For generations of students taking college entrance exams, there has been an oft-repeated adage: that test-takers get a few hundred points just for showing up.  If, after his experience in a coma a few months earlier, this was Jerry Garcia’s test- a first performance back onstage- he got about 17,000 points just for showing up.  The roar of those 17,000 filling the Oakland Coliseum Arena on Halloween night are just what the aging Captain needed to hear, and for the next two-and-a-half hours he gives them just what they needed: the music of the Jerry Garcia Band, and the assurance that he was, indeed, back.

With the first-set selections each hovering around the seven-minutes-and-change mark, that seems to be the sweet spot of expendable energy for the opening “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” through to the closing “Deal.”  Garcia stretches “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” a bit longer than its counterparts, but otherwise the nine songs tend to cruise at similar altitudes, with Jerry’s relatively paced and relaxed guitar work and Melvin Seals’ flash of keyboards finding their peaks.  Garcia’s voice is of fine vintage the entire evening, crackling with understood vulnerability on “The Maker,” against the always steadying backdrop of his loyal singers, Gloria Jones and Jacklyn LaBranch.

The comeback show, as far as repertoire and approach, is not unlike others of its era, nor should it be; it was Garcia’s style to underplay if not completely ignore any personal significance.  A simple “So, how ya’ll doing?” is the majority of his communication with the hometown capacity crowd, ahead of the sly wink of Chuck Berry’s, “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie).”  Such is life for this old folk.

The highlight of the second half- and possibly the show- is on its set starter, “Shining Star.”  Performed with gentle hands and effortless restraint, the soulful cover of The Manhattans’ classic falls like leaves of orange and red from the weathering trees, wafting down and landing with a whisper.  At over 12 minutes, it’s the showcase track of the autumnal night and all the proof anyone could ask for that Jerry Garcia could move an arena as one. 

The second set is also slightly greasier than the first, and Garcia and Seals do get a bit fiery when the mood is right on “Tore Up Over You.”  The ensemble returns for the now-hallowed favorite of this holiday, borrowed over from Garcia’s days with the Dead- Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”  If it’s a bit ragged, it’s all forgiven; most costumes get that way by the end of the night.  More important is everything that came before that last rocking encore, as Garcia and his band conjured up the spirits to dance once again.