Monday, May 30, 2016

Garcia & Saunders, 11/14/74 Boston

Happy Memorial Day!  It’s always a good day for some Garcia/Saunders, but the vibe feels especially right today.  So: our heroes check in on the last night of a 3-day stretch at the small Paul’s Mall club in Boston.  I asked a friend who had lived there in the 70’s what the place was like and the first thing he said was, “it had really low ceilings.”  Photos show that, indeed, the ceilings were pretty low.  Here’s the best pic I can find of the stage (from a great Jimmy McGriff/Groove Holmes record):
The Paul's Mall stage.  Watch your head!
courtesy Music Museum of New England
The Jazz Workshop, from what I understand, was essentially the same club, a different room right next door and under the same management.  I remember reading somewhere that Miles Davis always opted to play on the Paul’s Mall side rather than the Jazz Workshop in the 1970’s.  I also appreciate that saxophonist Joe Farrell (formerly of Return to Forever) was playing opposite G&S that week — nice! 
courtesy JGMF

From the sounds of this early show, Garcia & Saunders may have been better off playing next door, too.  The set is unusually heavy on their jazz material: four instrumentals (five if you count the People Make the World Go Round coda) and one Merl tune, plus two Jerry rockers.  The band comes flying out of the gate: Favela is played a little faster than usual, and Let it Rock blows by nearly too fast for Jerry to sing.  There’s a woman near the taper who calls it and seems super-psyched to hear it, though.  Then they ease back into a thick, swampy groove for Merl’s Problems and the show starts really clicking.  This is the kind of stuff that Paul Humphrey did the best with them: Kahn locks in, and everyone else takes their shoes off and gets soulful.  Yes yes yes.  They choogle through Mystery Train, with a mystery female singer adding a little bit to the end: it sounds like someone from the crowd, and they wrap it up pretty quickly after she gets her 15 seconds.  My Funny Valentine is a relatively succinct 14 minute version and sounds excellent (sax-haters be warned, though, that Martin gets a little squonky here) with a small space-out > PMTWGR tacked on the end that's always lovely.  The Meters’ great Just Kissed My Baby is a tune that G&S never seemed to quite get on top of (why didn’t Merl sing the lyrics? it would have been ideal for his voice), but this one simmers over a low flame and I’m loving Martin’s stanky electric effects.  Valdez in the Country sounds about as good as it got, everyone cruising along in the groove, and Garcia sounds dialed in here with a particularly tasty solo.  He could sometimes take a back seat to Saunders and Fierro on the jazz material, but tonight he sounds right on top of it.  A great set, and a very good aud recording by Jimmy Warburton is out there for your listening pleasure — a little muffled, but pretty ideal under the circumstances and nothing you won’t get used to.

The late show is less jazz-heavy with more emphasis on the rock/R&B side of the band.  This recording (from a different master) is also rougher on the ears, another reason why I tend to favor the early show.  They’re playing just as well, but the material is a bit more standard: the one extended “jazz” piece is Wonderin’ Why, great and expansive as always.  Garcia’s more staple vocal tunes (That’s a Touch, Mystery Train, How Sweet It Is, Second That Emotion) are all well done, but not quite where my head is right now.  They wrap it up with Favela again, again taken at the same breakneck tempo as earlier and played just as well.  Not as necessary as the early show, overall, but another fine document of a fine band.

Ultimately, I think this group's most representative recording is the excellent 11/28/74 Bettyboard, though 11/27 and 10/31/74 are also favorites.  I agree with JGMF that this 11/14 early show may be the best set of their east coast tour, and 11/16 is also an excellent performance as well.

JGMF has some written some notes about the night before, 11/13:
http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2012/12/ln-jg1974-11-13jgmslateaud.html

and lightintoashes has posted some contemporary reviews:
http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/12/november-12-1974-garcia-plays-boston.html

1 comment:

  1. There is an alternate aud of the early show now circulating, and man do I still love this show. It ain't perfect, but I think you are right that having PH on board and playing next to the Jazz Workshop has them doing some extra special selections this night.

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