The smell of patchouli oil filled the air as dreadlocked, middle-aged folks wore their patchwork pants while sipping on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The vibe was set for a grateful night, as Melvin Seals and JGB were set to play Putnam Den on Sunday, March 2nd.
Opening the night from Hartford, Connecticut were the Balkun Brothers. Their unique style of powerful blues, fronted by lead guitarist Steve Balkun, mixed sounds of Joe Satriani and Jimi Hendrix, an ability shown by few guitarists today. The shredding that came from every song left the crowd wanting more, and more is what they got. Showing their diversity the band also delved into a few funky songs, further proving they weren’t a one trick pony. This was even more evident in their closing number, “Fire”, by the aforementioned Jimi Hendrix, leaving the crowd in good spirits and ready for Melvin Seals and JGB.
When Melvin and crew took the stage, everyone, including the band, was more than ready to get things rolling. They opened with the Rolling Stones classic, “Lets Spend the Night Together.” Dave Herbert’s guitar emulated the sweet harp-like harmony of Jerry Garcia perfectly. Herbert’s high pitched, fast-paced playing was a new twist that brought his unique style to JGB. The backing vocals of Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker were in perfect harmony with Herbert throughout the night. This rang true on the Van Morrison classic “Crazy Love,” serving as a perfect addition to an already flawless song. At this point, it seemed as if the man of the hour, Melvin Seals, was holding back; that all changed on “Get Out My Life.” Seals took the first solo and he meant business. The whining from his organ sent the crowd into a frenzy, dancing harder than they had all night. Everyone was ecstatic, but no one more than Melvin, as he sat up on the stage smiling and laughing along with everyone. The key to the whole band was the patience and steadiness of bassist John-Paul McLean and drummer Pete Lavezzoli; these two always held the jams together even when the music seemed to be heading nowhere at times; this was pure brilliance. The rest of the night followed suit as the band went through JGB favorites, “Run for the Roses,” “Cats Found Under Stars,” and “Ain’t no Bread in the Breadbox,” all played note for note and as brilliant as the originals.
This group has dedicated their careers to honing in the JGB sound and they do not disappoint. Although Jerry may be gone, his memory and music will live as long as Melvin Seals and JGB are playing shows like this!