Some recipes are guaranteed for success long before the cooking begins. On Friday, February 13 members of three regional bands – Shining Star, Jerry Duty and Achilles Wheel – distilled their talents into a new group called The Saints of Circumstance. With a name like that, any Grateful Dead fan would be sure to put their chips on it. The majority of tribute bands from that genre focus on the tried and true Dead repertoire. In a refreshing twist, The Saints spent the bulk of their time reimagining the catalog of the Jerry Garcia Band. Mostly comprised of covers stemming from the realms of R&B, jazz and cerebral rock, anyone who knows these songs appreciates how special they are.
Guitarist and vocalist Todd Gardner is as reverent as they come in regards to nurturing anything associated with Jerry Garcia. His four bandmates emanated that same sensibility. This show was the tale of two sets which were polar opposites from an energetic standpoint. The first was overtly serene, like a gondola ride down a Venice canal on a winter’s morning. It was catnip for the more astute JGB fans in the crowd who cherish songs of the slow, extended, honey-dipped persuasion. The opener, “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox,” was the highlight of the set. Stretching for probably 15 minutes, it left no doubt how much synergy The Saints possessed. Wendt’s playful keyboards laid into the groove, sprinkling the equivalent of sonic pixie dust on every song. He served as the “x-factor” throughout the show, his fingers dancing on the ivories with playful aplomb.
Gardner later explained that his commitment on this night was exploring unfamiliar spaces and taking chances. Thusly The Saints performed eight songs they didn’t even have a chance to practice. One of them was “Stella Blue” with Alves’ lead vocals illuminating the mood piece. Anchoring center stage, her emotive presence provided a soulful flair. A double-whammy of Dylan classics tantalized our ears, pairing “Forever Young” with “Tangled Up in Blue.” Having played this music much of his life, Holland is a wellspring of enticing melodies and subtle layers of complexity. He is like the north star at any given moment, guiding the way home.
Having put their best foot forward to a sparse crowd, the band was ecstatic to see a flood of people after the Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe show got out across town at the Miner’s Foundry. The place was instantly packed with fans voicing their approval loud and clear. In the ultimate testimony to the importance of a band feeding off the energy of an audience, The Saints were suddenly as electrified as a Tesla coil. They galloped out of the second set gates with “Run for the Roses” and escalated from there. “Cats Down Under the Stars” soared on the wings of Gardner’s quicksilver leads. “After Midnight” was a slam dunk with Alves showing off her seductive pipes as the perfect complement to Gardner’s Jerry-esque upper register. Holland and Campus provided the rhythmic cushion, driving the ship with a palpable swagger.
Continuing to tip their hat to the Dylan reservoir within the JGB cannon, the band exploded on “Tough Mama.” Any band that plays this song, and there aren’t many, clearly has its heart in the right place. Riding a torrent of creativity, the magic carried forth with an incendiary take on the Garcia/Hunter opus, “Reuben and Cherise.” Featuring an elongated intro and spacey jam, this was case in point to the band’s intrepid spirit. Closing it out on cloud nine, Chris Littlefield, the trumpeter from Tiny Universe, joined the mix for a celebratory spin through “Franklin’s Tower.” It was exciting to hear a horn player integrate with the band and see the joyous reaction of the audience. We’re not sure if this was just a one-time novelty gig for The Saints, but given the way it went down, we’d guess not.