Jerry Garcia Band
Pure Jerry 9: Bay Area 1978
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2010, Volume 17, #1
Written by John Metzger
Wed January 13, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
In 1978, performances by the Jerry Garcia Band arguably were riskier than those by the Grateful Dead. Where the latter outfit had spent the previous two years tightening its jams and developing a set of standardized routines ó the result, no doubt, of the larger venues in which it increasingly was forced to play ó the Jerry Garcia Band continued to enjoy the luxury of lesser attention. If it fell flat on its face ó and sometimes it did ó fewer people would notice. Culled from four shows in the Bay Area ó two in February and two in June ó the latest installment of the Pure Jerry series highlights the Jerry Garcia Bandís loose, freewheeling approach, which allowed it to step on stage and expand five songs to fill a 70-minute time frame. To casual observers, this might appear to be excessively long-winded, but the music never seemed to stagnate because the group kept pushing it forward.
As most fans are aware, when the members of the Jerry Garcia Band were in synch, they were capable of sculpting improvisational grooves in ways that allowed shifting textures to form a kaleidoscopic vision. The first act of Pure Jerry 9: Bay Area 1978 illuminates the intricate interplay that frequently took place among the musicians. In many ways, the group offered a logical extension of the stylistic maneuvering that was perfected not only by the Grateful Dead during its many sojourns in 1974, but also by Jerry Garciaís work with Merl Saunders during the early part of the decade. In effect, Garcia led his outfit as if it were a jazz band performing in a rock ínĎ roll environment.
Mystery Train, for example, crackled with energy, and its aggressive, chugging rhythm provided the impetus for the wordless exchange of ideas that occurred between Garcia and pianist Keith Godchaux. Blending a lazy, funky beat with bits of country-soul, Catfish John was marked by its expressive vocals as well as an imaginative guitar solo that appeared to twist and turn in an invisible gentle breeze. Mission in the Rain began as a desperate and weary plea, but spurred by John Kahnís insistent bass notes, it soon blossomed beneath the warm glow of Garciaís demonstrative exchanges. Godchaux also contributed to the tuneís jaunty, life-affirming stroll. Finally, Donít Let Go was an exercise in restraint. The song never really erupted; instead, it slowly released its coiled intensity via its sweeping instrumental passages as well as its hypnotic churning groove, which lurked somewhere between Buddy Holly and Bob Marley.
The second act of Pure Jerry 9: Bay Area 1978 follows a slightly different approach, one that showcases the Jerry Garcia Bandís range. The group still manages to expand the songs with its improvisational schemes, but the music is centered less around the jazz idiom. Instead, the outfit moves from the hard-hitting blues-inflected rumble of Tore Up over You to the gorgeous, tear-stained folk of Simple Twist of Fate to the gospel-imbued bliss of Iíll Be with Thee. Each genre is replicated convincingly, and the stylistic shifts are surprisingly seamless.
In fact, the most intriguing facet of Pure Jerry 9: Bay Area 1978 is, perhaps, the way in which material from four different shows was strung together to form a cohesive statement. Tremendous care was taken to present the music without the jarring transitions that often accompany these sorts of endeavors. The moods shift from track to track. Yet, they follow a path that is both natural and logical. Even better, the song selections unite to create an overarching narrative that reflects upon the heartaches of life as well as the salvation that can be found through love. Lonesome and a Long Way from Home, the final track on Pure Jerry 9: Bay Area 1978, seems to summarize the journey that is taken over the course of the collection. Its space-y segments exude disconnection and unrest, but ultimately, the trackís jubilant tone brushes aside its forlorn ache to become an expression of optimism and contentedness.
Pure Jerry 9: Bay Area 1978 is not an accurate historical representation of any of the concerts performed by the Jerry Garcia Band. However, those who continue to dwell on such matters will miss the point entirely. Its contents are presented in a believable fashion, and its music is superb. Asking for anything more is ridiculous.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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