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Dead of the Day: April 22, 1979

Spartan Stadium, San Jose State University
San Jose, California

For our Dead of the Day, we head off to Brent’s first show in 1979. This was a historic transition for the Dead, and it was a hot show to boot. 

The boys open with Jack Straw, and it comes out strong. But it seems that for much of the early going the band is feeling each other out, trying to find their groove after two months off and the dramatic change in the lineup. By Sugaree, though, things start getting interesting with some crazy sounds and nice riffs in the midst of the jams. It seems like this is the first point where Brent is really making a standout contribution to the playing, offering up some very cool fills and solid accompaniment. Then a sick Minglewood arrives with Jerry blazing away, Phil dropping bombs, and Mickey and Billy pounding out a solid beat. Before long, Brent starts delivering some incredible keys, with everyone sort of trading licks with him, first Jerry, then Phil, and finally Bobby. It is neat to see Brent first assert himself in Sugaree and then, in a way, be embraced by the rest of the band in Minglewood. A tune later, Looks Likes Rain, which actually featured a sudden shower from above, comes to an awesome ending with Jerry and Bobby creating a really intense combination of energy and melancholy, mirroring the lyrics. One of the first places where Donna is noticeably absent is the Passenger, which is bristling with vitality and verve but devoid of her signature vocals.

Opening the second set, the Miracle lacks some drive and cohesion until Jerry unleashes a tremendous, extended solo that seems to blow everyone into form. The Good Lovin’ a song later is a ton of fun with Brent killing the keys and the whole band having a grand old time. The band also sounds amazing on The Other One. Phil has his bass reverberating like a bunch of giant rubber bands, vibrating out a crazy deep rhythm that is matched by Bobby, who sounds like he might be on slide, which would be sort of funny because the whole reason he began playing slide in the first place was, supposedly, his frustration with Keith’s style. Regardless, Brent eventually starts mixing it up, and Jerry goes off on some crazy high tinny licks that Phil reigns in with just a few bombs, allowing Bobby to go into the vocals. The Wharf Rat that comes out next is a serious effort, really pushing the song to the limits, especially with Jerry’s solos. A second encore of Shakedown suggests the boys might have been enjoying the first night with the new keyboardist; they roll out a completely funky rendition with only a little of the disco sound that characterized the song in that era.

It sure seems like Brent comports himself well in his first night with the band. However, there are few things that can spark a Deadhead disagreement quicker than a question about who was the best keyboardist. Throw in whether you like Donna’s vocals or not, and serious trouble could have been brewing around the drum circle in the lot after the show. And that is exactly the sort of strong emotions that this show seems to provoke. Going through the comments on Archive is a humorous trip through every imaginable, and many merely imagined, complaints and commendations for Keith, Donna, and Brent. You can decide for yourselves, but we tend to appreciate all the eras of the band and realize evolution and change were the only enduring things in the Dead’s sound and that it was this vitality that made the music so exciting.

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