One of the more appetizing aspects among many in the GarciaLive series- this one, number 18- is the way in which the performances chosen among the dozen and a half so far define the variety of work in Jerry Garcia’s career. It’s easy enough to regale the guitarist, singer, and songwriter as the Pied Piper of the Deadheads, and the description would not be unfair, yet it only touches on the most obvious of Garcia’s guises. Less apparent, and epitomized with this two-disc set, is the club-haunting Jerry delving into bluesy jazz and soul; the consummate teammate within a Bay Area all-star configuration equally as willing to support a honking Martin Fierro sax solo or a tasty Merl Saunders keyboard run.
Taken from a November 2,1974 appearance at Keystone Berkeley, Garcia and a quartet commandeer the local club for an evening of covers rendered in R&B, even dipped, at times, in a glaze of fusion. It’s familiar in its showcase of Jerry’s proclivity for a good jam, but it’s also relatively inconspicuous; Garcia, beyond the recognizable voice and guitar work, plays comfortably the roles of both support and lead. When Fierro stretches on flute, or Saunders fronts the vocal, Garcia slides into the background with as much maturity and skill as he does helming Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” or Bob Dylan’s “Tough Mama;” the former, an adroit choice at the time for the eclectic repertoire; the movie and its soundtrack a somewhat niche release only two years prior.
Stretch these five do, (on the ten tracks only one comes in under five minutes), conjoining a late set, twenty-minutes-plus take on the Saunders original, “Wondering Why,” with “People Make the World Go Round.” The closing ride on “Mystery Train,” a Junior Parker blues popularized by Elvis Presley, is a rousing finale, running almost 15 minutes itself. Still, this is very much the egalitarian work of a talented ensemble, not a star-trip for the Captain. Nothing is more pervasive within the distinguished musicianship than the generosity of space and time for each and all of the five to have their fun, individually and collectively. The result is another face of Garcia and another night of wonderful music captured and shared.