Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
Nicky Hopkins - piano
John Kahn - bass
Ron Tutt - drums
The Grateful Dead had been in retirement from touring for over a year when Jerry Garcia put together a hot little quartet with British piano virtuoso Nicky Hopkins. The group, which also featured Garcia's longtime cohort John Kahn on bass and drummer Ron Tutt, only existed for a few months. They primarily concentrated on material from Garcia's three solo albums, with a smattering of Nicky Hopkins' compositions and interesting covers thrown in for good measure. These two nights were a feast for Deadhead ears, as Kingfish, featuring Bob Weir, and Keith and Donna Godchaux's Band, with Bill Kreutzmann on drums, opened these shows, providing the local Dead fans the opportunity to catch up on five out of the six primary Dead members' recent activities.
This first night at Winterland finds the band concentrating on material from Garcia and Hopkins' solo albums. They kick things off with "Sugaree" before launching into "Catfish John," here revamped with a reggae arrangement, similar to the version on Garcia's Reflections album, which had just been released.
They kick things up a notch with a cover of "That's What Love Will Make You Do." The band starts hitting their stride on this one and Garcia and Hopkins both take numerous impressive solos. A true reggae number comes next, as the band covers Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting In Limbo." The tune drags a bit and Hopkins seems a little out of his element, but it has its moments. This number shows Garcia's increasing interest in Jamaican rhythms, an affection that would continue to grow over the next few years and eventually permeate his playing when the Dead resumed activities the following year.
Nicky Hopkins takes control for "The Lady Sleeps," one of the songs off his rarely-heard and long out of print solo album, The Tin Man Was a Dreamer. A nice workout on "Mystery Train" follows, and once again Garcia and Hopkins trade solos, rocking along for almost 9 minutes.
"I'll Take A Melody," a second song from Garcia's new Reflections LP, is next, and may be the highlight of the show. Here stretched out to almost three times its studio length, the song gains momentum as each band member takes the performance energy up and down with compelling shifts in tempo. The jam features some of Garcia's tastiest playing of the night and reminds us that, during this period, he was both a respectable vocalist as well as a talented interpreter of other people's songs.
Another song from Hopkins' solo album is next: the piano romp "Pig's Boogie." The show ends on a surprisingly introspective note, with "Mission In The Rain," a new Garcia/Hunter song. Garcia usually ended his shows with a rocker, but this exception is the one and only time "Mission" was played as a show closer.
This is an interesting set by an exceptional group of musicians; it's just a warm-up for the second night, however, when they would really cut loose.