Terrapin Flyer feat. Melvin Seals & Mark Karan 2.10.16

Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

The music of the Grateful Dead has long been known to heal the human mind, body and spirit. For this reason, Deadheads love any excuse to gather and rejoice in the wonderful memories that the music evokes. Although the Dead may no longer tour in full, many groups are doing their part to carry on this great legacy. Terrapin Flyer stands out as unique among the plethora of existing Dead-tribute projects, due to the involvement of Melvin Seals and Mark Karan. Seals was the longtime organist for Jerry Garcia Band, while Karan worked extensively with Bob Weir in Ratdog. Each musician is a great in their own right, but their intimate familiarity with the original artist’s intentions sets these two apart, in this context.

At Seattle’s wonderful Nectar Lounge, Terrapin Flyer performed a full two-set show for an eager crowd of Deadheads on a Wednesday evening. The Merry Pranksters were in tow, bringing along their tripped-out bus and transforming Nectar’s balcony into a beautiful “hippie trap,” featuring dreamcatchers, day-glo, face painting, bean bags and plenty of blotter art for sale.

From the second they took the stage, it was clear that the band had the full attention and respect of their audience. A first-set “Loser” tugged at the crowd’s heartstrings. This song’s Robert Hunter-penned lyrics poetically describe a character so nefarious he doesn’t even get a real name. “Stop That Train” featured plenty of bluesy shredding from Karan, and the set closed with an excellent “Feel Like a Stranger.”

Throughout the show, Seals was extremely fun to watch. He remained seated at his bench throughout the set break, greeting an endless line of fans. Peering on, I was reminded of visiting Santa Claus as a child. He was so happy to chat with his fans, and the most common utterance I overheard was “Melvin, thank you so much for all of the music.” The man is a living legend. His organ playing is still outstanding, even at his age. He may spend a bit more time playing rhythm and accent parts now than he did in his prime, but this has only served to help him be even more tasteful with his contributions. Most importantly, he is still capable of stealing the show and ripping up a solo at any time.

The second set got more into the segue action that the Dead made so famous. It began with a scorching “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain.” These two classics saw the largest crowd of Nectar patrons at any point in the evening absolutely tearing up the dancefloor. This segment of familiar tunes was helpful for me to get an idea of how Karan’s playing compared with Garcia’s. I think that he is heavily inspired by Garcia, but not as derivative in his playing as other most other players would be in his situation. He has a very distinct style and you can hear other influences in his playing, such as Duane Allman.

The spacy improv section of “The Other One” saw the Merry Pranksters encapsulate the crowd with a parachute, which reminded many of us of our elementary school gym classers. As we danced under the parachute, I saw Seals onstage laughing heartily and enjoying the good vibes. This section of the show closed out with an epic “Not Fade Away” sandwich, complete with a massive sing-along of the refrain, “You know our love will not fade away.” As the show reached its conclusion, fans exchanged hugs and goodbyes before departing the venue. I think it’s safe to say this was an evening that Jerry would have been proud of.

Set One: Jack Straw, Hey Pocky Way, Me & My Uncle, Loser, Easy Wind, Stop That Train, Feel Like a Stranger

Set Two:
Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Beat it on Down the Line, Don't Let Go, Drums > The Other One > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad > Not Fade Away

Encore: Wang Dang Doodle

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