Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11
Written by John Metzger
Tue November 25, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
Of all the cockamamie schemes cooked up by rock ínĎ roll bands over the years, it is, perhaps, the Grateful Deadís sojourn to Egypt in 1978 that takes the cake. The wheels for the project, of course, had been set in motion years earlier. Nevertheless, who in their right mind would have expected that, as the Grateful Dead was bringing hippie culture to the Middle East, American President Jimmy Carter would be finalizing a peace accord between the leaders of Egypt and Israel? Adding to the long line of strangely serendipitous moments that seemed to occur with some regularity around the ensemble, a lunar eclipse also took place during the final night of the Grateful Deadís three-date spiritual ceremony. The groupís plan to transform the Great Pyramid into a massive echo chamber failed to function, and the music more often than not was delivered off-key and out-of-synch. Yet, in spite of it all, the Grateful Deadís boondoggle in the desert somehow was transformed from a fun-filled joyride into a culturally significant event.
Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978, the Grateful Deadís latest archival release, compiles some of the better moments from the shows that were held on September 15 and 16 at the Gizah Sound & Light Theater outside Cairo. For the most part, however, the collection does little to dispel the notion that the outfit was so humbled by its surroundings that it failed to tame the tempest that was unleashed whenever it took the stage. Even among the Grateful Deadís most faithful followers, these shows justifiably have secured a sullied reputation. Lyrics too frequently were forgotten, and pianist Keith Godchaux struggled to pay attention. Likewise, Bob Weirís early efforts at playing slide guitar nearly collapsed cuts like Row Jimmy and New, New Minglewood Blues. Unfortunately, this was par for the course in 1978, and the unusual venue didnít do anything to help the band find its focus.
At the same time, though, it undeniably is quite stunning to see the Sphinx peering down at the multiracial crowd as it danced to the musical mayhem that ensued. For what itís worth, the Grateful Dead repaid its fans with a tremendously enthusiastic performance. In fact, some of its problems seemed to emanate from the groupís utter inability to contain its excitement. Consequently, some songs ó such as Good Loviní and Truckiní ó were attacked with such playful ferocity that they seemed as if they might fall apart completely.
Yet, for all of the moments that threatened to descend into chaos, Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978 makes it impossible to dismiss these shows entirely. For example, just as Candyman began to falter, Jerry Garcia threaded a lovely, lilting guitar solo through the songís interior as if to illuminate it from within. Elsewhere, he whipped Truckiní into shape; found grace and beauty inside Looks Like Rainís emotional downpour; and communed with a broken angel in Stella Blue.
The Grateful Deadís exuberance is particularly apparent during the 90-minute DVD that accompanies Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978, and features an abbreviated rendition of the final night of its stay in Cairo. The band members are all strikingly animated, and the sheer joy that repeatedly spreads across their faces is so infectious that it puts everything into perspective. The music that it performed on these three historic nights might not have been perfect, but the Grateful Dead had succeeded in uniting disparate cultures while also throwing a party for its friends in the most exotic of locales.
Of Further Interest...
Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978 is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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