The original Kingfish line-up was fronted by multi-instrumentalist Matthew Kelly and ex-New Riders bass player Dave Torbert, the primary songwriters in the group. Fleshed out with the impressive instrumental skills of Robbie Hoddinott, Chris Herold, and Mick Ward, the band became a popular club act in the Bay Area. Following the death of Mick Ward in a car accident, the group soldiered on as a quartet. When the Grateful Dead officially retired from the road in late 1974, all the musicians were free to pursue outside projects, so Bob Weir, a long-time friend of Matthew Kelly, began sitting in, officially joining the group by the end of the year. Weir's arrival had two major impacts on the band, which can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. The Dead's organization ran their own label, Round Records, so the musicians could essentially produce and release albums free of record industry interference. The upside was that Kingfish got a contract with the Dead's label, recording an impressive debut album, which considerably raised their profile. However, to the existing band member's eventual dismay, the vast contingency of Deadheads now perceived the group as Bob Weir's backing band. Regardless, the group became a very popular touring band and delivered many a great performance.
Headlining a hometown bill that also featured The Sons of Champlin and the Keith & Donna Godchaux Band, Kingfish deliver a high-energy performance to close the night. Needless to say, this was a fine night for Deadheads, who got to experience four members of the Grateful Dead performing on the same bill, but outside the familiar musical context. Performing selections from their debut album as well as several choice covers and yet-to-be recorded originals, this set captures Kingfish during the peak performing months of Weir's tenure with the group.
They kick the show off with Dave Torbert fronting the band for the rocking shuffle of "Rattlesnake," a song the group hadn't recorded. Bob Weir takes lead vocals on "Bye And Bye," a rearranged gospel number that gets a reggae treatment from the band. Next up is "Overnight Bag," another unrecorded number at the time. This straightforward rocker finds the group hitting their stride before they relax into a nice bluesy "C.C. Rider," which Weir would eventually resurrect into the Dead's repertoire several years later.
Following a slight delay to tune back up and determine what to play next, the group treats the audience to "Wild Northland," a delightful country flavored Torbert track from the first Kingfish album. Its live debut, this song is not known to have been performed since and this may indeed be the only live performance. Bob Weir fronts the band again for a rollicking take on "New Minglewood Blues," a classic jug band cover from the Dead's first album. A staple of Weir's repertoire throughout his career, Kingfish's take on this song is arguably more compelling than the Dead's own version, thanks in large part to the harmonica embellishments from Matthew Kelly which propel it along. Kelly gets an opportunity to really cut loose on the following number, "Juke," a high-energy harmonica fueled instrumental in the tradition of James Cotton.
One of the best songs from their debut album is next, with Torbert's "Asia Minor," featuring scorching solo breaks from Hoddinott and a propulsive rhythmic backing from Torbert, Weirm and Herold. The first set ends with an energetic romp through Chuck Berry's "Promised Land," another Weir-led staple borrowed from his Dead repertoire. Hoddinott, who is delightfully high in the mix, cooks up a storm on guitar.
Unfortunately the recordings of the second Kingfish set from this night is currently MIA. However, the encore is also here; a more relaxed, but nonetheless celebratory take on Bob Weir's most popular rocker, "One More Saturday Night," which brought this monumental night of Bay Area music to a close.