An initial guess as to what kind of performance is August 11, 1974 is informed not only by the songs played, but simply the number of them. In other words, with nine tracks on a two-hour, two-set appearance at the favored Berkeley club, this ninth installment of the GarciaLive series is a bear hug around the jams.
Nearly every cut but the last clocks in excess of ten minutes, opening with the Grateful Dead guitarist showing off his blues chops on “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” The band behind Garcia is familiar, with Dead drummer Billy Kreutzmann joining longtime cohorts John Kahn on bass and Merl Saunders on keys. Yet, it’s the presence of saxophonist/flautist Martin Fierro that more often challenges Jerry to expand his possibilities throughout the two-set performance from the Keystone. The second cut is the best example of such, “La La,” with its bossa nova beat and, at moments, sonic stretching that removed any sense of boundaries. Saunders’s B-3 tone takes over another blues on “It Ain’t No Use,” before Fierro and Garcia spar a bit to take it back. The set-closing “Mystery Train” raises the energy level up, riding on Fierro’s wah-wah’d sax and Kreutzmann’s ramshackle drumming.
The second disc eases in on a twenty-minute exploration of Jimmy Cliff’s reggae, “The Harder They Come,” with Kreutzmann less on a one-drop and more his inimitable groovy lope. A jazz brunch reading of the R&B hit “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” but as an instrumental weaves, then wanders, again with Fierro’s embellishments expanding the zone into the cosmos. It’s back to the blues on “It’s Too Late,” Saunders electric piano playing expressing lovely regret. The soulful pocket of “(I’m a) Road Runner” provides a pepped penultimate number, before a relatively short encore of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” closes out the evening, and Garcia’s vocals painting a weary final portrait on a night when the jams and the blues, lyrically and musically, held court.