The Grateful Dead’s biographer and one-time publicist Dennis McNally has a deceptively brilliant style of writing, so in his essay accompanying GarciaLive Volume 10, he fully captures both the practical and ineffable virtues of this sublime double-CD set.
This author, historian and music publicist is, at heart, like any music lover who can clearly recall the multiple sensations within arising from the afterglow of a particularly memorable, satisfying concert, so he is careful to touch upon the performance of the chosen songs, the air on stage and in the hall at large and how that very atmosphere distilled the ambiance of the Hawaiian locale within which the venue itself resides.
All that said, however, hearing the two sets of music in their entirety on these two ATO Records CD’s is a unique experience in itself. While the eighteen songs the Jerry Garcia Band offers here belie their common thread from other appearances on previous such releases, the psychic connection between the bandleader and these tropics, site of much healing in the wake of his 1986 coma trauma, figures prominently in a sparkling performance, the consistency of which may be its most admirable attribute.
As sagely noted by the aforementioned essayist, the sense of pure play at work within the JGB is crucial to the titular leader of the Grateful Dead, whose participation in the enterprise of that iconic band at this juncture was grounded in duty. The reggae tunes, “The Harder They Come” and “Stop that Train,” may directly reference that duality (and similar rhythms permeate other arrangements), but, as McNally points out, it’s impossible to discount how the handful of Bob Dylan songs here also resonate on many different levels too.
“Forever Young” may at first sound like Garcia’s benediction to his audience, but he could just as reasonably be speaking to himself in that newfound glow of health mentioned early in the liner notes. Likewise, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” the choice of which may well have its genesis in the author’s recovery period from that famous motorcycle accident, a phase no doubt akin to Jerry’s own in the wake of his brush with mortality.
In the wake of Jerry’s prolonged recovery from that incident, evidence of Jerry’s uplifted state of mind and body at the time of this show resides in his lusty singing throughout GarciaLive Volume 10. The ringing lead guitar on “Like A Road Leading Home” is just the most obvious instance of his pointed musicianship, while one of the three originals here, “Run For The Roses” speaks volumes of its own, despite (or perhaps precisely because of?) a set of borderline prosaic lyrics the likes of which the usually eloquent Robert Hunter usually eschews in favor of more elliptical word choice.
A correspondingly keen eye and ear for simplicity no doubt accounts for Garcia’s aptitude for the writings of William “Smokey” Robinson of the Miracles in the form of “The Way You Do the Things You Do:” it’s a great example of the Motown icon’s poetry Dylan himself so admired. And the brisk pace at which this sextet takes Los Lobos’
“Evangeline” is doubtless a homage, but aspirational in its own way too: there could hardly be a better role model for instrumental solidarity than this band from East L.A.
It also stands to reason the straightforward craftsmanship of the arrangements here would correspond to that of the compositions and the playing. Bassist John Kahn and drummer David Kemper authoritatively navigate the unpredictable beat of Dylan’s “Tough Mama” as much as the two lean into the subliminal rhythm of that man’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” Vocalists Jackie LaBranch and Gloria Jones elevate the latter tune, their presence as integral to the Jerry Garcia Band as that of Melvin Seals: an ideal foil for Garcia as the guitarist, this jolly keyboardist knows instinctively when to prod and when to lay back, when to offer ideas and when to pick up the cues.
A disclaimer on sound quality appears on the back cover of this package, the graphics of which, from subtle psychedelic iconography to a vivid shot of the ocean shore graced by a rainbow, mirror the effect(s) of the music it encloses: readily accessible upon first impression, all the content reveals a greater depth of detail on subsequent perusal.
Still, only the most discerning sets of audiophile ears and equipment might detect blemishes in the sonics Fred Kevorkian mastered from John Cutler’s original recording. In fact, any decidedly assertive approach on that technical front might well be inappropriate: May 20, 1990 Hilo Civic Auditorium represents a bonafide invitation to relax into the (extended) moment from which it’s constituted.