The year 1980 proved to be an important time in the history of The Jerry Garcia Band (JGB), the offshoot side project of The Grateful Dead's visionary leader which grew (at one point) to be as big as the mothership itself. February 1980, in particular, was a moment when all the stars aligned in a most magificent manner for a tour of the north eastern corner of the United States. For said tour, Jerry pulled together a version of his band which quickly developed its own energy distinct from earlier -- and later -- incarnations of the band.
Perhaps it was the soulful rock influence of keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers, who came into the Garcia universe from (relatively) outside the Grateful Dead fold, first playing with Van Morrison and also with Jesse Colin Young (of The Youngbloods fame). Perhaps it was the youthful edge of rookie Johnny d'Fonseca who (apparently, according to the Interwebs) was raised by (Grateful Dead drummer) Mickey Hart after his Dad was killed in a plane crash -- so, the guy grew up around the Dead vibe, yet already had his own band and was putting out records. Johnny plays it really simple and tasteful, giving Jerry and the other players smooth waters and tasty breezes to sail forth from when soloing.
These two players, coupled with John Kahn on bass, locked in together to form a really wonderful ensemble that could soar without losing the essence of great rock and roll. This dynamic band jammed with a jazz-like swagger -- oh, did they jam! -- yet had the heart, soul and solid backbone of the best rock bands.
The rare trifecta!
This gave Jerry Garcia a most comfortable bed to lay his heart-felt guitar solos upon and together the band members pushed one another in a way I'd not really heard before -- or after -- in the JGB. I was fortunate to have seen this incarnation of the JGB when they rolled through Syracuse, NY (2/19/80, I worked the show as an usher, as I was on the University's concert board at the time) and can attest to their brilliance. There was something magic going on up there on stage. So much so, like many DeadHeads and Jerry fans, I have been collecting recordings of every night of the tour that I've been able to find
A side notefor those not in the know: The Grateful Dead and various offshoots like this permitted (and even encouraged) recording of their live shows, as well as the trading of tapes among fans who followed the playing of the group's night-by-night performance variations. This is similar to the way that hard core jazz afficianados held on to -- and frequently documented -- every breath blown by legends like saxophonist Charlie Parker in the 1940s and '50s.
Several years back, the Jerry Garcia estate issued a show from this 1980 tour (2/28/80, from Keane College in Union, NJ., an excellent release) which really only served to whet our appetites for more! Thus, this latest release of the last night of the tour is particularly welcome. Some of this show was broadcast on WNEW-FM in NYC, live from The Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ.
For years this show has been legendary, as tapes of varying quality circulated in the trading community. The good news is that this new HDCD-encoded CD release will allow collectors to toss their old cassettes, CDRs and FLACs and move on to the best possible sounding issue of the show to date, mixed off the 24-track multi-track master reels for this release. It sounds way better than even the best circulating copies I've heard -- this is now a proper, legitimate live album release.
It is a beautiful package complete with liner notes from Ozzie Ahlers himself and Grateful Dead Hour host David Gans. But it is all about the music and there are some wonderful songs in this set including a soul searching 16-minute version of "Simple Twist of Fate," in which Jerry illustrates all the pain and sorrow of Dylan's lyric with some of his most emotional soloing (arguably on this tour, of his career). One of my favorite moments comes at the start of the second set when the band breaks out an aching "Mission in the Rain" (a song that has grown in poignancy for this writer who has done his fair share of wandering the Mission). A reggae-fied version of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence at the end of the set seals the deal that this show was a classic.
It's sooooo sweet!
Other cool things: it turns out the album has been released as a high definition download! It says "24-bit" on the site where you can order the download... and I've found a site affirming that it seems to be high resolution 88.2 kHz / 24-bit, so this seems like the thing to get if you want the best sound. At some point I will get the download, but right now the CD is keeping me quite happy.
My only real wishes at this time are for a remix of the show into 5.1 surround and (while they are at it, please issue) the whole month's tour as a box set.
That's not to much to ask for, right? ;-)