Theatre 1839, San Francisco: July 29 & 30, 1977 – Jerry Garcia Band
Jerry Garcia Estate 0001
Like anything related to the Grateful Dead, I'm sure that discussions of
the existence of a vast tape vault full of Jerry Garcia solo performances
fronting various incarnations of musicians has taken place during numerous road trips to shows or late night listening sessions.
With the release of Theatre 1839 and the acknowledgement that a vault
exists and will be used for future releases, I imagine somewhere a bet is being
paid off. "See, dude, I told you he was recording all those dates."
Launching what his estate is calling the Pure Jerry series is a two-day
stint at Theatre 1839 in San Francisco. Initially, this seems like an odd
choice. The notes admit that this is the best of what could be brought together from those days, not two whole shows. Apparently, the recordings weren't complete and engineers had to deal with 27-year-old tapes and "some sticky stuff of unknown origin" causing this to be an edited but carefully and well-transferred release.
Now, the '77 period with Keith and Donna Godchaux, John Kahn and Ron Tutt has been represented on Don’t Let Go live album. But, unless I’m trading with the wrong people, I haven’t seen all that many shows from this era of JGB available. So, the album does fill in a historical gap.
If you're used to the fluid jams of sessions with Merl Saunders or Legion
of Mary or the gospel-like fervor created by the last version of JGB, the
pace, intimacy and space between the notes on these three discs (18 songs)
becomes disconcerting. I'm ready to groove and this outfit does as well, but the members want to ease into it.
On the second number, "Russian Lullaby," everyone drops out for a Kahn
bass solo. It's an odd, where'd-that-come-from? moment that eventually reaps
benefits. And the reaction from the crowd reflects that as well.
As the setlist goes deeper, the rhythms of the material meshed with mine, and
began to make sense of it all. Disc three's handful of tunes then brings
matters up towards a more familiar energetic level.
The quietness and determined pace comes to highlight the musicianship.
The playing of Godchaux stands out in this setting. He offers bluesy barroom
workouts on his solos and even throws in a classical nod during a nearly 30
minute version of "Don't Let Go." As for his wife, Donna, the atmosphere allows her to actually sing her way through the set rather than the caterwauling aim to be heard over six other musicians playing in the Grateful Dead.
Then, there's Garcia. Even when I was getting used to the musical
approach on Theatre 1839, I still had his method and playing to link to and enjoy. Which is probably what makes this album a worthy choice. Not only does it offer a sense of discovery by providing a rarely heard ensemble in their live element but it catches Garcia casually throwing off bolts of brilliance in a manner that unites him and the music.