Jerry Garcia Estate 005
You've got to hand it to those making the decisions of what to release from Jerry Garcia's live recorded vault. Not only have they found good tapes and strong performances, but also the selections, so far, have offered specific chapters in Garcia's solo work that shed a spotlight to each era. The latest in the Pure Jerry series continues to do this. It’s an opportunity to catch a run at a particular venue, allowing for the type of comparison/contrast of playing, song selection and the other nuances that comes about by making more than the occasional show.
In this case, the four CDs compile all the material performed by the Jerry Garcia Band on September 1st and 2nd, 1989 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. Historically, it is significant because these JGB gigs came after a strong summer tour with the Grateful Dead, following Garcia's 1986 diabetic coma and prior to the 1990 death of Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland and Garcia's next health-related ailment in 1992.
So, it's no surprise that his good spirits are reflected throughout the onstage interaction. There's a lively, confident pace to the arrangements. The upbeat numbers receive an extra kick — rays of sunshine drip down during "How Sweet It Is." Midtempo tracks such as "And It Stoned Me" and "Waiting For A Miracle" display an elegant aura. Even the slower tunes — "Mission In The Rain" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" — contain a little extra jump in their step. This version of "Dixie" maintains its Southern gothic feel yet does so minus the solemn wake-like presence heard on other recordings. Only a much-too-long bass solo by John Kahn during "Simple Twist Of Fate," which strays too far from that song's musical theme, mars the locked-in groove set during the course of several hours.
All 28 tracks (with only one repeat over the two concerts) display this outfit's sense of swing and seamless merge of rock, R & B, gospel and reggae. But there are marked differences between September 1st and 2nd. The first night, the discs should appeal to those who just want to dance. The second night initially relies on midtempo songs. It gives the impression that this evening will focus on a calmer musical framework than the previous night. But Garcia and his band — bassist John Kahn, keyboardist Melvin Seals, drummer David Kemper and vocalists Gloria Jones and Jaclyn LaBranch — surprise by taking matters up a notch during "Evangeline" and the final number, "Don't Let Go." It may not have the punch heard on recordings from other gigs, but the number deftly travels from its Bo Diddley beat to something akin to Garcia's improvisational workouts within the Dead and back again. It becomes a microcosm of Garcia's musical existence. Over the span of its nearly 20 minutes, Garcia takes us down a path that encounters nearly all of his musical personalities.