Whenever I listen to Jerry Garcia play guitar, I wonder why I listen to anyone else play guitar, because nobody plays guitar as well as Jerry Garcia. This feeling swiftly rushed back into my bones as I heard Jerry and his namesake band put Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” through a contortionist’s gamut on their new Volume 10 double disc, which captures a crisp, stunning performance at a glorified high school gymnasium in Hilo, Hawaii, in 1990.
Imagine playing guitar as well as Jerry Garcia, then imagine slipping into a prolonged coma and forgetting it all, and then imagine having to learn how to play guitar like Jerry Garcia again. That’s what Garcia had to do after knocking on heaven’s door in 1986, and this collection provides crystal clear evidence that he got all the way back with awe-inspiring efficiency.
“The Love Each Other” is a tender confection, followed by a spry rendition of “Tough Mama,” one of five Dylan songs out of 18 featured. The finisher, “Tangled Up in Blue,” is so bouncy that you’ll find yourself doing spontaneous kegels, because to stop short of moving every part of your body would be doing the tune a disservice. If Garcia were still alive, he could open a line of gymnasiums with no equipment save for water bongs and a kickass sound system. Everybody dance now – you sure as hell will if you avail yourself of this album.
My only knock on the Jerry Band — here featuring Melvin Seals, John Kahn, David Kemper, Gloria Jones, and Jacklyn LaBranch — is that their repertoire can be a little predictable and formulaic. (Oddly, this is the antithesis of what anyone would say about The Grateful Dead.) The JGB chooses solid, simple songs, lays down a masterful groove and then gives Jerry whatever acreage he needs to run around on. But when that formula works, as it does here, it’s positively exhilarating. The only downside is there aren’t any Weir songs, so if you have to pee, you’ll have to hold it.