Thursday night, shoulder season, full moon rising, and a great show on the bill at the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room. I’d never seen John Kadlecik on his own before, though I’d enjoyed his bevy of other accomplishments, from Dark Star Orchestra, to his stint as the “Jerry-guitarist” with Furthur, and equal among equals with Phil and Friends. As he said at the night’s end, mingling with the crowd in typical, humble JK fashion, “This is what I used to do – before DSO even – but hopefully I’m better at it now,” meaning, jamming out a bunch of simple songs with a band of brothers. Oh yeah, mo bettah, John!
What a humble, proficient gang of four: accompanying Kadlecik, the sublime New York based Klyph Black on bass and backup vocals, with Todd Stoops whooping it up on keyboard, organ and vocals and Nathan Graham holding the back beat on drums. They opened with a Jerry Garcia Band number, “I’ll Take A Melody” (an Allen Toussaint cover), with Kadlecik’s strong, clear voice soaring effortlessly through the melody, as keyboardist Stoops wailed away on organ and keys, laying down notes like a scat singer before reuniting with Kadlecik strumming a reggae edge into the jam. Klyph Black’s slow crawl built a steady scaffolding, with drummer Nathan Graham, into which the others could rappel and free fall: which they did, amply, wandering in and out of musical psychedelia all night long.
After that gentle opener, they dropped us off the deep end with their next song, “What’s Become of Mary,” an original rocker with infectious lyrics that showcased sweet, focused harmonies from Stoops and Black. Kadlecik rocked a few signature moves befitting Chuck Berry or Johnny B. Goode, a performativity that distinguishes him (among other traits) from the countless Garcia comparisons that come his way. The dude rocks, too.
The band slowed it back down with a reggae infused “Friend of the Devil,” which sent the now-burgeoned crowd of Deadheads over the moon. Next, another original, “Sister Smiles,” reflected influences of The Byrds and Garcia’s country-rock inclinations. Keyboardist Stoops knocked the ball out of the park over and over again with a grounded, goofy brilliance, and the sweet, prolific riffs he drew out of every note played. Humbly speaking, the band’s original compositions merit comparison to fabled Hunter-Garcia numbers in their rhythmic hooks, poetic narratives, and eminently relatable subject matter.
Every tune, slow or spirited, highlighted Kadlecik’s guitar prowess in full flight up and down his fretboard. Premiere psychedelia tucked into every jam, full of fierce progressions and surprising changes. The crowd could tell, this was no scripted performance: this was pure improvisational musical genius and reverie, a rare treat, the music playing on and on, taking us with it on its long, ecstatic ride. (The soundman later confirmed, when I tried to ask for a set list: what set list? They play what they play, and that’s how the script goes, wayfarers.) Octogenarians blissed out soulfully to the cascading notes, while others danced high-stepping twists and twirls in the familiar, musical terrain. Kadlecik and mates delivered a solid rendition of “Loser,” a crowd favorite at that point, moving right into a rousing “Deal” to close out the first set.
An undeniable magic emanated from the band’s psychedelic, mind-bending jams, and Kadlecik’s showmanship: a spread-eagled palm, five-fingers wide, thrust toward the band or the crowd; an enthusiastic punctuation to a note played, arm swung in a wide arc, emphasizing the space between notes as well as the sounds heard. Beautiful. And of course, the spirit of the Dead everywhere: in the air and ethers, in the music, in the crowd beaming and waving to and fro in dancing delight.
Second set opened up with another bluesy JGB tune, “Don’t Let Go” (an old Roy Hamilton cover). The crowd sang along for most of the song, with its catchy rhythm and lyrics. After that, who knows what song the band went into, or if they even changed tunes, or just jammed it up so well this reviewer lost track (and since there was no set list….). At the end of an incredibly long and complex jam, with unknown songs tucked within, the band paused a nano second before launching into the unmistakable notes of “Fire on the Mountain,” fueled by an enticing, ska-like beat. Blissed out, old and young swayed and sang along, while Kadlecik unleashed guitar flourishes and his oft-delivered five-fingered salute.
A state of communal celebration rang throughout the Crown Room as the songs, the memories, and the way things stay the same, only to come round again, were stitched together by joy (and live music). Ecstatic wave after wave of music left ebullient patrons beaming, as the band morphed into a fantastic cover of George Harrison’s country-rocker, “Any Road.” Straight into “Shakedown Street,” and the crowd welcomed each word like a home-town anthem, looking for the light perhaps previously missed in each other’s eyes: sweet communion through darkening times.
At one point, a brother reached over and grabbed my notebook and pen, handing it back to me with nothing but a big heart drawn across one page. Yep. Five-star jamming evolved into an absolutely righteous space (everyone looked around right then, and knew how lucky we all were), drummer Graham holding ready steady with bassist Black’s creative bumps and grooves.
Another slow, soulful ballad: universal, with just the right combination of dark chords bleeding into light. Seamlessly, the first notes of “Not Fade Away” signaled the night drawing to a rowdy and heartfelt close, followed by an encore of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Although we never wanted this magical night to end, it was a fitting send-off, back into our day-to-day lives, and all we do to bring that kind of love and magic into the world, like the John Kadlecik Band gave to Tahoe last night. A night to remember: thanks, guys.
– Maya Borhani