The Mix, Lion’s Den, New York, NY-10/04
John Kadlecik has made a career out of recreating Jerry Garcia onstage. So it makes sense that the Dark Star Orchestra frontman eventually decided to devote his vacation time to interpreting the guitarist's longtime pet project, The Jerry Garcia Band. And, after eight years of on point Grateful Dead tributes, it's oddly comforting that Kadlecik has brought several overlooked portions of the Garcia songbook back into heavy rotation as the basis for his newest project, The Mix.
As their moniker suggests, The Mix offers a smorgasbord of songs, ranging from JGB rarities to Grateful Dead classics and a few spirited originals. Comprised of Kadlecik and DSO bassist Kevin Rosen, veteran Bay Area drummer Greg Anton, and longtime Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Melvin Seals, The Mix is an odd mutt born somewhere between fiction and realty. In fact, at times during The Mix's New York City debut, it proved difficult to classify the quartet as either a tribute act or the skeletal remains of the JGB. Crammed on the Lion's Den's cozy stage, Kadlecik stood silently stage left, grooving like a young, slim Garcia. With Seals sitting snugly behind his multi-colored organ, and The Mix's rhythm section firmly placed center stage, the Lion's Den's stage setup seemed eerily reminiscent of the Warfield circa 1994, only sans backup singers. Even an equipment case placed to Seals' weathered organ had the letters JGB branded onto its right-hand hinge. Like Garcia's own solo career, The Mix also seems tailored to showcase Kadlecik in a more relaxed setting, soloing over simple, elegant song-structures instead of dissecting epic compositions. In fact, Kadlecik recently said the following of his experiences with The Mix: "I look at The Mix as a forum to see where the roads not taken can lead. In DSO we improvised within the structure provided. The Mix will be about exploration, stylistic experimentation. It will be exciting to see how it evolves." After 1,000 shows, even a cover artist must find his source material a bit confining.
While Kadlecik has toured with a JGB-modeled version of The Dark Star Orchestra in the past, his decision to dive fully into Garcia's solo career could not come at a more opportune time. After years of legal battles, the Jerry Garcia Estate has finally opened its vault, proving that The Jerry Garcia Band can still exist as a separate, profitable entity. In addition to the new, Dick’s Picks-esque Pure Jerry series, the Garcia Estate is currently pushing choice archived live albums like After Midnight and has also reissued the guitarist's first set of studio albums. Like the Dead's incessant stream of live releases, an abundance of JGB audio material has cemented certain years as choice periods—-fodder for fledgling projects like The Mix to pull a Dark Star and recreate specific canon worthy moments. Yet, during The Mix's Monday night Lion's Den performance, the quartet jumped between Garcia eras by the song, occasionally sounding reminiscent of the group's late 1970s heyday, showcased during a beautifully executed take on Garcia's own "They Love Each Other." Other times, however, The Mix drew from Garcia's usual crop of 1980s covers, offering tight, but tame, versions of "Tangled up in Blue" and "Midnight Moonlight."
Like Kadlecik, Seals has spent the past decade performing selections from Garcia's vast canon. Yet, unlike Dark Star Orchestra, Seals' legitimate ties to The Jerry Garcia Band have turned his cover shtick into a somewhat controversial offering, particularly his decision to tour under the banner of JGB. While his version of JGB always proves enjoyable, Seals' collective pales in comparison to Garcia's arena act. As if to free themselves from the tight strings of Seals' JGB moniker, The Mix devoted a hefty portion of their repertoire to a series of original compositions, many of which fell at the end of the group's first set. Both "Sister Smile" and Seal's "Something Going Down" mix Garcia's country-rock and gospel leanings, blending both songs into tight little pop-nuggets. Further blurring the lines between reality and fiction, The Mix's title-track, "American Spring," is a collaborative effort between Anton and Robert Hunter. With Kadlecik fleshing out Hunter's trademark prose, during this number The Mix were able to turn an ordinary cover-act into something special, almost evoking the feeling of a gathering of old friends. So, while their routine may still be caught on the fringes of fantasyland, in an odd way, The Mix play with a proven sense of authenticity.