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Saturday, October 31

Keepers of the Flame: Review - Melvin Seals & JGB, Brooklyn Bowl, 10/23/2015

Walking into Brooklyn Bowl on Friday night, one was struck with a mellow mood. Tip-top tunes from the opening act filled the intimate venue, and the multitudes milled about imbibing in choice brews, gobbling up good food, and mingling with positive people. The New York based Turbine is an exceptional jam band, and those that showed up early received a surprise treat as they laid down lick after lick loosening up the crowd for the night to come. As the main event approached, fresh folks filed into Peter Shapiro's flagship venue. Part bowling alley, part concert hall with a bar and grill, Brooklyn Bowl has the makings of an adult playground, perfectly conducive to communal carousing. As the venue never reached critical capacity this night, there was copious dancing space for the crowd to let loose, and once the melodies started flowing, the audience took every opportunity to spread their wings and fly.

Opening the night with a high energy "How Sweet It Is", the band quickly set the mood they would maintain for the duration, as this show was consistently tasty through on through. Melvin and company are masters at executing tight knit sets, and this was no exception as the ensemble sailed smoothly from Cats Under the Stars into a transcendent "They Love Each Other". At this point an audience member remarked that if one could figure out a way to bottle and distribute what JGB pushes, it'd be the answer to all the world's ills. As time seemed to dematerialize and everyone was squarely in the moment, the band pushed onward, wrapping up the first set with back-to-back Bob Dylan covers. On Positively 4th Street and Tangled up in Blue, Dave Herbert successfully channeled the spirit of Jerry Garcia through mammoth guitar riffs and first-class vocals. All throughout the performance, one needn't a time machine to travel back to the days of Jerry. With a closed set of eyes, and a little imagination, it didn't take a stretch to find yourself at a Jerry Garcia Band show of yesteryear.  
The energy was consistent throughout the second set, and a version of "If I Had the World to Give" highlighted the versatility of the players as they continued to hone in on the Grateful Dead catalogue. When walking into a Melvin Seals & JGB show, one may expect to see a glorified cover band, however Melvin and his crew capture the essence of Jerry's music, while attacking it with improvisation, and freshness not often seen from a tribute act. Dave Herbert not only follows in Jerry's tracks via voice, and guitar playing, he adds his own panache in keeping things crisp and unparalleled. Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker bring vivacity and vigor to their vocals, adding depth to the mix. Pete Lavezzoli on drums, and John-Paul McLean on bass keep the pace and act as the glue that bounds the collective together. With Melvin, aptly nicknamed by Jerry "Master of the Universe," at the center, carrying the legacy of Garcia's solo work forward with fast driven, intensely soulful arrangements on the Hammond B-3 organ, and keyboard.
Not forgetting an essential part of the evening’s success, the crowd was an equal part of the whole. While a smoothly intense improvisational experience is a prerequisite of an energetic and spirit driven crowd, a good audience often drives the band as well. This give and take between a group of players and their congregates was so profoundly present for this happening. After a long week of hitting the grind and putting food on the table these cats came to party, and they were met with a band willing to throw down and provide the musical therapy they so sorely needed. For the older heads, this show was a stroll down memory lane, a reunion with familiar mugs and melodies. For the younger, initiated after the Jerry years, this was a chance to tap into what was largely lost before they came of age. Those that have taken in the band before danced and twirled relishing the opportunity to lose themselves in musical meditation.
And a solid handful of folks that showed up to the Brooklyn Bowl on Friday night were not specifically there for the music, rather the bar and social scene. One such person intrigued by what he was hearing ventured into the concert area to inquire about the riveting tunes run amuck. Soon he could be seen frolicking with glee, boogying uninhibited with the best of them. This is what Melvin Seals & JGB does. They travel this nation spreading joy to the learned and newcomers alike. Their performances serve to light up the rooms they play, spurring dance parties at every stop. For this band of brothers and sisters, carrying the spirit of what's gone but not forgotten is their express mission. They take the tradition of Jerry's preeminent side project and bring with them the spirit of Garcia into the present day. So for a guaranteed good time at an all out super soulful psychedelic soiree, take a night to check out Melvin Seals and JGB when they travel to your neck of the woods.
Words: Russell S. Glowatz
Photos: Lori Bockelken

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