JERRY GARCIA OF 'DEAD' VERY MUCH ALIVE
The Dead will be very much alive in Boston for the next couple of evenings - The Grateful Dead that is. If last night was any indication, the memory of the San Francisco rock group should be resurrected by a few thousand enthusiasts who will converge on Paul's Mall, tonight and tomorrow night, to see and hear ex-Dead man Jerry Garcia.
It wasn't a throng of fans who crammed into a sweltering basement last night, but a cult of worshippers. Even Garcia's rather long tune-up breathers between the marathon numbers were filled with cries of JERRY!!; sporadic outbursts of applause followed each tuning stroke.
He walked to the stage unannounced ahead of fellow musicians Merle Saunders on keyboards, Paul Humphrey on drums, John Kahn - bass, and Martin Fieno - sax. [sic] He began a two-hour opening set with a slow easy blues number, "It Ain't No Use."
Garcia has an intimate, almost whispering vocal style that manages to evoke the necessary emotion of a blues ballad without ever getting flustered or rattled. For want of another term, "laid back" might be an apt way to describe how the group limbered up with this first number.
There were traces of Elmore James and B.B. King in Garcia's guitar play. He is a study in relaxed concentration. His thick black hair and full beard draw you to the eyes beneath the glasses. Observers used to refer to "Jerry's cosmic stare," back in the days of The Dead, and it is indeed a very intense yet warm and confident look he exchanges with the audience and the members of the group he casually spars with.
The mood is low key. Garcia stands off to the right of center, leaving the focal point for Fieno, the colorful and extremely fluid sax man. "It Ain't No Use" grew to set the tone for the evening, for it wasn't too long into the number that Garcia started to spin off a rich myriad of chord progressions. But like a trio of stunt pilots, these instrumental flights were always flanked superbly by Saunders and Fieno.
Though the moods of the numbers changed from a tropical-jazz instrumental reminiscent of Stan Getz, to an expanded version of Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion," a specific pattern was established.
Garcia would usually lead the instrumental leaps, always in tight rapport with Saunders on organ, bassist Kahn and Humphrey. Then he would give the floor to Saunders, for some sizzling, free-wheeling play. All the time Fieno, in the center, would be helping out on percussion as in the samba-like instrumental or "Second That Emotion," or he would be weaving like an Indian in a tribal dance. (His long pigtails beneath western hat made the image that much stronger.) Then it was Fieno's turn, punctuating each number with staccato attacks or long swelling drifts that always honed into aggressive outpourings.
Garcia has expanded from the rock past and his audience knew and appreciated this. His foundations now seem to lie in a jazz motif. Only the familiar Motown riff and the vocals bore any resemblance to Smokey's "Second That Emotion," for the jamming was a jazz showcase. Garcia's guitar was tickling, almost sarcastic sometimes, pacing Fieno's sax that was ready to explode.
Merle Saunders offered a beautifully accented version of Randy Newman's "Leave Your Hat On," his vocal delightfully sleazy. The wah, wah phrasing of Garcia's guitar and Saunders' loping electric piano blues gave the effect of a steam roller's steady, surging bustle.
That lazy, subdued vocal delivery of Garcia was again evident with "Are You Gonna Let Me Stand Alone." His guitar ran in the background of Saunders' organ work.
Garcia's style last night was light, but piercingly exact and fluid. He races along smoothly not particularly caring to accent his play with an abundance of vibrato or harping on repeated phrases.
With a serving up of an old Elvis tune, "Money Honey," it seemed to this viewer at least that Garcia crept back momentarily into the days of The Dead. Not only the guitar licks, but even the vocals seemed nicely similar to a classic Dead song - "Truckin'." The song was done in that same effortless, tumbling style.
"Train, Runnin' Down The Track," was the finale and you could most definitely feel that train rumbling through that basement. The cohesion was masterful, as it had been all evening, and the tempo was a relentless back and forth sound that brought those old steam cylinders into view.
Garcia and his management were mute about his current plans. Jerry Garcia is billed as the headliner, but a source noted that it is actually Garcia playing with Merl Saunders. More bluntly put, it's Jerry Garcia jamming with four excellent musicians and the results are worth bucking the legions of the dead.
(by Peter Gelzinis, from the Boston Herald American, November 13 1974)
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JERRY GARCIA PLAYS MALL
FANS CRACK 'SECRET'
The traffic began to back up on Boylston Street Tuesday night, and Boston drivers, never noted for their patience, were getting a bit testy. Cars were stopping, their occupants gaping at hundreds of scruffy kids lined up on the sidewalk, standing out in the cold and drizzly New England night.
"Hey, what's happening?" shouted a truck driver as his behemoth ground to a halt.
"We're waiting to get in," yelled a wet but smiling young woman as she pointed up to the marquee at Paul's Mall.
Noting that the sign was blank, the truck driver shook his head, mumbled something to himself and drove away.
The attraction was Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead and father figure of the rock culture, whose appearance at the Back Bay bistro was to have been a well-kept secret.
Trouble is, you can't keep a secret from Deadheads, by far the most fanatical music fans alive. There was no advertising, no promotion, no names on the marquee. Garcia's drawing power is absolutely phenomenal. He is perhaps the only pop figure who plays and tours regularly and is still able to sell out his concerts through word-of-mouth alone.
The Dead are currently enjoying a one-year self-imposed "retirement" from the rigors of road work, but their leader has taken the opportunity to tour the country with some of his favorite musicians.
The three-night engagement which ends this evening was sold out instantly when word leaked out over a week ago, and the music played Tuesday night was not at all like vintage Dead material.
The band features Merl Saunders, the Bay area keyboard wizard with whom Garcia has already recorded two albums. Paul Humphrey is on drums, Martin Fierro on a fiery, electrified sax, and John Kahn, producer of Garcia's second solo record, on bass. As a group, they play amazingly diverse music, shifting emphasis effortlessly from blues to free-flowing jazz to soul variations to hard rock.
Saunders was an absolute delight on the organ. Trading riffs with Garcia on Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion," he extended the three-minute soul classic to a quarter-hour without once losing touch with the spirit and feeling of the original. Switching to electric piano for Randy Newman's sardonic "You Can Leave Your Hat On," Saunders showcased his rich, gravelly and authoritative voice.
The mood of the audience was one of euphoria. After all, most of them were veterans. Some had surely seen Garcia a dozen times with the Dead but at places like Woodstock, Watkins Glen or, at best, in the Garden. Here was Dr. Trips, picking in his sweet staccato style only ten or 20 feet away. People were pinching themselves. It was simply too good to be true.
Garcia, an extremely interesting and articulate conversationalist, declined interviews but related his reasons through a spokesperson: "I don't want my silence to be interpreted as an ego thing. This isn't the Dead. We are working musicians and would prefer to be judged solely on our music this time around. We just hope you enjoy the music."
(by William Howard, from the Boston Globe, November 14 1974)