Much has been written about this storied adventure: About the band’s long-standing desire to play in “places of power,” as Phil put it years ago… The incredible logistical gymnastics necessary to get permission for this strangest of American rock bands to bring their peculiar alchemy to the cradle of the ancient world… The huge, scattered caravan of crazies that descended on Cairo from the U.S. and Europe, drawn to the desert by some irresistible force… The sheer magnitude of shipping in tons of sound equipment, setting up in 110-degree heat, maxing out the local power grid, trying to turn the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid into an echo chamber (alas, Osiris would have none of that!)… The wondrous interplay at each of the three concerts between Nubian drummers and singers and the Grateful Dead… The miraculous final show, during a total lunar eclipse… The synchronicity of that last show and the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel… Magical horse and camel rides under the desert moon…Trips up and down the Nile… High adventure at every turn!
The three Egypt concerts—September 14, 15, 16, 1978—were captured on a 24-track tape recorder with an eye towards putting out a live album to help defray the (considerable) cost of the expedition. When the Dead got home, however, they discovered that the tapes of all of the first night and part of the second were not useable because of technical problems. Then the band got wrapped up in finishing their Shakedown Street album (begun before the Egypt venture), and soon the notion of putting out the Egypt album lost its momentum. But just as Howard Carter and all those other explorers in the ’20s and ’30s couldn’t stay away from the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, the Dead weren’t about to let those Egypt multitracks stay buried by the sands of time. Next thing you know there’s a phone call to ace GD mixer Jeffrey Norman and he and vaultkeeper David Lemieux discover that despite the problems with the first night’s tapes, there’s still lots of great material available from nights two and three, including: a dynamite “Shakedown Street” (just the second live version ever), “Truckin’,” an exquisite “Stella Blue,” “Eyes of the World,” fresh takes on then-new songs such as “Stagger Lee” and “I Need A Miracle,” and the hypnotic Egyptian tune called “Ollin Arageed” that features Hamza El Din and other percussionists, who are then joined by the Dead for a jam into “Fire on the Mountain.” Wow!
And the concert video, though rough around the edges in places, is quite a revelation as well. Not only does the DVD include many of the best tunes on the CDs—you’ll dig seeing Jerry do some pretty energetic thrashing here and there—it contains two songs not on disc—“Bertha” and “Good Lovin’.” The concert material has been mixed in both stereo and surround sound, with two listening options: DTS 5.1 and PCM Stereo. The beautifully designed booklet (with cover inspired by the late, great Alton Kelley’s Egypt 1978 tour poster) contains a revealing essay by longtime Ice Nine Publishing chief (and Egypt trip co-organizer) Alan Trist, and many rare photos. All that’s missing is sand, the smell of camels and some “hubbly-bubbly”!