|Rick Griffin's proposed but unused LOM logo; courtesy WorthPoint|
JGMF recently revisited the 5/21-22/75 Keystone tapes, which I had earmarked as some of the best Legion of Mary shows. But, like him, a cursory relisten left me a little underwhelmed, in spite of the fantastic quality of the recordings. So I dug into another old favorite, 5/15/75 at the Great American Music Hall, and was happy to hear that it still held up as a contender for some of the best of LOM. The aud tape isn't as special as those Keystone recordings, but it's still a very solid pull by Bob Menke and Louis Falanga, "upfront but not onstage." The sound is muddier, but also features the full band in a more natural balance, with Kahn's bass cutting through quite nicely in particular.
Garcia seems a little more fired up than usual. I have had the sense while listening to 74-75 era Garcia/Saunders/LOM that Garcia occasionally sounds like he was -- well, I don't want to say along for the ride, but perhaps not quite as committed as Fierro or Saunders. But that is not the case tonight. When I Die and Every Word You Say are strong but unremarkable warm-up numbers, and the first song that really finds a groove is I Feel Like Dynamite. Even though Garcia seems to fudge the bridge more often than not, and there's a bit of trainwreck at the end, the energy during his solo (nice climax!) is sizzlin' and the groove is undeniable. This Wicked Messenger is a rightfully well-known version and is off the charts: this sounds like it was a beast to sing, but the slowed-down arrangement with that monstrous never-ending riff lets Garcia get really down 'n dirty, and his relentless playing here is as nasty as it gets. Day By Day, from the musical/movie Godspell (and a charting single in 1972) is quite a change in mood; this must be from the Aunt Monk songbook, and Garcia doesn't sound super confident on it (this is the first of three known LOM performances). It's got a vibe, but to be honest, I am not sorry they didn't develop this one much further. But it's back to the bakery for a killer Mystery Train, with Tutt effortlessly nailing down the groove and everyone else in fine style -- they bring the dynamics way down for Garcia's last solo chorus, which is a nice touch.
The second set delivers the goods from top to bottom. I'll Take a Melody is as good as any of these early versions, and You Can Leave Your Hat On cooks up a voodoo soul stew of the highest order; Saunders and Kahn are stirring up something outrageous under Garcia's solo. I love this one! Freddie Hubbard's Little Sunflower gets its first of six known LOM airings (it's also on the Aunt Monk w/Garcia 5/9/75 show as well) and Garcia soars on this one, sounding way more on top of things, and gobbles up his two solos. Neighbor Neighbor is pumping, and Boogie on Reggae Woman ends the set with Saunders and Fierro showing some signs of a long night's work -- but not Garcia, who still sounds rarin' to go.
So: a top-notch Legion of Mary show. Melody and Wicked Messenger were released on the patchwork Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 1: Legion of Mary set, but the whole show (or 5 reels of it anyway) were part of the "third batch" of Bettyboards returned to the vaults, and I would humbly submit this one to the powers-that-be as a good candidate for a full release.
Interesting side note: after this show (a Thursday) the band spent an unusual out-of-town weekend in St. Louis, MO (Friday) and Austin, TX (Saturday-Sunday)... of which no tapes are known to exist.