Rocking The Cradle - Egypt 1978

Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead / Rhino, 2008

http://www.dead.net

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/15/2008

Thirty years after Jerry Garcia and company performed three landmark concerts at the Gizah Sound And Light Theater in Cairo, Egypt, the legendary performances finally are given their legal commercial release. Which, of course, leads me to ask the question: What in the hell took so long?

Like most Deadheads, certain shows carry a lot of meaning for me, and the Egypt run has been one that has fascinated me for years. Many moons ago, I dropped $80 on a bootleg set, From Egypt With Love, that compiled moments from all three shows. (Ironically, this title has been borrowed for the latest Road Trips release online -- shows the band played upon their return from Egypt.) Once things like the Furthur Network were established, I finally got my hands on the complete shows from all three nights, much like any Deadhead with a respectable collection of audience recordings would have.

But now, despite all the excuses the band gave, saying the shows were subpar or plagued with technical difficulties, they finally see the shelves of stores. Too bad that many mistakes are made with this set.

First, let’s get one thing clear: the Dead played September 14, 15, and 16, 1978 in Cairo. This set completely ignores the first night’s show -- treating it, in effect, like it never happened. I went back and listened to a portion of the first night from my audience-recorded copy… and, yes, there my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 were some technical glitches, like Bob Weir’s microphone konking out during “Me And My Uncle.” So, I can understand that the entire show could not be featured on this set. But to reduce it to an afterthought as a graphic on the DVD, during “The Vacation Tapes,” is criminal.

Second, I know I should be grateful that any video from those shows exists, but the DVD that is included with this set borders on bootleg quality and is not up to the standards that we’ve come to expect from the Dead. The camera work is often quite jittery and the angles (when they’re even used) are questionable. “I Need A Miracle” and “It’s All Over Now” are all shown from one angle only -- and it seems like it was shot over Keith Godchaux’s shoulder, which blocks out the view of half the band. (An, did I really need to see close-up shots of things like Bill Kreutzmann’s hand cast, the VU monitor on a mixing board, or Phil Lesh’s ass?) And why did some songs cut in mid-way through (such as “Bertha”) or fade out before they ended (“It’s All Over Now”)? These questions could truly be the Riddles of the Sphinx -- and even he’s not talkin’.

This makes things sound like Rocking The Cradle isn’t worth a trip on the river Styx to check out. Well, that’s not completely true. Listening to the extended ending of “Deal” (complete with an impressive vocal performance from Donna Jean Godchaux) puts a smile on my face, and while I don’t consider myself a fan of this song particularly, I do enjoy the version of “Looks Like Rain” that is included in this set. Also welcome inclusions on this set are “Candyman,” “Stagger Lee,” and “It’s All Over Now.” (I do wonder though why “Sunrise” was not included, as it was the final performance of this track in the Dead’s history. I’m not a big Donna Jean fan, but this track really wasn’t that bad, and her more lively performances at these shows almost begged its inclusion.)

The real star of this set, though, isn’t even a member of the Dead. Hamza El Din, a Nubian oud player, takes the stage with the Dead, bringing with him the Nubian Youth Choir, for “Ollin Arageed.” Hearing Western rock music meet with Eastern folk rhythms captures, at their essence, what the Dead actually did best -- which is merge worlds of different styles of music into their own unique sonic experience. I actually would have liked to have heard more of El Din’s performances in this set.

In the end, Rocking The Cradle is still a pleasing, though flawed, picture of these legendary concerts, for the Dead never did return to the land of the Pharoahs to perform again. I know in my heart of hearts that I should be thankful that anything from this run of shows has been released to the masses and that nothing that would come out would be worthy, having been built up to legendary status in my mind. But like many mysteries of ancient Egypt, I’m left to wonder what this set could have been.

Rating: C+

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© 2008 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Grateful Dead / Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.