Album review: Garcia Peoples – Nightcap At Wits End

Source: album artwork

Words by Alexandra Dominica

There is a storm brewing in America at the moment – anger, passion, rebellion, disquietude – you might say it is a country on the precipice of a revolution. You might say, the music industry, community and the American people are indeed at their ‘wits end.’ This restlessness toppled with the tsunami of talent comes Garcia PeoplesNightcap at Wits End. Rather than just a listening session this is both a moody psychedelic space and, upon drinking their magic potion, a portal to another world. This is a space to experience, then revisit and revel in.

It’s hard not to love The Grateful Dead. Back in the golden years, the Dead could construct a masterful weave where everything seems to entwine, spiral and lace under the next – the magical bite of Garcia’s guitar and Weir’s chaotic rhythm, underpinned by some of the most thunderous bass playing in this solar system, to the milky way and beyond. Garcia Peoples are a New Jersey band who seem to have taken this ‘Deadhead’ devotion to a whole new level. From their early days to 2018 release Cosmic Cash, you could hear the Zappa, you could hear Jethro Tull, you could even hear Jerry’s whispers which beckoned you to turn around to a rather looming technicoloured shadow. Still, however obvious the influence may be, the rich and thoughtful lyricism and wholesome feelings of nostalgia have helped the band’s albums to truly shine.

Far from one dimensional and being pinned as a tribute-come-fanclub, Garcia Peoples have come far from their lengthy two-part psych jams to something far more intricate and interesting. A slow burner, this album grows on you in time. Admittedly, it was difficult to get into at first for two reasons. 1. The album comes in two halves, first impressions being that the former half feels somewhat focused and tame (however the latter proves otherwise). 2. Once you get over the name, despite it being a long-lost Beatles quip from a Christmas collection, you’ll be won over with their impassioned nuance. It’s clear Garcia Peoples have grown, evolved and absorbed energies from a plethora of influences, not limiting themselves to the rock and psych shelf.

Garcia Peoples

First track ‘Gliding Through’ sets the scene in stormy weathers, “How you gonna see the light/ When everything has gone awry?/ Trust the dream that’s in your mind/ I promise you we’ll be alright.” We have momentum and interlocking themes from previous releases and we’re given psych, prog with folkish tendencies and a subdued vocal contribution that does not intend to ‘show off’, but instead create something that’s interesting to listen to. Solemnly, seriously and sinuously we move into ‘Wasted Time’ which sounds like a psychedelic ‘Scarborough Fair’ with its Jethro Tull flute and delicate piano. We’ve gone back to the 60s, vocally – it’s a more sombre delivery. 

Now the tracks that caught my attention in particular lie in the latter half – the wild noodling jam. In all manner of speaking it’s certainly a Janus-faced album with a trajectory directed from live jams to studio recordings, to really letting go. With such bluesy folk licks in ‘Painting a Vision That Carries’, to ‘(Our Life Could Be Your Van)’ which blossoms and flourishes into a seriously interstellar guitar solo. In ‘Crown of Thought’ we have eastern tinged arpeggios, halting on the brakes back to subtlety and light-heartedness. This is where the Beatles influence comes in, with a Revolver-like metallic vortex of sounds, jingles, chimes, not forgetting Mr. Harrison’s resounding mysticism. In ‘A Reckoning’ we dive into British bucolic folk rock – the bright modal guitar licks that take us by the hand into pastoral territory, accompanied with Krautrock interludes which fully encapsulate the bands penchant for alchemic experimentation.  

With such an arsenal of influences ranging from Thin Lizzy and Dire Straits, to CAN and Caravan – it’s no doubt they’ve been broadening their scope and Nightcap at Wits End is arguably Garcia Peoples’ best album yet.  It must be said that their overriding influence, The Grateful Dead, never adapted their sound to suit the mainstream despite some pretty harsh reviews and responses, Jerry Garcia chose to adopt a ‘work hard, play later’ ethos, which the band clearly understands. This way of thinking earned The Grateful Dead a die-hard fanbase who would cross oceans for a glimpse of Jerry and his clan of misfits. Garcia Peoples’ latest release is what growing sonically sounds like. While not just echoing the masters of the past, Garcia Peoples offer both intent to hone their craft and nurture their natural chemistry while mastering a multitude of skills.

So, far from just another bunch of ‘Deadheads’, Garcia Peoples have certainly come into their own and are definitely ones to watch for 2021.

Nightcap At Wits End was released in October 2020 and is available here

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