What's in a Name?
JGB - David Nelson Band
House of Blues - Chicago
April 19, 1997
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 1997, Volume 4, #5
Written by John Metzger
The news that the Jerry Garcia Band had reunited under the moniker JGB is enough cause anyone to be skeptical. After Jefferson Starship was tabbed to open the show with an acoustic set, however, the event became much more appealing. Alas, this pairing wouldn't come to pass, and at the last minute, Paul Kantner's rejuvenated ensemble was replaced with the David Nelson Band. Yet, the end result was far from disappointing. Instead, the David Nelson Band put on an amazing performance that was well worth the price of admission, despite the fact that its set lasted a mere 45 minutes.
Indeed, the David Nelson Band consists of former New Riders of the Purple Sage and Kingfish members. The NRPS representatives are Bill Laymon on bass and Arthur Steinhorn on drums. Barry Sless covers electric and pedal steel guitar while Mookie Siegel plays keyboards and accordion. Both are from Kingfish. Of course, David Nelson, a long-time associate of Jerry Garcia and former NRPS member, leads the group, providing the vocals as well as acoustic and electric rhythm guitar.
Over the course of its set, the David Nelson Band performed only five songs. The group took the stage with a textbook Panama Red that featured Sless's fine pedal steel guitar work. However, this didn't shed a glimmer of light on what would come during the remaining four selections. Each was well-executed, showing off the amazing talent of this ensemble. As I closed my eyes to block out the talkative crowd and slip into the music, I felt a musical power that I haven't experienced since July 9, 1995 — the night of the last Grateful Dead concert. There have been many times since then that I have been transported by the music I've heard at concerts, but nothing has quite reached that Grateful Dead peak — until now.
It was beautiful, and it was certainly eerie. At times Laymon's bass came through just as Phil Lesh's had so many times before, and the dual guitar pairing of David Nelson and Barry Sless sounded incredibly similar to Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. That might sound strange. After all, there are many outfits that have tried to cop the Grateful Dead's style but have come away with something far different. Then, there are the cover bands. The David Nelson Band, on the other hand, taps into the Grateful Dead's barest essence, and the music that it puts forth is truly inspirational and magical.
As the David Nelson Band wound through a new song called Wizard's Son, the group embarked upon an all-out jam that carried with it shades of the Truckin'/Other One pairings from 1972 Grateful Dead shows as well as the spacey Dark Star jam from Live/Dead. As if that wasn't enough, we got a brief space jam that returned Sless to his pedal steel as Nelson led the band through The Wheel complete with Laymon doing Weir's hand gestures and rock star antics. It was like crawling through the cracks of time, and somehow, somewhere finding that the spirit of Garcia was shining down upon us.
JGB, on the other hand, was rather disappointing. Other than keyboardist Melvin Seals and backing vocalists Jackie LaBranch and Gloria Jones, the rest of its members are relative unknowns, and bass player Elgin Seals had his hands full in his attempts to fill the very big shoes left by John Kahn. There are three people who are trying, however desperately, to fill in for Garcia, and what probably started out as a loving tribute has fallen fairly far from the mark. Two of the three musicians filling in for Garcia are guitarists (Steve Bachall and Peter Harris) who performed adequately, but didn't come close to the Nelson/Sless combination from the opening act. The third is a singer and saxophone player (Armin Winter) who really hurt the efforts put forth by this group. He tried to imitate Garcia's vocals and sounded horrendous. He butchered Forever Young, Evangeline, and Simple Twist of Fate. In addition, his saxophone playing was rather grating and rarely pleasurable. The best moments were when he wandered to the back of the stage and did nothing. Sad, but true.
From a set list point of view, this was an excellent show. Highlights from the 75-minute first act included a solid version of Knockin' on Heaven's Door and a totally jammed out Don't Let Go with some great guitar fills. Seals really added a lot to each song with his fantastic keyboard playing. The second act, which stretched to a little over an hour, featured a rockin' Cats Under the Stars, a lofty Dear Prudence, and the absolute highlight of the JGB portion of the show, a full-blown Dark Star jam sandwiched inside an average Deal. Throughout this final pairing, images of Garcia were shown on the screen which was troubling. Indeed, while JGB may reference our departed friend, they failed to come close to the monumental music they performed in the past. Instead, the lesser known David Nelson Band more than stole the show.
JGB's Welcome to Our World is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1997 The Music Box