The Egypt Reviews.

No 17 Vol 3. Issue 5.
part 2.

Steve Brown wrote:
       I arrived in Cairo at about 3am. My first impression on arriving was 'why the f**k are the Dead playing a hell-hole like this?'. At 10am it became more habitable, seeing other freaks around and gradually more and more Grateful Dead t-shirts. That was reassuring. I teamed up with an English and two American Dead-heads and although the bus was only 20p for the eight-mile ride to the pyramids and Sound And Light Theatre, we decided to take a cab. Despite the fact that tourists are exploited here to the extreme, we found a straight Egyptian who only charged us one pound and threw in a free tour of the pyramids. 

       It seemed hardly believable; the Dead actually playing in Egypt in front of the pyramids and Sphinx at a total lunar eclipse, and coming to London afterwards for three nights at the Rainbow. I heard, the evening of the first concert, of the cancellation of the English gigs, due, said the Dead, to the amount of money being spent on this Egyptian fantasy. This made these three concerts at the Sound And Light Theatre, Giza, all the more important. 
        An Egyptian musician, Hamza E1-Din, who had played with the Dead and especially Mickey Hart, back in California, was opening the shows. The music was mainly percussion and vocals and after Hamza and his band, about twenty people in all. had been playing maybe half an hour they were joined by Mickey Hart who jumped around and banged tambourines and a few odd-shaped local instruments. The Dead then almost crept on stage, each joining the music at intervals. Garcia first, then Lesh, Kreutzman, Weir and finally Keith Godchaux. By the time they have all joined in, Hamza El-Din's troupe are slowly filing off stage chanting and clapping. As they go, the Dead - fill a promise hinted at five minutes earlier and burst into 'Not Fade Away".  Slowly, very slowly, the Dead get to know the audience. Apart from the opening jam/"Not Fade Away" sequence, they haven't really gone anywhere; that is until the last number of the first set, 'Deal", when Jerry and Donna achieve vocal highs as on "Make Believe Ballroom". 
       The break gave a good opportunity to look at the audience here at a Grateful Dead gig so many miles from home, in the desert. First thing I noticed was the amount of 'Skull'n'Roses' T-shirts and (and this is no hype) Dark Star 'Grateful Dead' badges (pyramids, geddit?). 
It seems that half of Marin County has made it to Egypt; but the Dead T-shirts and long hair were outnumbered by locals - most of them come out of curiosity and the chance of plenty of 'bhaksheesh' from us 'rich' tourists. The first night, a lot of people who had come to see the 'museek' stood and stared at the almost ridiculous spectacle of, say, the Fillmore West being transferred to the space in front of the Sphinx and slightly to the right of the Great Pyramid. But by the third night the Egyptians were all dancing' - and more energetically than most others . 
         The second set started with the most ridiculously superb version of "Sugaree', which brought tears to my eyes at least three times during the song. From there they climbed all night. with an extended jam featuring "Scarlet Begonias", and an excellent new song - 'Fire On The Mountain, a half-hour epic led by Jerry with lots of guitar and a funky/ reggae feel similar to that on "Make Believe Ballroom' and incorporating all that as well into a final section with "Other One" undertones. At times the Dead slipped into a  groove that was very similar to the work on "Anthem Of The Sun' and "Aoxomoxoa". This version of "Fire On The Mountain" was particularly reminiscent of those albums and the jam coming out of the percussion duet (Hart / Kreutzman) on the Saturday night would not have sounded out of place mixed in some where on "Anthem Of The Sun". "Truckin"' followed "Fire On The Mountain"... then they were crashing the final chords of "Around And Around" and were gone. It would be pointless to try to describe any more; they played another two nights; the highs were innumerable; the Pranksters re-creating the acid tests backstage; the guy who sat on the Sphinx for half-an-hour completely still during a "Space" segment, with a light show on the Sphinx and pyramids; being given the Grateful Dead's own magic potion at a party prior to a gig; drinking next to Phil Lesh and Bill Graham at the palace - sorry, hotel - that the Dead and family took over for a while; Bill Graham, in full Bedouin dress, welcoming us to Mars... 
        They didn't play "Dark Star", "St. Stephen", "Blues For Allah", 'Unbroken Chain" or "I Know You Rider". They only played one verse of "The Other One" - but they more than made up for it. Garcia at the end of the first night - 'Hey stick around - this is gonna be a goo-ood pa-arty'. And then climbing the Great Pyramid in time for sunrise; Phil Lesh (38!!) pushing and leading and wandering across to tell Donna and Bob a joke; then with Bob Weir, both trying to emulate Pete Townshend . 
          One distinct memory: Crying helplessly; when the whole crowd and Garcia/Lesh/Weir stand and sing as one - 'What a long strange trip it's been'. 

         The second night was less cataclysmic musically, but the party feeling, which had been brewing for all the time we'd been there, was reaching a high pitch. Less Arabs had come to this second night ,ticket prices were quite high for Egyptian pockets except the middle/ upper class - who all went home after the Dead's first set, a relief to them and us. 
         A new song (to my ears), "Stagger Lee", sung by Garcia, and a Bob Weir song, "I Need A Miracle", were the highlights of the first set, though "Miracle" is not up to the band's very high standards and was only interesting for its freshness. The second set had many high spots but tended to slow down at points; the music was great but the atmosphere was lacking. The lull before the storm? 
      The third night was buzzing,the lunar eclipse - the last night - and aided by more of the Dead's goodies. The eclipse was peaking, the Dead moved off into "Bertha"/ "Good Lovin"', two of my favourite Dead songs. I moved down the front to dance - the first time in a long while - but the set didn't meet my expectations for the final night of the Dead in Egypt. 
Hamza El-Din opened the second set instead of the first as the Dead obviously wanted to play during the eclipse. They made up for all their deficiencies in the first set during the jam following Hamza El-Din. "Fire On The Mountain", "Aiko Aiko". "I Need A Miracle" and "It's All Over Now" were all magical. "Fire On The Mountain" and "Aiko Aiko" must be on the new album. "Sunrise" took us down for a few minutes before the climax, commencing with "Shakedown Street", segueing into a percussion and space jam straight out of '67 with Pranksters et al. They even used the pyramid as an echo chamber. The climax to this jam quickly came with "Around And Around" --- "Saturday Night" and they were gone. But what a Saturday night. Here's to Easter Island.

Steve Brown
 Dark Star pt1
 The Setlists


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