“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
If you judged this show solely on the basis of the first couple of minutes of New Minglewood Blues, the opening song, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stumbled upon a clunker. And, frankly, the first set is fine, but there aren’t a lot of highlights there. (Except for the fact that midway through the set, someone bumps Phil’s bass up really high, where it stays for the rest of the night. If you like your Phil bombing, you’re in for a master class tonight). Truth be told, much of the second set isn’t that great either, although you can feel a subtle shift in the band’s energy when they start out with China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider. You’re going to need to sit through a messy start to Eyes of the World. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with about a minute, close to the end of that tune, of very interesting, synchronized fanning from both guitarists, bombs from Phil and organ swells from Brent – stuff I’ve never heard played quite like this before. And then we’ve got a clunky transition into Lost Sailor>Saint of Circumstance. You’ll need to sit through most of that, until the tune drops away and a pre-drums Space begins – a couple minutes of sparse musical droplets that seem to come out of nowhere when compared to the music that the Dead have been making for the rest of the night. Then it’s over, and we’re into the back end of the show, with a nice Wharf Rat that ends, if you wait for it, with an awesome tug-of-war between the band members, who can’t decide if it’s time to move into Around & Around. That argument takes about thirty cool seconds to resolve and then the song proper begins. Stick around for the encore after Johnny B. Goode – it’s a throbbing version of U.S. Blues that knocks the roof off the convention center.
You’re going to need to do your digging here, but you’ll be richly rewarded with some incredible nuggets. Three hours of show = five minutes of one of a kind magic + a rockin’ encore = sounds good to me. Check it out here: https://archive.org/details/gd1979-12-07.sbd.miller.108853.flac16