque of the year. All totaled, it is a collection, even with the multiple repeats of songs, that works as a warm look back 30 years to the fun and fitness of the Jerry Garcia Band.