Melvin Seals and JGB, Mo’s Place, South Lake Tahoe, CA – 12/10
Timeless, soulful, danceable rhythms. That’s what the Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) was famous for. Some seasoned Deadheads will even go so far as to say that their favorite “Jerry moments” of all time were those when Garcia was playing in the various incarnations of his solo band. More than 15 years since his passing, the spirit of his band lives on through the music of Melvin Seals and JGB.
Melvin was a JGB staple raising the energy of every tune the band played with his tasty licks on the keys. Even though seeing Captain Trips wail on his guitar is something reserved for DVDs and YouTube these days, you can still catch Melvin smiling his way through one moving solo to the next when JGB is on tour. Of course having Stu Allen on lead guitar and vocals seals the deal, literally, as Stu’s ability to improvise and jam are uncanny to those who thirst for beloved songs like “Sugaree” to take a new form each time they are played. There’s no adventure in hearing a song played the same way each time, and the current incarnation of JGB proves they can offer show goers a unique musical experience every time they take the stage.
JGB’s recent show at South Lake Tahoe, CA’s Mo’s Place was no exception. With a driving bass and drums, accented by beautiful female backup vocals, Melvin and Stu brought a very grateful vibe to Lake Tahoe . From the first notes of the opener, “How Sweet It Is,” till the set closer “Travelin’ Man,” the first set was a groovy way to ease into the evening. The reggae bounce in “Stop that Train,” Stu’s exploratory solo on “It Stoned Me” and an especially long, jammed out “Sugaree” were definite highlights. Having seen different incarnations of this band over the years, post-Jerry, it’s really cool to see how Stu, bassist Jimmy Tebeau, and Melvin interact on stage. Especially at an intricate venue like Mo’s, the band mates clearly feed off of each other and take queue on where to bring the song depending on who’s soloing, and what the crowd and band are feeling from what’s being played.
In typical Tahoe fashion, second set was a bit livelier than the first. It always seems like the fans in Tahoe need a set or so to get loose before then can really get down. Even though the band was already throwing down a solid show, the crowd really locked in for the rest of the night during second set, and it felt like JGB reciprocated with an undeniably fun run of tunes.
In the reviewers opinion, the segue between “Struggling Man” into “Rhapsody in Red” was the highlight of the night. It got deep. It had that classic light, airy JGB feel but when both tunes flowed into the jam section the improvisation got hot. Soulful and harmonious, no doubt, but Stu Allen really brought the venue into unison with his towering licks. Melvin played the keys freely and his soaring solos were well received, but it was Stu that got the whole place rocking as one. Everyone in the band noticed that Stu had found a place to go during this segue, and they all seemed to take notice, step back, and assist him in laying down some amazing music, especially on “Rhapsody in Red.”
The beloved JGB gem, “My Sisters and Brothers” was another highlight of set two. It’s always been inspirational to hear a crowd sing “we must do the very best that we can, while we’re traveling through this land” and this time was no exception. Arguably, the stories and nuggets of wisdom many tunes JGB has played over the years are just as worthy to take in as the compositions themselves.
After a mutli-hour show, and a huge growing glow from a constituency of happy fans, the band decided to play one of JGB’s most cherished songs to cap the evening. “Reuben and Cherise” was presented marvelously as the encore. The jam section, with both Melvin and Stu stretching the song well beyond its bounds, was exceptional, and it was a perfect song selection to bring a great night of music to a close.
Of course there will always be critics who can’t understand why many of us in Dead Land continue to go see the music played without our leader. The answer is the timelessness of this music and the journey that’s still possible. Fact is, even without the Captain, his spirit and the good times he brought us continue to be alive and well to those who seek it. Of the many acts that continue this long strange trip, Melvin Seals and JGB, “The Keepers of the Flame,” do just that.