As the GarciaLive series rolls out its 14th installation- a January 27, 1986 Jerry Garcia duo show with bassist John Kahn- it contrasts the previous spate of electric band performances with this intimate acoustic evening from NYC’s The Ritz. A single disc houses the two-set, 70-minute appearance, transferred from soundboard recordings of the show, and is sonically pristine. As expected, Garcia gets quite the favorable response from the New York City faithful, especially when detecting the opening notes of anything from the Grateful Dead repertoire salted into the set. And, while the Dead-related numbers- particularly the penultimate “Ripple”- are certainly appreciated, and executed well by the pair, really, the entire setlist is a winner, including lesser-known gems like “Little Sadie,” or “Spike Driver Blues.”
Fans and critics hailed Garcia throughout his life as an inventive and masterful guitarist, yet much of the praise resulted from his ability to improvise over long stretches or compose the most memorable of iconic phrases. As an acoustic player, that talent rides parallel to his more delicate and thoughtful inclinations; still able to deliver a song’s instrumental impact, but with subtlety and sensitivity. He does utilize Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and “Bird Song” to quench his explorative thirst, extending either track to nearly 10 minutes, while mostly the rest hover more concisely around half that amount.
The show, therefore, is relatively curt and immediate, yet in some ways far more revealing than a night with the electric band. In Kahn, Garcia has the perfect partner for the acoustic adventure. With his standup bass creating more space than it fills, his longtime collaborator knows exactly when, where, and how to let Garcia’s strings sing out again and again in shimmering, cascading elation.