Donna Jean Godchaux Band at Gathering of the Vibes 7/23/09
Jeff Mattson had surgery a few weeks ago to correct a long-time problem with his lungs. He seems almost like a new man now; he has always been a powerful guitar player, but there was an exuberance in his playing last night that I found thrilling. And the rest of the band is right there with him – so much tighter and more entrained than they were at their debut in April.
This being the Vibes, their set had more Dead songs and fewer originals than they would normally present, but it was exactly the right thing for the occasion. They opened with “New Speedway Boogie” followed by “Sugaree,” and Jeff played the first of several jaw-dropping solos in the latter song. Donna’s song “Don’t Ask Me Why” was next, and very well received by the crowd.
“Eyes of the World” was another instrumental tour de force, with Jeff leading the charge. His solos in the song proper were astonishing; David Mackay played a kick-ass solo leading out of the song, and the band executed that ’74 post-Eyes thing with precision and awesome power. I don’t gush like this often, folks.
What came next was mind-blowing. Jeff led them gently into a groove on a D chord with an open E at the top, and then fleshed it out into a chord sequence that I quickly recognized as the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness.” What a great call, and the band did it justice and then some! Great jam in the middle, from which emerged an ensemble passage based on the solo in the original (on the album Elephant Mountain, a classic). Donna Jean’s singing on this was powerful and dark, as required by the text.
Another wonderful highlight was the return of “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” a Loretta Lynn hit that the GD did in ’73. This time around they laid into it with a nasty rock’n’roll beat.
Along the way we heard plenty of find keyboard work from Mark Adler, who I think has come to this style of music relatively recently (he does movie music in LA for a living) and now he has it in his veins like the rest of us. And Joe Chirco is always a monster on the drums!
I was just thinking the other day that it’s been a long time since I got them ol’ chills at a live performance, and I got ’em during “Darkness, Darkness.” But the whole set was a thrill. Go see the Donna Jean Godchaux Band!