Monday, December 23, 2013

The Jerry Garcia Band and Bob Weir And Rob Wasserman: “Fall 1989: The Long Island Sound” (2013) CD Review

In the fall of 1989, I was seventeen. I had just acquired my first vehicle, a 1986 Chevy G10 van with windows all the way around (so plenty of places for stickers), and one of the first places I drove it to was Hartford, Connecticut, to see The Jerry Garcia Band. I had seen the Grateful Dead a couple of times already, but this was my first Jerry Garcia show. And it was fantastic.

I caught two more shows on this tour – the two at Great Woods in Mansfield, Massachusetts (where Clarence Clemons joined the Jerry Garcia Band). What also made this tour special was the opening act of Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman, with Bob on acoustic guitar. Fall 1989: The Long Island Sound, a six-disc set, contains two complete shows, including the opening sets by Bob and Rob. There were no official taper sections at the shows I saw on this tour. Some folks of course were still able to sneak in some recording equipment, and I was able to get tapes of the two Great Woods shows. But I never did get a copy of the Hartford show. So it’s a complete thrill to revisit that great night now, the first time I’ve heard this music since 1989.

Disc One: Bob Weir And Rob Wasserman, 9-5-89

The first disc contains Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman’s set from the Hartford show. After a bit of tuning, they launch into “Festival,” a tune from Bobby & The Midnites. They then go into “Fever.” “Fever” is a song I’ve always loved. I’ve heard so many versions over the years and they were all so great that I thought the song was fool-proof. But then I heard Madonna’s studio version, and realized it was possible to fuck it up. Well, this rendition by Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman is excellent. It’s the perfect set-up for this song: just vocals, acoustic guitar and that great stand-up electric bass.

They do a really sweet, mellow though powerful rendition of “KC Moan.” They follow that with Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” which Bob also sang at Grateful Dead shows. I’ve always loved the way Bob handled this song. The crowd goes a bit nuts when it recognizes “Looks Like Rain,” another tune I’ve always loved. There are some really beautiful moments in this rendition. “I only want to hold you/I don’t want to tie you down/Or fence you in the lines I might have drawn.” It was such a treat to get to see them do this acoustic version.

After that, Bob says they need to take a moment to tune up. Like every other Grateful Dead fan, I’m so thankful that the tuning is included on the disc. I remember getting some odd Dead bootlegs, where someone had pressed “Stop” between songs, making the recording feel jumpy and incomplete. Anyway, they go into “The Winners,” with the line “He travels the fastest who travels alone.”

I was never really a fan of “Victim Or The Crime,” as the song has kind of an ugly feel to it. But this acoustic version was definitely the best version I saw performed, and it leads into a cool bass solo by Rob Wasserman. They end the set with a very cool version of “Throwing Stones.” I love hearing Bob repeat “On our own.”

Disc Two: 9-5-89 Set I

The second disc contains the first set by The Jerry Garcia Band in Hartford. They kick it off with “Cats Under The Stars,” and something is horribly wrong with the sound of Jerry’s vocals at first. Apparently that was the way it was at the show, but I don’t recall. Anyway, the sound problem is soon fixed (though to my ear it still doesn’t sound quite right when Jerry gets loud).

The band then goes into “They Love Each Other,” a crowd favorite, and one that features some nice stuff on keys by Melvin Seals. They follow it with a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting For A Miracle” and “Run For The Roses.” Things start to get really good with a gorgeous rendition of “Like A Road.” Jerry’s wonderful lead section is followed by a lead by Melvin Seals to match it. And I love the backing vocals of Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch.

The first set is rounded out with a fun “My Sisters And Brothers” and a nice, long “Deal.” The jam during “Deal” is absolutely fantastic, with a tremendous energy that just doesn’t let up.

Disc Three: 9-5-89 Set II

The second set starts with Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” (that is, after a bit of tuning, which is given its own track). I remember dancing joyfully to this tune at the show, and now listening to this CD, I find myself dancing around my apartment. There is a really groovy, happy-sounding jam, and they stretch it out, which is great.

They follow that with “Mission In The Rain,” which has always been one of my favorite Jerry Garcia Band songs, with excellent lyrics by Robert Hunter. And this is a really good rendition. The version of “Forever Young” at this show is also just fantastic, with Jerry giving a moving and heartfelt performance both on vocals and guitar.

Things turn more toward rock and roll with a cool cover of Los Lobos’ “Evangeline,” before getting a bit mellow again with “Gomorrah.” The band then goes into the always-fun “Don’t Let Go.” I love the vocal jam around the five-minute mark, with Jerry approaching the song in a similar vein to the way he’d do “He’s Gone.” And then they go off from there, exploring some interesting territory in the show’s longest jam. It gets a little chaotic at the end, and then goes right into “Lonesome And A Long Way From Home,” the night’s biggest surprise.

Disc Four: Bob Weir And Rob Wasserman, 9-6-89

Bob Weir And Rob Wasserman kick off the Nassau Coliseum show with “Walking Blues,” a song Bob Weir also did with the Grateful Dead. They follow that with “City Girls,” a tune with a cool groove (the lyrics aren’t all that great) that naturally flows into “Fever.” I love the playful repetition of the line, “All through the night,” and Rob Wasserman does some great stuff on bass in this version.

They then go into the pretty “Blackbird,” the audience clearly excited at the first few notes of the song. That tune leads directly to Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a song I was always happy to hear Bob do at Dead shows. And this is a really good version, particularly the power and emotion in Bob’s voice. “Someday everything’s gonna be different/When I paint my masterpiece.”

A nice version of “Shade Of Grey” (originally from Weir’s Heaven Help The Fool) leads directly into “The Winners” which in turn goes into “Easy To Slip” (a Little Feat cover that was also included on Heaven Help The Fool). There’s good jam toward the end of “Easy To Slip,” and that song is followed by a bass solo by Rob Wasserman. They then wrap up the set with “Heaven Help The Fool.”

Disc Five: 9-6-89 Set I

The Jerry Garcia Band kicks off the first set as Nassau with an absolutely wonderful rendition of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” What a great start to the show (and with no sound issues). And it’s followed by a good “Stop That Train” and a very cool “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” complete with a fun, joyous jam. And listen to Jerry belt out those lyrics. “No matter how hard I fight it, baby, I’m still in love with you.”

Jerry then slows things down a bit with a sweet “Mississippi Moon.” Things then get hopping again with “I Second That Emotion.” There is so much joy in the band’s playing, that you can’t help but be moved.

They follow that with Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me,” then wrap up the first set with “Deal.” Interestingly, “Deal” is the only Hunter/Garcia composition of the night (there were six at the Hartford show).

Disc Six: 9-6-89 Set II

As at the Hartford show, the second set opens with “The Harder They Come.” This time it’s followed by an excellent rendition of “Dear Prudence.” Jerry’s guitar spins all kinds of magic in this one. The band then does the always-stirring “I Shall Be Released.”

Things then pick up with a long version of the Chuck Berry tune “Let It Rock” and the Los Lobos number “Evangeline.” But for me the highlight of this set is “That Lucky Old Sun.” This rendition is gorgeous. Check out those incredible backing vocals. And Melvin Seals provides some phenomenal work on the keys. (By the way, the sun and moon stickers were the first two Grateful Dead stickers I put on my van, one on either side.)

The Jerry Garcia Band then ends the set with a great, fun version of “Tangled Up In Blue.”

Fall 1989: The Long Island Sound was released on December 17, 2013.

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