reCap :: Stella Blue’s Band w/ Melvin Seals :: 2016.08.07
So heading up on a northbound train from Brooklyn to Port Chester, I had but one reoccurring thought – what was Stella Blue’s Band (SBB) accompanied by Melvin Seals, going to play this evening? For sure, this was to be a special show, one taking place within what some refer to as “The Days Between” (aka The Hippie Passover) – the period from Jerry Garcia’s birth on August 1 until the anniversary of his passing on August 9. As an added bonus, they were playing in/on Dead hallowed ground, the legendary Capitol Theater. Both the guest and the venue, were firsts for SBB.
I’ll cut to the chase: they played a near perfect setlist, mixing traditional Grateful Dead with excellent selections from Garcia’s solo catalog.
“Jack Straw” and “Hard to Handle” served as an opening act of sorts. Then SBB welcomed the guest of honor, Mr. Melvin Seals, who walked over to his throne – and took his place at his Hammond B-3, with requisite Leslie Rotary Speaker (really cool to watch this thing spin!). My theory on what separates the great ones from the rest held true this evening: Seals plays with such intensity that you sense that his instrument is an appendage of his body, and even more likely his soul.
From “Sugaree” onward, the first set was all about Jerry. Seals sang lead on a sweet rendition of “That’s What Love Will Make You Do”. The first set closed with the Motown classic “Second That Emotion”.
The second set, opened with the classic Dead pairing…”Scarlet > Fire”. The traditional Sunday night “Samson & Delilah” came next. “Truckin’” was a nice surprise, as was the “Lovelight” closer. A quick break to no doubt catch their breath and we were treated to an encore of “Sisters and Brothers”. Especially poignant in these crazy times:
We've got to love one another Let us take our fellow man by the hand Try to help him to understand We can all be together For ever and ever When we make it to the promised land
Regarding the band’s playing, they were literally on fire and in the groove the entire night. This was only my third SBB show, but they seem to get better exponentially. While Steve Liesman plays rhythm guitar and Bill Bonacci handles lead, you kind of get the sense that the designation is only a formality. They were clearly pushing each other to some new horizon musically, not worrying in the least about titles.
The first time I saw SBB, I was wondering what Marc Loponte’s role was. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan obviously came to mind, but it goes beyond that. Much like the guitar players seemingly trading lead and rhythm parts, if the feeling is Loponte can sing a given song better, then let him sing it! And sang he did, in and out of the wonderfully curated setlist. For this show we also had the lovely Ams Palmieri working her talented voice as well.
The drummers Ron Cohen and Chuck Black (who was smiling ear to ear all night!) had their work cut out for them and did not disappoint nor miss a beat or a fill. Those two, along with the terrific bass player, Greg Solomon, provided the evening’s sonic backdrop. And not one to be relegated to mere second string, SBB’s regular keyboardist Ken Aigen, made certain that stage left was equally represented and full of beautiful sound, complementing Seals on stage right. You could say that the ivory ruled the roost on Sunday.
Overall, and from my front row GA perch, one for the record books!
One last thought, maybe a little personal, but here goes: Years ago I saw the Allman Brothers at Avery Fisher Hall. I decade later I received a company award in that same great venue. When I got on stage and accepted it, I couldn’t help but think “my god, I’m standing in the same spot where Dickie Betts stood. Fast forward to this past Sunday, and I wondered what those SBB bandmates were thinking playing on the same stage, the same cosmic space, as the Grateful Dead did...many, many years before.
Until next time…and in Brooklyn.