Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 1: December 28, 1979, Oakland, CA (GRA2-6012) (
Grateful Dead

By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

This show documents a transitional time in the Grateful Dead’s performing style. Following the departure of Donna and Keith Godchaux earlier in the year, keyboard player and vocalist Brent Mydland joined and added a small arsenal of keyboards to the band’s setup, resulting in a textural change in the sound from Keith’s piano playing. Additionally, his sweet vocals added grace and harmony to many of the songs from the canon. At this stage, the drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, were playing more in lockstep with each other than in the past, while stretching out in the “Rhythm Devils” segment. Jerry Garcia’s guitar playing was moving from mostly cleaner notes to drawn-out, slurred lines. Bob Weir was more obviously becoming a front man than in the past, while bassist Phil Lesh continued to provide both bottom and melody to the sound. Midway through a five-night run of shows leading up to New Year’s Eve, the Dead open with a stretched out “Sugaree” that must have given a clue to the hometown crowd that a special night was in the works.” Other first set highlights are a 13-minute “Row Jimmy,” and a 9-minute “The Music Never Stopped.” Things seriously heat up on the second disk, with the epic “Terrapin Station” leading into “Playing in the Band,” followed by a melodic “Rhythm Devils” into a noodly “Space,” which rolls into an almost 10-minute “Uncle John’s Band.” This is a classic 50-minute exercise in group improvisation and sensitivity to cues as the songs roll into one another. The last five songs find the Dead in “get up and dance” rock’n’roll mode. All told, this is a worthwhile addition to the Dead’s archival discography.