“You wanna see who?!” came the incredulous voice on the other end of the phone, with absolutely no greeting or introduction. Minutes earlier I’d texted my old friend B.C., who runs the box office at Port Chester, NY’s venerable Capitol Theater and somehow still seems to see U2 every other day. I had made a rare request for some help in securing tickets to an upcoming show at the Cap: Melvin Seals & JGB. “We’ve got Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello,” he hollered. “Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. Marcus King, Joe Russo, and Tedeschi Trucks Band. And you want to see…Melvin Seals??”

In truth, the ask was as much about the date – coordinating a reunion of sorts with old Madison Square Garden co-workers as well as N.Y. Giants tailgate buds Ike, Lev, Petey, and uncle Tony – as about the featured act. But in more truth, I’d just seen Melvin Seals & JGB last summer, a spontaneous drop-in on a Saturday afternoon show at a local distillery in Portland, ME., and thought they were absolutely fantastic. The sun was shining, the booze and elaborate solos were flowing, and my wife and I had a blast. So yeah, I’d admittedly been the driving force behind choosing the Seals concert as the evening’s tentpole.

So, you may rightfully be asking yourself, who exactly is Melvin Seals, and what is the JGB? Let’s start with the second part first. JGB, my inquisitive friends, is the initialism for Jerry Garcia Band. For most of the time Jerry was involved in another band you may have heard of, that being the Grateful Dead, he was simultaneously working on a 20-year side project known as the Jerry Garcia Band, regularly touring and recording, mostly during breaks in the Dead’s schedule. And other than Jerry (and bassist John Kahn), Melvin Seals was the longest-tenured member of the Jerry Garcia Band, serving as keyboardist from 1981 until Garcia’s death in 1995. Then, as noted in Rolling Stone, “…when Garcia died, and the Grateful Dead went on hiatus, Seals took charge. Under his leadership the slightly renamed JGB Band paid tribute to Garcia, performing his songs and remaining faithful to his style.” As such they’re “Keepers of the Flame,” as the band continues to bill itself to this day (and as they also titled their excellent 2007 live album release).

Part of that style was the improvisational framework familiar to all Deadheads. But the Jerry Garcia Band-cum-JGB did so in a slower, almost languorous groove-based tempo, enveloping not only Garcia originals (like ‘Deal’ and ‘Sugaree’) but reinterpretations of Motown, reggae, and rock & roll. At last summer’s afternoon show that meant we got leisurely yet emphatic jamming over familiar tunes like ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),’ ‘I Second That Emotion,’ ‘The Harder They Come,’ and even a hypnotic stretch of the Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence.’

At The Cap show my crew arrived after a healthy mixed intake of juicy IPAs and Guinness thirstily expecting much of the same. Unfortunately, there was precious little like it. The setlist lacked those projected bright spots – an early rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘Wonderful World’ proved the closest to an evening earworm – and the languid pace that seemed so well suited to a sweltering mid-July afternoon trended instead toward listless as a major theater headliner.

Plus, as my friend Lev was a bit too eager to point out, for a guy whose name is on the marquee, Seals, still only 70 years old, does about as little as imaginable to command the stage. Slumped behind the keyboard, dark shades and the brim of his ballcap obscuring much of his only sporadic visibility, Seals himself was an uncomfortably forgettable presence. Eventually, as the show trudged near its end, my group had seen enough (or, it seems, had failed to see enough), pulling an unceremonious Irish Goodbye and leaving me solo on our VIP platform as the band was kicking into the Dead standard ‘U.S. Blues.’ I stayed to wave that flag, wave it wide and high, till the slightly bitter end.

If Melvin Seals & JGB return to Portland this summer in a sunny outdoor environment I’ll enthusiastically go again. Another theater appearance, and I’ll probably follow B.C.’s initial less-than-subtle guidance and take a pass. With a pleasantly snoozy groove sound like this, I can surmise that setting is key. As another Dead classic once went, “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me / Other times I can barely see.”