There have been numerous tributes to the late Jerry Garcia since his death in 1995, but none such as an accurate reflection of the man’s own uniquely Zen approach to life and art. If the tongue-in-cheek opening interval is slightly disconcerting-showing actor Luke Wilson asking directions to the site of the filming at Bob Weir’s own TRI Studios of Sammy Hagar (not identified on screen or in the film credits)-it’s a theme reaffirmed during an interview with Bob Weir.The Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist/composer refers to the humor as the glue that kept the band together for thirty years, a virtue represented most fully by the titular leader himself.
The film’s alternating shots between performance footage and snippets of conversation can be dis-concerning early on, even with the various personages including Ken Kesey’s daughter, Sunshine, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia. Phish bassist Mike Gordon notes, the musicianship itself is tasteful in direct proportion to the lengthy roster of players, of which include Phil Lesh, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and drummer Joe Russo as well as Gordon, Laurel Canyon avatar Jonathan Wilson and Tom Petty/Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell. Extremely conspicuous in his absence, particularly during a shimmering rendition of “Eyes of the World,” led by a songwriter of some distinction himself, Jim Lauderdale, is Jerry Garcia’s longtime collaborating composer, Robert Hunter.
Most notably on “He’s Gone,” egos are subservient to the music: Weir & Gordon share lead vocals and harmonize ever-so-tunefully with Donna Jean Godchaux. Godchaux exercises remarkable restraint throughout her entire appearance, although she misses the acerbic tone of the words to “New Speedway Boogie.” The pristine video clarity is most obvious on performances that thrive on dynamics within which the audio accuracy benefits the performances as well. “Terrapin Station” surges to a climax that evokes spontaneous applause from the audience, while the astute choice of a Hunter/Garcia tune. “Days Between,” finds Weir hitting the vocal notes gently but authoritatively before the band slips into an abbreviate jam by way of seguing neatly into “Franklin’s Tower.” At the point the band emphatically concludes “US Blues,” following the roll of the credits, Move Me Brightly leaves the rare impression that it’s made its statement succinctly and efficiently.
Similarly, the disc menu allows for selection of only the songs themselves, sans conversation, bonus performances in addition to the main content. The DVD option offers insight into the concept and execution of the tribute, particularly in viewing comments of the players as they rehearse and reflect upon the material. Move Me Brightly becomes as much homage to the legacy of the Grateful Dead as the man around whom coalesced the group and, by extension, a community. References to Garcia’s love for the city of San Francisco, followed by a delicate performance of “Mission in the Rain,” further the impression of this documentary as the latest evidence of the means by which the group always aimed to directly connect with its audience.