Melvin Seals and JGB (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Saturday night, San Francisco’s music fans were presented with some of the most difficult choices: too many shows, and too little time. On top of all things Noise Pop, legendary hometown hero Melvin Seals hosted a night to remember at The Warfield, inviting original members to collaborate with the new faces of the Dead’s legacy.
Melvin Seals, the Hammond organ virtuoso best known for his extensive work with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, bridged the past and the present on Saturday night; his own take on the legacy of the Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) welcomed original backup singers Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch to the mix, along with bassist Oteil Burbrudge (The Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company) and Stu Allen (Mars Hotel) making his first appearance at The Warfield.
The David Nelson Band was originally slated to kick off the evening proper, but according to a social media announcement, the New Riders of The Purple Sage founder has been diagnosed with cancer and opted to focus on treatment. The band still made it, with Peter Rowan stepping in to fill the gap.
In addition to Rowan, singer/songwriter Katie Skene also held down the front of the stage, backed by Barry Sless, Pete Sears, Mookie Siegel and John Molo, for a nine-song, hour-long opening set that warmed the crowd and filled the famed room with love.
By quarter to 10PM, the stage had been set for Melvin Seals and JGB and they kicked off the first set with a welcoming cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” followed by the “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff. The first set lasted just over an hour and was comprised entirely of covers that Garcia would often play, or songs that were popular and on the radio when the original band was at full strength. Other songs included Norton Buffalo’s high-energy tune “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox,” “What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke and J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight.” Check out the same Cooke cover below.
For the first set, Seals kept the gimmicks light and the stage hosted the usual suspects found with today’s JGB lineup: backup singers Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks, drummer Pete Lavezzoli, bassist John-Paul McLean and guitarist Zach Nugent.
The second set saw the original JGB singers Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch take the stage in place of Rucker and Starks, as well as Burbridge and Allen replacing McLean and Nugent. The set opened with Marvin Gaye’s classic “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” followed immediately by a Jerry Garcia Band original, “Cats Under The Stars.”
Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” was juxtaposed with Los Lobos’ “Evangeline” and The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” The set ended just after midnight with with another Garcia tune, “Run For The Roses,” and a take on the Van Morrison hit “And It Stoned Me”.
For the encore, Seals welcomed everyone back on stage for a final Garcia original, “Deal,” one of the late guitarist's greatest musical and lyrical contributions in this writer’s opinion. Check it out below:
The entire evening was full of magic, laughter and a heavier than usual cloud of cannabis inside the venue. In all honesty, it felt like a giant family reunion. The space was crowded, but the friendliness and patience of the patrons were almost unbelievable.
If you have ever felt an interest in the Grateful Dead, one of the best things you can do is to catch a Melvin Seals and JGB performance, although, going forward, it will be difficult to top the energy, the passion and the careful study of the band's second set on Saturday night.