Today in Grateful Dead History: September 14, 1978 – Giza Sound and Light Theater, Cairo, Egypt

egyptThe Grateful Dead took their whole traveling circus to Egypt in 1978 and the results were, shall we say, mixed.

I’m not going to get into too much of the background information about the Egypt shows.  If you want to hear the full story, well told, check out Phil Lesh’s book, Searching for the Sound: My Life With the Grateful Dead, which goes into some detail about how these performances came to be.  Suffice to say, it took a lot of work to bring the Grateful Dead into a Muslim country run by an autocratic regime, and the band was set to capitalize on the experience by filming the shows and releasing a live album culled from the performances.

As usual with the Grateful Dead, things didn’t go quite as planned.  The recordings were not well done (it took thirty years for that live album to appear as Rocking The Cradle: Egypt 1978) and the performances, according to the band members themselves, weren’t much better.  While everyone seems to have had a blast in Egypt and appreciated the experience, the band was not exactly playing at its best.  When it comes to today’s show, the first night of the Dead’s three night stand, it bears noting that the performance and the recording thereof were so bad that none of the material was included on the official release.  So be forewarned.

That being said, the first fifty minutes of this performance are incredible, as Egyptian musician and future Dead collaborator Hamza El-Din sets things off with a subtle performance of traditional music (known as Ollin Arrageed) that slowly builds as members of the Dead join in the playing.  This all culminates in Not Fade Away, which starts the Dead’s portion of the show proper.  This is thrilling stuff and captures an energy and a majesty that would probably be impossible to duplicate in any other setting.  If all the Dead got out of this trip was this fifty minutes of music, it would have been worth it.

Once you’ve listened through the end of Not Fade Away, just shut off the recording.  Almost everything else is a hot mess, with maybe Samson & Delilah excluded.  This isn’t just me talking – the members of the band all thought this performance wasn’t good.  Take their word for it and stay far away.  But definitely listen to that first fifty minutes of music.  It will change your day for the better.

As I said before, the sound quality here is not good.  You should listen to the Charlie Miller soundboard for the Egyptian music (ie the good part) here: 

If you’re a masochist, the best source for the rest is the audience recording, here:

Don’t listen to the soundboard past Not Fade Away – the vocals are almost non-existent (just one of many problems with the recording).



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