Jerry Garcia Band: GarciaLive: Volume 17 Norcal ‘76
Talk about peaking. Even though the 17th installment of the GarciaLive series breaks a bit from most of the others in the terrific ongoing chain of archival sets- as it is a compilation of cuts from several shows rather than a singular, complete performance- its chosen tracks and sequencing approximate well a Jerry Garcia Band ’76 concert. And with the standout version of “Mighty High” closing the three-disc volume, it is one not to be missed.
During that Bicentennial year, Garcia was moving between circles of the Grateful Dead- in a limited year of touring- and his own JGB. Not to mention releasing an underrated nugget of an album, Reflections, featuring the Dead on half and his session band on the remainder. The record would include songs that became regulars on setlists for both entities- “Might As Well,” “Mission In The Rain,” “They Love Each Other,” to name three.
That fall, when the Garcia Band undertook a run of appearances in Northern California including several university dates, it was a time, as the album’s title suggested, of reflection; not looking back, but more a mirror image of where Garcia was at in the moment. Sharing an obvious kinship with Keith Godchaux (keyboards) and his wife, Donna Jean (vocals), who doubled in those roles with the Dead, as well as a growing bond with bassist John Kahn and drummer Ron Tutt, Garcia’s singing and playing sparkle with unconcerned liberation.
The opening pairing of “Sugaree” and “They Love Each Other” is top-shelf stuff; sounding as much like his other band as ever. Garcia, as well, touches upon some contemporaries for covers, exposing reggae to his faithful through Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up,” and the backroad swing of J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” while friskily bopping on his Reflections cut, “I’ll Take A Melody.” Still, it’s the “Mighty High” finale, from an unknown show date, that sits atop the mountain, surging with an inspired tempo, group chemistry, and fiery flurries from Godchaux and Garcia that never lack for incandescent ideas.
With a determined freedom, this is the Jerry Garcia Band emblazing the Norcal scene with its spirit of ’76.