We head back to the Island for this week’s Jerry Sundays installment with a Grateful Dead show at the legendary Nassau Coliseum from 1979. The band played two shows here earlier that year in January, more than five years after their first appearance in Uniondale in 1973.
Now, in the middle of hockey season, and at the peak of the NY Islanders hockey dynasty no less, the Dead played three shows at the famous arena that surrounded Halloween. This was still the dawn of a new era of Dead as the band was still breaking in keyboard player Brent Mydland, new to the band as of April that year.
The tone for this evening is immediately set through a ferocious “Jack Straw” that starts the show off in grand fashion. Weir’s vocals are matched in intensity only by the lead guitar fills supplied by Jerry Garcia. “They Love Each Other” ends with a flippant comment from guitarist Bob Weir afterwards about Russia “bombing Staten Island” that evening. The Cold War Era was truly a different time. A robust and particularly uptempo “Mama Tried” that follows seems to take the place of the usual early show “El Paso” due to the “Mexicali Blues” that starts up immediately afterwards.
Another gem from this first set is a crisp version of “Peggy-O,” with delicate vocals and guitar play both handled wonderfully by Garcia. The swaying emotions that the cover of this traditional ballad brings with it would be a staple of Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows for years to come. This one has a smooth delivery thanks to an in-sync rhythm section that motors along behind Garcia effortlessly.
The first set “Candyman” features even more howling guitar play from Garcia and the “Looks Like Rain” that follows is filled with even more emotional guitar fills that accompany nicely with Weir’s vocals that steadily build in ferocity as the song develops. And the newcomer gets a first set contribution as well as the Mydland-penned ballad “Easy To Love You” makes one of its earlier appearances.
But the true “meat and potatoes” of this show is the opening sequence of the second set. Some consider this longest “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” combination that the band has ever played. And they would have a legitimate argument as this one effortlessly stretches out past thirty minutes in all. Garcia and Mydland start hooking up as the “Scarlet” jam progresses and this carries all the way into and through a “Fire” that more than lives up to its name.
The rest of the second set is certainly no slouch, but the extended break and rabid fan reaction after these first two songs marked the end of something special. The “Terrapin Station” that follows later in the set features more of the same relaxed tone in some of its transitional sections that stretch out a little longer than usual. This eventually gives way to a “Playin’ In The Band” that races through its composition and serves up another psychedelic offering with more heavy Garcia-Mydland interplay steering the collective ship.
A late second set “Black Peter” gives Garcia’s guitar the spotlight and a chance to blissfully wail away again. And the “U.S. Blues” encore hits all the right notes, courtesy of more passionate playing from Mydland. But the legendary “Scarlet” > “Fire” pairing that opens the second set is what makes this show so special – one of the greatest versions of one of the band’s greatest pairings. In other words, just another typical New York Grateful Dead show.
Grateful Dead 11/1/79 Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Uniondale, NY
Set 1: Jack Straw, They Love Each Other, Mama Tried-> Mexicali Blues, Peggy-O, Minglewood Blues, Candyman, Looks Like Rain, Don’t Ease Me In, Easy To Love You, Promised Land
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias-> Fire On The Mountain, Samson & Delilah, Terrapin Station-> Playin’ In The Band-> Drums->Space->Black Peter-> Good Lovin’
Encore: U.S. Blues