Today in Grateful Dead History: January 20, 1979 – Shea’s Theater, Buffalo, NY

Dancing Skeletons

There was no recorded show available yesterday, but today finds us back in 1979 for one of the only performances of Dark Star in the late 70’s.  Thankfully, it’s captured for posterity on one of the better audience recordings you’ll ever hear.

When I originally heard this show, I thought that the highs were high and the lows were low.  I stand by that assessment today – when the Dead are on, they are really on, and when they are off, well . . .

The band blazes through a pretty cool version of Sugaree in the first set, but the highlight is the slow burning Peggy-O, with a lot of great Jerry guitar work.  It’s songs like this, and the ragged versions of Stagger Lee and Jack-A-Roe, where you can truly hear (thanks again to the quality of the recording) and appreciate just what Bob Weir brought to the band.

Of course, the second set is why this show has a reputation, and it stems from this sequence: Estimated Prophet>The Other One>Drums>Space>The Other One>Dark Star>Not Fade Away>Sugar Magnolia.  This is pure gold, with a laid-back but challenging Estimated Prophet and a huge The Other One.  The transition into Dark Star is so well done that most of the people in the audience don’t even acknowledge the moment until it’s already taken place.

Dark Star itself, one of only five performances of the song between 1975 and 1988, is not a good version of the tune, but its better than a majority of the versions from the late 80’s and 90’s when it returned to the normal rotation.  The band doesn’t seem to have any direction here, but there are a couple of nice build ups that get you excited before spinning off into nothing.  Still, you need to check this out, for no other reason than it’s rarity.

In closing, don’t expect too much from this show.  It’s really not that great, but the second set, especially that middle part, is worth hearing.  As an audience recording, however, it’s superb.  Listen here:


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