There was something in the air. Call it nostalgia. Being back at the Warfield, that familiar feeling of dusk on Market Street, waiting to get in to the Theatre. Brought me back, ya know? Oh, if these walls could talk…. This was a sold out show, and it sold out fast. Faster than the big weekend happening down in Santa Clara making it feel like these were the hot tickets. California is home to these bands and the Golden State music fans love having them in their back yard. Getting a double bill was even more exciting, and topping it off was the fact it was a benefit for a foundation near and dear to Jerry’s heart. The line started early, the rail riders showing up for their well earned spots up front. This was a general admission show, the only difference being they had separate tickets for the floor/lower venue and the balcony area, but all prices were the same…. well, except if you went the VIP route and paid a bit more for premium lower balcony seats, early entry and a little pre-show reception. The Warfield is a lovely theatre, a staple in San Francisco for music and theatrical events since first opening in 1922. According to the stats, it can “seat” 2,300 folks, from the open floor (which used to have seats, but were removed in the 80’s to offer more dancing room – thank goodness) to the tippy top of the balcony. According to the Wiki, the Warfield came to new life when Bob Dylan played 14 shows at the start of his first Gospel Tour in November 1979, and again 12 shows in November 1980 during his “A Musical Retrospective Tour”, and the theatre has been rocking out since. The Warfield was also a bit of a home for the Grateful Dead, playing 15 sold-out shows there in 1980 as a celebration of their 15 years together, and as a little show of appreciation for their fans. Consisting of an acoustic set followed by two electric sets, these shows along with the 8 sold-out nights at Radio City Music Hall in NY were recorded for Reckoning and Dead Set. And, we all remember how much Jerry Garcia loved this space, making it his second home, performing a record 88 shows there (the last being on April 23, 1995). And here’s a little nugget for ya; maybe a little ironic or appropriate, the final show at the Warfield under Bill Graham Presents, before the doors closed for renovation and change of ownership, was the last of a 5-night run with Phil Lesh and Friends to celebrate 29 years of Dead. That show on May 18, 2008 featured Jackie Greene on guitar and vocals, Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm) on guitar and vocals, Steve Molitz (Particle) on keys and John Molo (Bruce Hornsby & the Range) on drums, and ran until 3:30 am in the morning on the 19th. I remember that well…… Bob Weir and Jeff Chimenti show up for the first set, Mark Karan (Ratdog, The Dead) and Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips, Skinny Singers w/Jackie Greene) also showed up, and they dropped a ton of balloons on the happy crowd at the start of the 5th set. Yes, I said 5th. Man, those were the days…..
OK, enough Warfield nostalgia for a moment and back to the show. Here’s another irony, or maybe it’s a full-circle moment as someone in the audience said that night. Taking to the mic, Melvin explains they’d been trying to put together a set list for the night when it hit him. He says, “Actually, it’s very ironic. While we were sitting trying to prepare songs for you tonight, what could we really do…. It came to me that 34 years ago, was my first show here with Jerry Garcia. 34 years ago, June 26th. Right here! How ’bout that!”, a statement that gets a well deserved loud cheer. “So, you know it would seem appropriate, after thinking about it for a long time, that we should recreate that show….” And I thought the crowd couldn’t get any louder! Melvin smiles out at everyone smiling back at him and says, “If I recall, that show went a little something like this….” and they break into, “I’ll Take a Melody”. A song originated by Allen Tousaint but recorded and performed by the Jerry Garcia Band throughout the ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s. It’s got a bit of a reggae feel throughout and surely has many spaces to allow soaring quitar jams and funky hops on the keyboard. Maybe why Jerry loved to play it so much I suppose. Sail along, sail along. Someday he’ll be gone……
Hearing this music again, inside these walls at The Warfield located down where the Mission meets the Tenderloin, on Market Street in San Francisco, brought back vivid memories for me. I was lucky to attend many Jerry Garcia Band shows at this place. Gosh, it seemed like he’d play there every month there for a while (and if you look at Setlist.fm, in the last two years before he passed, he practically did play every month). And if it was sold out, maybe there’d be a guy sitting outside, inconspicuously. You could chat him up and maybe he’d give you a little red ticket and tell you to come back at 4:00 and get in a special line… And you’d get in. I miss those times. The floor inside that place would bounce up and down during songs like, “Midnight Moonlight”, “Harder They Come”, “Tangled Up in Blue” and “How Sweet It Is”, just like they did this night… This special night for the Rex Foundation, an organization near to Jerry and all members of the Grateful Dead’s hearts, who together established the Rex in 1983 and named it after Rex Jackson, a member of the Dead’s roadie crew who later became road manager until he passed in 1976. The Rex Foundation allows the band to be proactive and support work in the arts, sciences and education. Concerts to support the Rex Foundation have been held since 1984, doing what the Dead have always done, connecting and supporting a community through music. According to their website, the Rex Foundation has granted $8.9 million to over 1,200 recipients since 1984. (Wow) Here is their Mission Statement: “The Rex Foundation aims to help secure a healthy environment, promote individuality in the arts, provide support to critical and necessary social services, assist others less fortunate than ourselves, protect the rights of indigenous people and ensure their cultural survival, build a stronger community, and educate children and adults everywhere.” That’s a beautiful thing.
And the music performed that night at The Warfield in continued support of that mission was also a beautiful thing. A beautiful musical thing, in a beautiful theatre, surrounded by quite a bunch of beautiful souls. And it was nice to have John Kadlecik on lead, taking over vocals and guitar from Melvin Seals & JGB’s regular, Dave Ebert. John’s voice and lead guitar styling was perfect that night, in the setting we all shared, feeling and often sounding like the good old days. Melvin’s Hammond B-3 work was on point for songs like, “How Sweet it Is”, taking over high jams and musically lighting up the place. There is something about how he rolls around on those keys, the way the organ responds to him. This goes on throughout the whole night of course, and closes with “Midnight Moonlight” giving off vivid memories of the day, leaving The Warfield and dancing down Market Street at midnight, under the moonlight.
“They Love Each Other”, “Tangled Up in Blue”, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Dear Prudence” all nods to musical greats and influences: Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, the Beatles. Performed in that Jerry Garcia Band way, with a touch of reggae here, a little southern Louisiana vibe there, and covered in a bit of gospel. Music that can be light enough to dance to, rowdy enough to generate a bit of a primal scream from somewhere in the crowd, and deep enough to touch your spirit warmly. The high energy “Tangled Up in Blue” painted a story for the listener of that one-night love that you continue to seek even though your paths may never cross again. John’s guitar was played very deeply at some points in the song, moving up the scale to higher jams between phrases, pushing the song farther out, his voice reaching for and emitting the emotion that would have made Jerry proud. The whole time, there’s Melvin over there, holding his vibe, his corner, playing in the pocket to allow John to open it up. You could see the sweat fly from John’s hair as he threw his head back and pulled everything he could out of that guitar.
“Mississippi Moon” was soulful, warm and incredibly full, if that is how to describe it. It filled the space, it sounded so good, John’s voice breaking with feeling, the sweet harmonies of Shirley Starks and Sharon Rucker…. so perfect. “Oh Corey, I’ll be coming soon. Through the Lousiana Pines to the Mississippi Moon.” And Melvin taking it to the organ, waving and grooving over the keys, giving that big sound he gets out of the warm Hammond B-3. You could see it on his face and feel him feeling it. It was big and the crowd ate it up, giving a huge cheer and bringing a smile to Melvin’s face. Oh that face. Who doesn’t love him? He has such a warm spirit, and seems to really appreciate his fans. No wonder Jerry called him, “Master of the Universe”. And that smile. That big smile that could light up the Universe. This and, “Mission in the Rain” were always the big, warm, soulful ones. These Hunter/Garcia songs, there’s nothing like ’em. A song about a neighborhood in San Fancisco where Hunter grew ripe and tall, and the area around 16th/17th was known for those midnight “belles”, you know, the ladies of the night.(not bells – no bells run at midnight in the Mission) “Someone called my name, you know, I turned around to see. It was midnight in the Mission, but the belles were not for me. Come again. Walking along in the mission in the rain, come again. Walking along in the mission in the rain.” There is some satisfaction…… Come again.
Melvin’s organ work during, “Harder they Come” was just perfect. Swirling and circling up the keyboard, starting on the low end and rolling on up, and doing this after every line that John sang, just perfect. I mentioned earlier, this song brings back vivid memories, seriously tactile memories of being on the floor, back left corner, dancing like mad with the floor bouncing under our feet. I used to stand still for a few seconds and let myself be bounced around by everyone elses vibes. There wahoos and ye-haws, and that spontaneous sing-a-long for the last one, I suppose the crowd made it’s choice. And the response was loud and lasted until they turned the lights on. Melvin said it best at the end,s nothing like it – a sea of… OK, maybe a lake or pond cuz The Warfield is kind of small… a lake of hippies, colorful hippies, dancing and laughing and smiling and just raging. Taking it all in. Fully experiencing the joy that music and comrodery can bring to the soul. Yes! I dunno, could have been my favorite song of that set. It’s a toss up between that and, “Midnight Moonlight” as they both conjur up the same feelings for me. Remembering all of the shouts, exclamations, wah-hoos and ye-haws, and that spontaneous sing-a-long for the last one, I suppose the crowd made it’s choice. And the response was loud and lasted until they turned the lights on. Melvin said it best at the end, “I feel the love!”
And to think, that it wasn’t over yet. We just had just danced through a 1 ½ hour long set and there was more to go. Rumor had it that The Chris Robinson Brotherhood had a 2-hour set planned, meaning the night would end after midnight…. And, just like back in the day, we’d all be walking, or dancing down Market Street in the moonlight, at midnight. Over 3 ½ hours of music beamed off the stage that night.
There was about a 30+ minute break to change out the equipment, take down Melvin Seals & JGB and crank up The CRB. The breather that gave everyone was appreciated – the bathroom and drink lines were long and many yearned for a bit of that cool night air.
Hitting the stage about 10:05 pm or so, The Brotherhood looked ready to continue to rock the house. From the hit of the first beat of “Boppin’ the Blues” to the rip of the last guitar lick in “Got Love if You Want It”, they were on it. There was a sense in the air that this show would be hot and I’m telling ya, it was so hot… This two band bill was sure to melt everyone. I’ve been there before, knowing the place can cook when the band is hot and the crowd lets loose. It was like getting a little dareing and shaking extra red pepper on your already heated dish, just knowing it would make you sweat and yearn for a cool drink. But, you do it anyway, and then hold out until that last firey bite until you quench your thirst, guzzling in the refreshing San Francisco air as the doors of The Warfield opened into the night. But, the heat still lingers, the taste is still there, and it stays with you for days. In a good way.
“Roan County Banjo”, their newest introduction, is one of those easy feeling songs, like “Tulsa Yesterday” or “Beggar’s Moon.” There’s a roll to it, there’s a warmth to the voices, the lyrics paint a picture while Neal’s guitar and Adam’s keys create a sound that might be a toss between southern funk and country ragtime, if you were. There’s a solid thump from Muddy, in full support of Tony’s kit, and Chris is just hanging on the rhythm, making it even more affirmative that you, “Throw it all awaaaayyyyyy. Throw it all awaaaayyyyyyy!” I definitely got some spiritual junk I need to throw away…..
This band wouldn’t be this band if it weren’t for each individual style and the way it all comes together. Like they key work in, “Badlands Here We Come”, together with the slide guitar create a sound that paints a picture for the listener. Even if there were no words, you could still hear the story Chris was telling just by listening to each of them play. I love it when a band can do that. The lead singer is so important in a band, and the way that Chris envelops you, the charisma up on stage draws you in deeper to what they are doing up there. It’s kind of hard to explain. This was one of those shows that may have left me a little overwhelmed. It was the vibe of it all, the music, the fans, the space, the night, what was about to happen at Levi’s Stadium for the Fare Thee Well. It was like we all knew this was going to be THE music weekend in the SF Bay Area and we were ready to take in every drop. There were a few nods to Jerry and the Dead with, “I’m a Hog for You” and the two-fer encore with, “Big River” and “Catfish John”, but for the most part, this was pure CRB doing their thing. We love their thing.
AND, what the….. “I’m a Hog for You” was perfect, was deep, was sticky, funky… it was sticky funky. Oh gosh I love me that harmonica; and Chris can give you real good harmonica. The energy he puts into it, the smoke from the Nag Champa on stage creating images around him for your mind to dicipher. The place goes nuts when he rips into it, taking a solo at the mic and diggin deep before he hands it off to Neal for a funky jam, who then turns it over to Adam. Oh Adam – that way he plays the keys, the sounds he generates, the noises, the atmosphere, the giggles and wiggles, the way it takes him and everyone else over, just gives good joy. Gosh it was so good and funky. Good sticky funky. Yes sir it was.
The two ballads of the night, “Star or Stone” and “100 Days of Rain” were equally as moving but good gosh that guitar solo in “Star or Stone” was insaine. Neal just soared to the heavens, danced amongst the comets, and encouraged the stars to fall down upon us. Not to say “100 Days of Rain” had any less of a solo or gave me fewer goosebumps, as it didn’t. I love both of these songs, but there was something in Neal’s solo and the way Chris sang, that had me at… “Between love and hope and money, there’s loss and pain and honey, so take a spoonful everytime….” And this was one night that Chris seemed more on as well, the way he chose to emphasize lyrics, toss in those Chris-isms here and there, and permit the whole thing to take over his physicality. You could see it in his body and on his face and you could surely hear it in his voice.
The “Meanwhile in the Gods….” is another that let’s Neal loose in the atmosphere. This one was more of a jazzy jam that turned into a speeding ride down the highway, with Chris shredding it behind the rip that Neal was giving to his strings. Pushed it far, very far. Psychedelic and trippy at points, you could feel the music around you, there was a sense in the air, the synthesizer waving around your body as the rest of the band plays it just a litte softer, taking you on a magic carpet ride, somewhere beyond where the Gods and Goddesses live. Smoothly, this rolls into “Tulsa Yesterday”, beginning with that recognizable warm and full lick that announces the start of what’s become of yesterday…. or what will be tomorrow. These life experiences; these musical experiences are what makes us. “Tulsa” was scalable; about midway through, the space opens up and they all take full advantage, pushing each other and letting it all get real big. For about four or five minutes, the elevation of the sound hit the ceiling. I swear, it jostled my brain around, nearly putting a hole in my skull, but in a good way…. I was up in the balcony area for this one, and I actually had to sit down for a second, or I knew the music would floor me. And there it was, that guttural yell I hear often at these CRB shows. One day I’ll meet that dude. But if there was a hole in my skull by way of far reaching guitar, it was quickly mended by the way the song ended. Smoothly, rocking you back and forth; as it begun, so it ended.
The start of “Shore Power” is all Adam, and he gets a big reaction from both the crowd and stage. I look up to see Neal spin around towards Chris, mouth open as if to utter, “Did you just hear that?!?! YES!”, showing that he too was caught up in the lingering vibrations Adam just made. Sometimes he sounds like another guitar, sometimes it might be a xylophone, or a marimba, or…. who knows. He uses his synthesizer to put your head in outer space, floating freely, without gravity, and just listening to the buzz of the milky way. Man, I enjoy that guy. Replaying it alone, getting to retake it all in, I can’t help but giggle with surprise and amazement at this guy, at this song. “From a maze, to a mist to a place like this. From a hole, to a star where ever you are. In a daze, from a haze, in the highest way….” Yep, pretty much describes this tune.
Closing out their 2 hour set, they hit it good and hard with, “Got Love if You Want It”, that old Slim Harpo tune that they do so well, so [insert profanity here] well. From the way Chris sings it, all nasty and raw, to the way that Neal hits the slide, kind of in the same raw way, it just works so well. Deep and dirty blues is what it is, yes. Ah, but with that CRB touch – a little funkiness from Adam, deep pocket hits from Muddy and Tony, and raw guitar and vocals out of Neal and Chris. And, jeeze, ya know, anything that gets Chris to break out the harmonica is alright by me. They know how to pick their covers that’s for sure. Holy cow. Holy wow. Holy wow cow…. And the twofer encore, we get a little treat of what the weekend ahead is about, man; celebration of music and what a long strange trip it all is. “Big River” and “Catfish John,” again, done in that CRB way. “Big River” was somewhere in between the beats of Johnny Cash and the Grateful Dead, with a little more funk than twang, and played with a little more smooth groove than a quick beat. I’d never seen The CRB do this one and was a little thrown by the beginning, not recognizing it at first, until Chris broke into the first verse. Not seen often in their repertoire, but played like they knew it well. Between songs, I see Chris look over to his right and give a signal to go. Adam starts off quietly on the keys, keeping it simple and soft as Chris, Neal and Muddy take to the mic to do kind of an acapella here, but again, with Adam supporting them softly. The harmonies were good – full and warm like they should be. I look over at Muddy, who takes the high notes, and he’s got his eyes closed and head tilted slightly back – enjoying the echo of their voices as they sing, “Mama says don’t go near that river. Don’t be hangin’ around no Catfish John….” Another gooey psychofunk take on a classic tune, with a little touch of sweet gospel and that slow reggae beat to hold it all together. There’s a nice video or two out there online, so you can go see for yourself. I bet you’ll replay it too.
This band this band. Psychedellically driven, groovy, colorful imagry, lyrically connective, spacial, jazzy, each contributing something to the whole of it. It’s that same feel you get with other jambands – there’s a special dance they do on stage, the back and forth, the openness to it, each having their own idea of what steps to take to create the movement of the whole. Bend your ear and you can hear each of their contributions. Everyone playing something, but it all comes together and just works. That’s what makes them a seriously good jamband. And, this is what makes this band something that some of us can’t seem to get enough of. For me, the way I feel when I see this band, dance among the Freaks and take it all in likens to how I felt seeing the Grateful Dead back when Jerry was alive. This might be my first favorite band since, and that’s not something I say lightly. I am and always will be a Deadhead, no matter what. And now, I can say I am and always will be a Freak, a CRBeing, blessed trip taker who doesn’t mind hitting the road to see them hit the stage. It was one of those perfect nights, where JGB fans became CRB fans and vice versa. It was definitely a mixed crowd, some fans attending to see one over the other, but by the end of it all, we all left The Warfield a little more musically and spiritually connected.
Website/tour information for Melvin Seals and JGB: https://www.melvinsealsandjgb.com/tour-dates/
Website/tour information for The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (yo East Coast!): http://chrisrobinsonbrotherhood.com/tour-dates/
“Let It Rock” – a Benefit for The Rex Foundation
June 26, 2015 at
The Warfield, San Francisco
8:05 pm – 12:17 am
Melvin Seals & JGB featuring John Kadlecik Set: I’ll Take A Melody, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), They Love Each Other, Mississippi Moon > Tangled Up In Blue, Mission In The Rain, Harder They Come, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Dear Prudence > Midnight Moonlight
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood Set: Boppin’ The Blues, Roan County Banjo, Badlands Here We Come, I’m A Hog For You, Jump The Turnstile, Star Or Stone, Meanwhile In The Gods…, Tulsa Yesterday, 100 Days Of Rain, Beggars Moon, Shore Power, Got Love If You Want It Encore: Big River, Catfish John