Me and my uncle went riding down to see Melvin Seals and JGB in Charlottesville, Virginia. (I have always wanted to use those lines.) This would be the first show with my Uncle Aaron, who has been a Grateful Dead fan for decades and attended numerous concerts in the 1980’s-90’s during their resurgence into popular culture, but his love for JGB is actually what I remember most. I specifically recall sitting in his old car, popping in a cassette, JGB live and he would tell me, "Melvin Seals organ riffs are what make this band, Jerry is great but Melvin… " he spoke with pure elation and I never forgot that moment or the look on his face, the sparkle in his eyes; he had that same look that night at JGB. My uncle's love for JGB and the Grateful Dead is one of the many reasons I have chosen this musical path. Music is in my blood, it is in the spirit of my family. My uncle, of course has incredible stories from the 80s Dead lot which seem like urban legends but you know they are just crazy enough to be true. When I saw the JGB was playing close by, I jumped at the chance to go with my uncle and see Melvin tickle the keys.
The easy trip over the mountain would set precedent to the entire evening's occurrences. The band didn't leave us waiting for long and after Snowmaggedan 2017 flopped, here in Virginia, it was great that the show wasn't canceled and we all had a place to boogie down. The crowd was calm and collected. It was an smooth concert experience from the very beginning and that's just what my uncle needed to get him back into the game. We found great seating up front and the band began with a joyful, "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You" which gave the crowd even more positive energy and reinforced the easy-going feeling of the night. My uncle was quiet at first, taking it all in. He commented on the lead guitarist’s Jerry looks like guitar, which I confirmed was a “Tiger” replica. I went down front to get a closer look at Melvin and his band. Melvin was decked out in a full red Velour jumpsuit, he looked absolutely magnificent. I couldn't stop thinking about Melvins B3 Hammond and the thousands of miles it had traveled. It looked old and worn and was likely much older than me or many in the audience. It's has a history all its own, and with Melvin manning this mammoth, it is a force to be reckoned with and the only thing smoother than the riffs coming out of that B3, was the crushed velour track suit Melvin was wearing.The only band member who seemed to keep up with Melvin was the guitarist. When he would solo my uncles eyebrows would raise and I could see he was impressed, which in turn impressed me. Finally, he looked over at me and asked, "who the hell is this guy?" I whipped out my phone and furiously searched the internet for the guitarist's name but could never find it until after the show, when I met him in person. Zach Nugent takes the brunt end of the work with JGB, at this point the guy is JGB; singing and playing like Jerry, reminiscent of the early 80s period. Zach carries this band on his shoulders, taking over for Dave Hebert. who is undergoing rehabilitation for having “too much, too fast.” While Melvin is a phenomenal player, he does exactly what he is supposed to do as a keyboardist, stay in the back and crush solos.
They played a reggae filled “Stir It Up.” Melvin making his keys sound like a Marimba, modulating as they continued on. It was a beautiful thing to witness as a musician and they had it worked out very well. My uncle seemed to really enjoy the slowed-down "Catfish John." It was rooted in gospel and it would mark the first time I had even paid attention to the female vocalist on stage.They added great vocals on “If I Had The World To Give” but Zach still sang with such passion and conviction, that I felt transported into the presence of Jerry himself. This band is very together musically and have taken a lot of time and effort to get this music just right. The band did a great cover of “Evangeline” and by that time my uncle was commenting of the crowd waving back and forth, having flashbacks from his younger days.
My uncle raised his fist high into the air and proclaimed, "I want to tour with Melvin Seals!" The band did some improvisation and jammed out, with Zach leading the way; wrangling the band together and bringing them right back in sync. Great transitional work from song>jam and then back again.
I would have to compare JGB to DSO in that they push the envelope of what this music is capable of, while still enhancing and keeping the tradition of JGB/GD/Jerry alive. The Jerry associated members are just icing on the cake.
The band took a short, 15 minute set break, which is almost unheard of but very welcomed. Coming straight in with “Second That Emotion” a JGB staple. Next a “Stoned Me” that really got me in the feels; heart and soul.
Which lead into a transcendent “Here Comes The Sun” that came from blazing Jerry licks by Zac. This song seemed to capture the true Jerry Garcia sound and even encapsulated Grateful Dead vibes within it. Hearing these songs that night reinforced my thoughts on the importance of 1950s rock and roll music to Grateful Dead jams; the use of these early sounds are inherent in the Dead's complete great American Jams. The whole venue belted out “Promised land” at the top of their lungs. “After Midnight” was superb, a stand out solo by Melvin, showing exactly why Jerry called him "the Master of the universe." I felt as though they could have taken the improvisation much further but they still got introspective and dissonant incorporating, “Eleanor Rigby” into the jam.
This was easily one of my favorite concerts of the year so far. Sometimes it's not always about face melting, mind blowing music, sometimes what's important how easy things can be. This was hassle free ,goods times with my family and just one of many concerts me and my uncle will be going to see together. I am extremely impressed with Melvin but even more so with Zach Nugent, who is welcomed to the Jam world with loving arms, as long as he keeps shredding that guitar.
The Spirit of Jerry is Still Alive,
JBP on JGB
WARNING: The views and opinions expressed on this site may not be in conjecture with your own. Be Advised
Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.