If ever a Grateful Dead adventure deserved comprehensive documentation, it’s the 1978 trip to Egypt. Rocking the Cradle Egypt 1978 only manages to scratch the surface of the experience on some fronts, but that’s indicative of how expansive the experience actually was.
Kudos aplenty go to David Lemieux for his instinctual understanding of the group’s music and they way they played during an appearance that, from two nights recordings of the shows near the banks of the Nile—night one in Egypt was a total loss–he has constructed a show worth hearing over the course of two CDs. Yet his compilation of more material from September 15 and 16th included on the bonus disc of Rocking The Cradle may be even more impressive.
The range of material on this CD is impressive on its own terms. Spanning the decade to that date via Grateful Dead originals and covers, the band snappily executes "Ramble On Rose," “Estimated Prophet,” "Sugar Magnolia" "Terrapin Station" and “Eyes of the World” among others. Vocal dropouts and singing snafus aside, the sequential flow of the performances is in a very real way superior to that of the main CDs.
There, as with so many Dead shows where the first set hardly tells the tale, the one Leimieux constructs almost suggests the group might’ve opted for a more open-ended approach rather than concentrate unstructured songs. Through the likes of "Jack Straw" and "Candyman," the septet struggles to gain traction, moments of clarity occurring rarely as when Garcia solos on "Looks Like Rain" and sings "Row Jimmy." But, after they ride the rhythm of “Fire on the Mountain" into an expansive exploration of "Shakedown Street"(yet to be released at that point) and consecrate the rarified air with "Stella Blue;" it all makes sense, even more so galloping to a close on Chuck Berry’s "Around and Around."
If you don’t know the exotic locale of these performances, the root of the relative lethargy would be moot. Not so the DVD which mixes over an hour of two nights’ performances. Its occasionally jumpy, out-of-focus footage, hints at the culture shock the Dead were channeling, a phenomenon reaffirmed on ‘The Vacation Tapes,” an 8mmtravelogue recorded by then manager Richard Loren as the entourage explored the environs of Egypt including a boat trip down The Nile.
The sight and sound Hamza El Din and an indigenous troupe of percussionists sharing the stage with the San Francisco icons on “Ollin Arageed” clarifies the question pervading the entire Rocking the Cradle Egypt 1978 package (right down to the popup art inside the digi-pak): who else would’ve attempted such an expedition except The Dead?