This Pure Jerry installment flashes some extra curb appeal thanks to its guest appearance: Bruce Hornsby sitting in all night. Turns out there are a couple of reasons why that’s not quite as excellent as you might think. However, after a first set that bears a few dull spots (not including a comparatively lackluster recording), 11/9/91 as a whole has many moments to save it from the review I thought I was going to write.
Hornsby Hones In
Some of the first set’s problems are related to the Hornsby guest spot. For one thing, he’s not on the grand piano that you usually associate with his Dead appearances (well, except for the all-accordion cameos). He’s playing a digital piano with a few synth patches. It can sound OK, but it can even more easily sound second-rate, to put it kindly, and lame or plinky (“I Second That Emotion”) to put it less kindly.
Lucky for you, he sticks with the piano sound nearly the entire night, adopting a bluesier style for much of the evening. One or two early solos come off less impressive (“C’est La Vie), but when the set makes its way to “My Sisters And Brothers” and “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox”, they hit a couple of tunes that suit his mood and semi-churchlike rolling style quite well. Hornsby and Garcia’s competing runs in the “Breadbox” second half help an already strong performance to close the set on an even higher note and send everyone into the break feeling good.
As for Garcia, he’s singing pretty well and finds his guitar mojo a few songs in, delivering a stop-what-you’re-doing sort of solo in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. Melvin Seals’ subsequent organ excursion kept up the momentum and didn’t freak out quite as much as the same passage on Jerry Garcia Band — giving this track a tiny edge over its plenty good counterpart on Jerry Garcia Band.
When the lights come up for set two, Melvin’s ornamentations are the best part of a somewhat samey, we’re-getting-our-bearings “Bright Side Of The Road. “Waiting For A Miracle” measures up to its JGB predecessor as well, its particular lilt on this night and its well-turned instrumental breaks making up for vocals that are a little quiet in the mix.
The night’s “Don’t Let Go” pursued a less furious intensity in its extended jam and leans on more of a swinging vibe for those gathered inside the Mothership. Probably another preferred take over Jerry Garcia Band.
Elsewhere in the second set, “Think” and “I Shall Be Released” are both simple enough that the potential for boredom is there, but both stay well clear of that territory. “Think” finds more Dead-like ripping in Garcia’s solo. Meanwhile, Hornsby is quite comfortable by now and it shows. Where Kahn’s bass thankfully stepped up to provide most of the interest in the Jerry Garcia Band performance of the Dylan song, here everyone is doing more in the arrangement.
Like “Deal”, another set-closing option, “Midnight Moonlight” always seems like filler. Not that they don’t play it fine; the song just doesn’t do much for me. The guys (and ladies) come back with “What A Wonderful World” for the encore and make the key choice to not play it too slow. Hornsby turns in a fitting solo, and all in all, it’s not only a classic song but an effective, sweet way to end a show.
Jerry Garcia Band
11/9/91 @ Hampton Coliseum
Set 1: how sweet it is / he ain’t give you none / you never can tell (c’est la vie) / run for the roses / the night they drove old dixie down / i second that emotion / my sisters and brothers / ain’t no bread in the breadbox
Set 2: bright side of the road / shining star / waiting for a miracle / think / i shall be released / don’t let go / midnight moonlight / what a wonderful world