If folks'll forgive the Xpost, here's the review I wrote of my Donna experience on Mule Army:
Donna Jean Godchaux Band
9/26/09 The 8x10. Baltimore, MD
w/Devin Greenwood (Donna Jean Band 1997)-keyboards
*w/Mookie Siegel (David Nelson Band, Ratdog, Donna Jean & the Tricksters)-keyboards
Set 1: New Speedway Boogie, It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry, Brown Eyed Women, Don’t Fight It. They Love Each Other, Eyes of the World> Terrapin Station> Franklin ’s Tower> Drums> Mighty High
Set 2: From the Heart of Me, Fire on the Mountain> Ship of Fools, Mississippi Half Step, Catfish John*, Tore Up Over You
E: Green River
I have to admit I didn't go to this show with high expectations. I was really going to lay eyes on Donna in person, icon of the 70s magic years of the Grateful Dead which were before my time. I thought the music would be nice, but unremarkable. Boy, was I ever wrong.
From the first lead, Jeff Mattson’s guitar just lit up the room. Now, I usually like any instrumentalist to have an original style. I usually pan imitators. Mattson is a Jerry Garcia imitator, but the imitation is so brilliant I was captivated by it. The sound was so totally steeped in the 70s Garcia Band style of playing – so stretched out and patient, getting every bit of resonance from each bell-clear note, working every possibility from each hand position before moving up or down. Impressive. This was the first show where I got to rock my Warren/Jerry “Blood of His Music” t-shirt and the blood of Jerry’s music was pulsing through Mattson’s guitar like I’ve rarely heard. I loved it.
Donna is in great, great voice nowadays. She sounds so much better now than she does on 70s show recordings. She sounds as good as she did on studio albums, lending credence to her statements that she couldn’t hear herself well enough in front of the Wall of Sound back in the day. From the Heart of Me and Ship of Fools were highlights – you won’t hear anything sweeter. Mattson has a nice, even, slightly soulful voice too and they blended well, especially on the rousing choruses of Mighty High. That version makes me think more of the Mighty Clouds of Joy than the Garcia Band.
The rhythm section kind of snuck up on me as the show progressed. Devin Greenwood is a weak soloist on keys, but as they got deeper in the setlist his playing off Mattson got better and better – harmonic, richly colored, very jazzy in a manner that recalled Keith’s early 70s playing in its effect but not in its sound. He wasn’t imitating, just getting to as interesting places. Joe Chirco on drums and David McKay on bass were very solid and tight throughout, but I noticed in first set that I wasn’t noticing anything special in what they were doing. Until Terrapin. When the crescendos started to rise at the end of Terrapin, both guys just exploded, roaring through it with intricate runs and shook the tiny little club hard. They faded back to flawless support after the drum solo, though McKay reasserted himself during the build at the end of ˝ Step, playing some blistering, heavy parts that were the best bass playing I’ve seen by somebody other than Phil in a long time.
All that, plus a Mookie sighting, for $15 bucks. Fantastic evening. The only shame was that maybe 50 people witnessed first set, and at most 30 of us were still around by 1:30 am when the encore started. What this group is laying down deserves to be heard by many, many more folks than that.
Thanks for the review--now up on the Donna Jean Godchaux Band web site.