The Grateful Dead has played some unusual venues since its mid-60's beginnings, including an outdoor concert near the Great Pyramid in Egypt. But Jerry Garcia, the band's lead guitarist, was breaking new ground when he brought his acoustic and electric bands into the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway last week.
Mr. Garcia, who often tours with his own bands between Grateful Dead projects, was as relaxed and amiable as always on Thursday, the opening night of his Broadway run. But he apparently considered his Broadway engagement something special. The program notes went out of their way to relate him to the mainstream of American show business, identifying him as ''the son of San Francisco reed player and swing-band leader Jose Garcia,'' and pointing out that his father named him ''after Broadway writer Jerome Kern.'' During the electric portion of the concert, Mr. Garcia played and sang a gospel-tinged ballad arrangement of ''That Lucky Old Sun.''
But for the most part, the concert was typical Grateful Dead fare. The music settled into a comfortable, steady groove, with the musicians drawing on material from American folk and blues traditions and taking long, gently-rolling improvised solos. Mr. Garcia's solo concerts differ from Grateful Dead performances in being more informal, placing greater emphasis on the music's folk roots and substituting a lighter, more jazz-like manner of improvising for the Grateful Dead's extended group jams.
The acoustic portion of the program gave Mr. Garcia a chance to pick some nimble acoustic guitar solos in the company of two musicians he worked with in early 60's bluegrass bands, David Nelson and Sandy Rothman. For this listener, Mr. Garcia's mixture of country guitar influences with blues and jazz was more effective in an electric context. He soared through spiraling, lyrical solos, full of bright, ringing harmonics, during the show's second half, ably backed by Melvin Seals's rich organ, the gospel vocals of Gloria Jones and Jackie LeBranch, John Kahn, a bassist, and David Kemper, a drummer.