Jerry Garcia Band
After Midnight: Kean College, 2/28/80
The Music Box's #5 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2004, Volume 11, #10
Written by John Metzger
By the time the Jerry Garcia Band descended upon Kean College in Union, New Jersey on February 28, 1980, it was quite different from the ensemble that last had played within the borders of the Garden State nearly two years earlier. In fact, other than the collectiveís namesake, only bass player John Kahn remained. Gone was backing vocalist Maria Muldaur, who left shortly after the concerts in Passaic. Gone, too, was drummer Buzz Buchanan as well as the husband and wife team of Keith and Donna Godchaux, all of whom departed when Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders reunited in the short-lived group Reconstruction. In their place stood Ozzie Ahlers ó a well-respected keyboard player whose prior experience included stints with Van Morrison and Jesse Colin Young ó and a relatively unknown but wholly competent drummer named Johnny De Foncesca. Despite the early stages of its development, however, the quartet had coalesced considerably between the time of its Bay Area debut in October 1979 and its East Coast tour in February 1980. This lean, mean variation of the touring troupe is showcased beautifully on the superb, three-disc collection After Midnight, which features the entirety of both the early and late shows at Kean Collegeís Wilkins Theater.
Like its earlier incarnations, the newly refurbished Jerry Garcia Band milked every last drop of inspiration from its material, never setting aside a groove until every perceivable permutation had been explored. What was quite different from its predecessors, however, was that the initial moments of its songs didnít meander anywhere near as frequently. While the relaxed, easy-going ambience of a friendly jam session remained, there was also a fire that burned of its own accord within the collectiveís belly, one that didnít require constant fanning by the groupís sturdy leader to keep it lit. In essence, the ensemble had matured, and as its audience grew, it began to incorporate a greater air of professionalism into its inherently ragtag disposition.
Fans undoubtedly will fawn over the brilliantly intertwined medley of J.J. Caleís After Midnight and The Beatlesí Eleanor Rigby, and with good reason, because the Jerry Garcia Bandís pristine performance of this pair of classic rock chestnuts was utterly unassailable. Propelled by a percolating rhythm and laced with disco-ish keyboard effects, the former tune began as a lively but casual stroll. Nevertheless, it gradually mutated into a more intense gait until, ripped from its moorings by the steely slices of Garciaís glittery guitar solo, the melody freely drifted into a heady space reminiscent of the Grateful Deadís Feel Like a Stranger. The instrumental rendition of Eleanor Rigby that emerged from these turbulent waters was surreal, and its strangely harmonious hybridization of the title trackís perky groove with its own psychedelic edge served as quite the compelling concoction. The shift back into After Midnight was equally effortless, and the penetrating peals unleashed by Garcia whipped the final jam into a frothing frenzy.
Good as this segment was, however, there were plenty of other equally momentous highlights to the evening. Anchored by Kahnís zealously rumbling bass and colored by Ahlersí cosmic bursts of synthesizer, Catfish John and The Harder They Come adopted a newfound sense of urgency that added copious amounts of fuel to spark Garciaís searing lead. Other lofty peaks included the blistering bite of Tore Up over You, the wickedly soulful funk of Thatís What Love Will Make You Do, and the soaring, sunny spirit of Iíll Take a Melody. Even though there are better renditions of How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You) and Simple Twist of Fate to be found within Garciaís estimable canon, both of the interpretations from Kean College were remarkably solid.
For certain, the closest thing to a weak moment came at the hands of a pair of tunes (Tiger Rose and Promontory Rider) sung by longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, but even on these folk songs, the group sprinkled a dose of stealthy insurgence. Consequently, from the steady-rolling saunter of Sugaree to the somewhat off-kilter, but no less potent version of Midnight Moonlight, these concerts not only crackled with combustible spontaneity, but they also glowed with an amiable charm that was simply irresistible. Indeed, After Midnight is a near-perfect glimpse at the joyous enthusiasm with which Garcia approached his multi-faceted, music-making life outside the realm of the Grateful Dead. Ĺ
After Midnight is available from CD Universe.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box