Jerry Garcia Band
Pure Jerry 5: Merriweather Post Pavilion
[September 1 & 2, 1989]
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2005, Volume 12, #4
Written by John Metzger
The latter part of the 1980s was a strange and wonderful time for the members of the Grateful Dead and their fans. Jerry Garcia had survived a diabetic coma and was in better health than he had been in a long time, and the unprecedented success of the bandís 11th studio album In the Dark meant that its financial troubles finally had been resolved. Though its audience grew considerably and subsequently posed an entirely different set of complications, by 1989, the group once again was performing as a formidably cohesive unit. Naturally, this positive turn-of-events affected the Jerry Garcia Band, too. When the ensemble embarked upon its first tour of the eastern half of the United States in two years, it found itself visiting the familiar haunts that now housed the Grateful Deadís own concerts.
Providing an in-depth glimpse of this era of the Jerry Garcia Band is the fifth installment in the rapidly expanding Pure Jerry collection of archival releases, which fills a quartet of CDs with the entirety of two consecutive shows that were held on September 1 and 2 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Granted, there already is a plethora of material that currently is available from this rendition of Garciaís side project, but save for the second and third volumes of the Pure Jerry series, which irked more than a few fans who felt that the sets were hindered by their sonic presentation, the other outings ó including a self-titled, double-disc effort; How Sweet It Is; and the stunning Shining Star ó were pieced together from a variety of shows. As to why this variation of the group is receiving so much attention, itís simply because organist Melvin Seals, drummer David Kemper, bass player John Kahn, and vocalists Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch provided Garcia with his longest running cast of supporting musicians.
One certainly could quibble that perhaps the Merriweather Post Pavilion concerts might have been better represented by a compilation-style effort, and the case for this undoubtedly is made stronger upon hearing the off-kilter execution of Run for the Roses or the ruckus raising but otherwise perfunctory Deal that appear on the lackluster first disc of Pure Jerry, Volume 5. Yet, there also is something to be said for releasing shows intact, if only because concerts by the Jerry Garcia Band, much like those by the Grateful Dead, contained a unique ebb and flow, and plucking songs out of context, more often than not, seriously diminishes the groupís carefully constructed continuity. Such is the nature of any performance piece, of course, but this particularly holds true in regard to those of an improvisational nature, where instrumentalist freely spar with one another in an attempt to unearth a myriad of new ideas and fresh discoveries. Sometimes, the interaction is subtle; other times it is more direct; but either way, itís the unspoken communication itself that tells the story and makes it a fascinating one to witness. Indeed, save for the exchanges between Seals and Garcia that perfectly captured the embittered fury of Get Out of My Life Woman, the opening set for the September 1 concert was rather forgettable. The latter half of the show ó which included the raging blues of Think; the pensively poignant Mission in the Rain; and the gentle, gospel-infused embrace of Lucky Old Sun ó was something altogether different, however, and the collective successfully refocused its efforts in order to salvage what otherwise might have been dismissed as a less than stellar performance.
The Jerry Garcia Bandís second night at Merriweather Post Pavilion proved to be a far more effective gambit, and the introductory Iíll Take a Melody easily set the tone for the expansive passages that followed. Granted, with the exception of the mind-bending meltdown of Donít Let Go that concluded the concert, none of the material quite captured the kaleidoscopic essence of the Grateful Dead, though, to be fair, the group wasnít designed with that particular goal in mind. Yet, each tune ó from Garciaís impassioned vocals on Forever Young to the funky groove of Thatís What Love Will Make You Do to the driving rock of Evangeline to the spry, bluegrass-tinged bounce of Midnight Moonlight ó successfully highlighted a different aspect of the ensemble. Even the groupís quirky arrangement of Knockiní on Heavenís Door, which felt so tepidly tentative as a studio track and frequently sounded just as awkward in concert, was smoothly executed and contained seamless transitions between the radiantly uplifting loveliness of its verses and the island-tinged lilt that graced its chorus. In other words, while Shining Star remains a more pristine representation of the latter day Jerry Garcia Band, Pure Jerry Volume 5 is also a very worthy endeavor, simply because of the way that it presents an unfiltered examination of the inner workings of Garciaís musical mind, from his selection of songs to the manner in which he led his eponymous outfit.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box