Anyone who likes Garcia probably likes any of these JGAB releases. I enjoy them all, but have paid almost no attention to any of the shows themselves, since they’re mostly so-so auds and, as far as I can tell, basically interchangeable. The electric sets have never appealed much to me, either. Garcia was climbing towards his late-era pinnacle, but while a lot of ’87 Dead has that extra “Jerry’s back!” edge, 87 JGB always feels more workmanlike, “more competent than interesting” (per jgmf). To be fair, though, he was juggling two completely different bands on the same night, a feat he hadn't seriously attempted since 1970 (plus, y'know, there was that whole coma thing).
Outside of the official releases, there’s not much sbd tape of this group, so this show stands out for that reason. The sbd recording is gorgeous, well balanced and rich (thank you, GEMS folks), but there’s also an excellent audience recording as well (thank you, Mike French), and for the electric set, I’d almost recommend it more. Take yer pick. But the music warrants the up-close attention that is afforded by the great recordings. The acoustic set is as tasty and sweet as any others, but not particularly remarkable save for a guest appearance by dobro player LeRoy Mack, who went way back with some of these fellas — he was in the Kentucky Colonels in the early 60’s with Garcia’s idols Scotty Stoneman and Clarence White. The electric set, however, seems like a cut above for this period, with Garcia in crushing form for the first few tunes, every note exactly in its right place and a little extra heft to everything. Cats is great, then he nails I Shall be Released, belts out a really fantastic Mission in the Rain, and leans hard into a wonderful Like a Road. I'm in heaven here. What a great four-song run! The music is pulled back into orbit and with a merely very good Harder They Come and Stoned Me, but he winds up once again with a big ol’ satisfying Deal and sends ‘em home with a quickie Evangeline encore (the norm for these acoustic/electric shows).
Not a life changing JGB show, but a very nice surprise and a fantastic listen, whichever way your pleasure tends. It’s one of those shows that sounds great from a distance, sounds great up close, and sounds great down between the cracks: the little well-timed smears of guitar feedback, the responsive subtleties of Kemper's drumming, the audible whoops and handclaps from Gloria and Jaclyn, and so on. Here’s one nice little detail for jgmf’s file on Garcia’s engagement with his audience — After the gospel weeper “Gone Home,” Garcia tells Mack that he sounds great, he steps back to futz around for a sec, then there’s a swell of applause and someone (Nelson?) chuckles, “well, that’s what they’re waiting for” (Garcia, one would think). Someone down front hollers “we love you, Jerry!” and Jerry replies with a rare quick “thank you” before they tear off into the next tune.