The Grateful Dead had been in retirement from touring for over a year when Jerry Garcia put together a hot little quartet with British piano virtuoso Nicky Hopkins, who played with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and plenty of others. This first iteration of the Jerry Garcia Band, which also featured Garcia’s longtime cohort John Kahn on bass and drummer Ron Tutt, only existed for a few months and would prove to be a brief opening chapter for Garcia’s live solo career.
The quartet primarily concentrated on material from Garcia’s three solo albums, with a smattering of Hopkins’s compositions and interesting covers thrown in for good measure. These two nights were a feast for Deadhead ears, as Kingfish (featuring Bob Weir) and Keith and Donna Godchaux’s Band, with Bill Kreutzmann on drums, opened these shows, providing local fans the opportunity to catch up on five out of the six primary Dead members’ recent activities.
While the first night was a rather relaxed affair, this second night found the group playing with a considerably higher level of intensity. Appropriately enough, they kicked it off with Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock.” Right off the bat, the band was inspired to jam, and Garcia and Hopkins traded solos and improvised around each other for a remarkable 14-minute take on the song.
Next came “They Love Each Other,” a song from Garcia’s new album Reflections, with an arrangement that showed Garcia’s growing interest in reggae music.
Up next was a cover of Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby.” It was recorded in an up-tempo, bouncy arrangement for Garcia’s second solo album, accompanied by the Great American String Band featuring mandolin master David Grisman. Here the band offered a radically slower arrangement.
The band picked it back up for Hank Ballard’s “Tore Up Over You,” a solid, rocking performance with the group obviously enjoying themselves. Garcia took numerous hot solos and Hopkins was in his element pounding out barrelhouse piano throughout. It was one of the unquestionable highlights of the night.
With the upcoming holidays on their minds, the group doodled around on a humorous instrumental “Jingle Bells,” then made way Hopkins’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Birmingham.”
An enjoyable rendition of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” came next, followed by a rocking “Money Honey,” performed much like the version on Ry Cooder’s classic 1972 album Into the Purple Valley. It inspired some excellent, rollicking jamming that lasted almost 15 minutes.
At the end of the night, the band really cut loose. Beginning with a loose jam on The Rolling Stones’ “Lets Spend the Night Together,” they veer off into space and out of the haze. Hopkins kicks into his signature instrumental, “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder,” a song he had originally recorded during his tenure with Quicksilver Messenger Service. This was Hopkins at his frenetic and intricate best. The slower middle section features some respectable slide work from Garcia and the reprise showcases everyone jamming at full capacity. A remarkable ending to one of the few shows this particular ensemble ever played.