The deliciously relaxed air of the music on these three discs belies the precision in the musicianship as much as it does the operations necessary for a two week run on a Broadway theater. And all this attention to detail, well-served as it is, gives the lie to the moment of serendipity from which it sprung:an offhanded, good=humored exchange between Jerry Garcia and late impresario Bill Graham.
Dennis McNally's perceptive recounting of the experience in New York at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre reveals the comfort level of the subsequent occasion continued the stage. When, in 1987, the titular leader of the Grateful Dead, with a lineup of old friends on acoustic instruments, and his current lineup for the electric Jerry Garcia Band, took up this autumnal residence in the Big Apple, there was an air of gaiety surrounding them, wherever they went, on and off the stage, and most especially the latter.
Little wonder then that, notwithstanding the technical limitations of the recordings-a major one of which prevented one of the electric sets on this date from being captured and preserved at all-there's an unmistakable sense of play radiating from "Deep Elem Blues" and "I'm Troubled," among others. Having cut their technical teeth playing such classics of the genre before any other breakthroughs of their own, the musicians here exhibit a reverence here too that's equal to their familiarity with the music: it's all spirited in its own way, whether during an upbeat tune like "If I Lose" or within the more somber air intrinsic to "Drifting Too Far From Shore." And the mellifluous multi-layered harmony vocals may, in fact, capture this range of emotion, and its underlying premise, more fully than any other aspect of the performance(s).
The sequence of events leading to Broadway: Act One
dating back a year through Jerry Garcia's health issues, his extended recovery and the Grateful Dead
's rise to their highest public profile (by dint of their sole 'hit,' "Touch of Grey") hints at the context within which these shows took place and adds to the timeless quality of the material. The titular leader of the iconic band, along with these musicianly friends of his, weren't just paying homage, but extending a tradition. And for these shows to take place on 'The Great White Way' adds to the inherent resonance of the event.
The musicology to which Jerry Garcia alludes in his introduction to "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie" is at work in the approach the electric lineup as well, the eclectic likes of which becomes even more striking as juxtaposed with the gospel, bluegrass and folk elements interwoven so expertly and patiently by the leader when accompanied by fiddler Kenny Kosek, guitarist/vocalist David Nelson and multi-stringed member Sandy Rothman.
Rapidly becoming standards of the JGB repertoire, songs of Bob Dylan ("Forever Young," "Tangled Up in Blue"), Peter Tosh ("Stop That Train") and Los Lobos ("Evangeline") were offered alongside those of Motown's Holland/Dozier/Holland "How Sweet It Is") as well as Garcia collaborations with Robert Hunter in the form of "Run For the Roses" and "Gommorrah." Each in its own way speaks to Garcia, who, in turn, like all great artists, uses his identification with the material to reach out and connect with an audience so the meaning is mutual.
The reciprocal effect is as much instrumental as verbal. The Jerry Garcia Band luxuriates in the ambiance they conjure up as much as the audience does during this evening set, so that, by the time the sextet, including Melvin Seals on keyboards and drummer (on double duty in both ensembles) David Kemper close with "My Sisters and Brothers," the admiration resonates to and from the stage, so much so, that atmosphere permeates the fifteen hundred seat theater.
Adorned in fresh packaging of subdued graphic design, complete with an insightful essay in the idosyncratic style of author (and one-time Dead publicist) Dennis McNally, this new series of Jerry Garcia titles covers some familiar ground based on Rhino's 'Pure Jerry" series earlier in this decade. Yet Broadway: Act One: October 28th, 1987
holds tremendous promise for even wider exploration of Jerry Garcia's extra-Dead musical pursuits.
CD 1: Matinee (acoustic): Opening announcement; Deep Elem Blues; I’m Troubled; Spike Driver Blues; Band introductions; Blue Yodel #9; Short Life of Trouble; If I Lose; I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail; Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie; Drifting Too Far From the Shore; Ragged But Right. CD 2:
Evening (acoustic): Opening announcement; I’ve Been All Around This World; Ballad of Casey Jones;
Blue Yodel #9; I’m Troubled; Rosa Lee Mcfall; Band introductions; Diamond Joe; I Ain’t Never;
It’s a Long Long Way to the Top of the World ; Bright Morning Stars; Ragged But Right. CD 3: Evening (electric): How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You); Forever Young; Stop That Train; Band introductions; Run for the Roses; Evangeline; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Gomorrah; Tangled up in Blue; My Sisters and Brothers.
Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band: Jerry Garcia: vocals, guitar; John Kahn: bass; David Kemper: drums; Kenny Kosek: fiddle; David Nelson: vocals, guitar; Sandy Rothman vocals, mandolin, banjo, dobro. Jerry Garcia Band: Jerry Garcia: vocals, guitar; Melvin Seals: organ; Gloria Jones: vocals; Jaclyn LaBranch vocals; John Kahn bass; David Kemper drums.