Rocking The Cradle: Egypt 1978(Rhino R2 512959)
Grateful Dead

Longtime Deadheads still recall the excitement of learning that the Grateful Dead were going to Egypt back in September of 1978. Egypt! Land of the Pharaohs, home of the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, these cosmic connections promised to make for a perfect venue for this rejuvenated band. The sound crews, roadies, and extended family and friends were off to make history.

When the live album did not materialize, fans learned that the Dead did not think they had performed as well as they had wished. Of course, that did not keep cassettes (and, later, CDRs) of these shows from circulating in the trading community. Now, three decades later, a 2-CD, 1-DVD set from these shows has been officially released. All but two of the selections on the audio discs, and all of the DVD, come from the September 16 concert. Disc 1 effectively is a first set, with the emphasis on the songs rather than improvisation. A beautiful "Row Jimmy" and a rousing "Deal" stand out.

On Disc 2/Set 2, things get serious. Before the Dead take the stage, Nubian oud (similar to a lute) and tar (frame drum) master Hamza El Din is joined by the Nubian Youth Choir for a hypnotic song, "Ollin Arageed." This flows, as if by magic, into the Dead's "Fire On The Mountain," before the music touches back down to earth for the Mardi Gras anthem "Iko Iko." The band stretches out on the swirling funk of "Shakedown Street" before a briefer than usual "Drums/Space." The Dead go from their autobiographical blues shuffle "Truckin'" into an achingly beautiful rendition of "Stella Blue," before the disc closes with Chuck Berry's rousing "Around And Around."

While writers frequently state that such-and-such song on an album is worth the price of the disc, in this set the DVD actually may be worth the cost. To see Jerry Garcia smile and dance, to see Phil Lesh actually come from the shadows and shake a tailfeather, to see the interplay between drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, and to watch Bob Weir, Keith Godchaux and Donna Jean Godchaux perform with passion, is an exceptional experience. They truly seem inspired as they play in the moonlight in front of the great Pyramid. A bonus segment, "The Vacation Tapes," show the Dead and its entourage touring Egypt. It is a warm-hearted close to a special compilation of music.