By the time the Grateful Dead “trucked up to Buffalo” in January of 1979, the walls had already begun to crumble on this particular incarnation of the band. The end was nigh for Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux with their last show as members not even a month away now. And for tonight’s show, there would be no Donna Jean at all, making it a “boys only” performance, giving Deadheads a possible glimpse of what’s to come in the near future.
“Promised Land” serves as a fun little opener but this show takes off with the “Sugaree” that follows. The band gets into a relaxed groove immediately and it’s flavored with a trifecta of sublime guitar solos, courtesy of Jerry Garcia, each one growing with intensity. This carries over to a “Peggy-O” later in the set that seems to start off slower than usual but still winds up with a beautiful peak. And the writing certainly seemed to be on the walls for the all-too-fitting “Its All Over Now” that follows with its “I used to love her” lyrics.
The first set at Shea’s also features a “Jack-A-Roe” that has some shaky footing early but gets ironed out nicely with Garcia dropping another couple of slick runs on lead guitar with Bob Weir firmly in command on rhythm. The two pair up again nicely on a “New Minglewood Blues” that comes next and gets stretched out a little before a short but ferocious “Jack Straw” wraps up the set.
For those who were at last week’s show in Utica, well, the second set tonight would begin the same exact way with an opening pairing of “I Need A Miracle” and “Bertha.” The “Miracle” almost seems to be cut a little short or “rip corded,” in the parlance of our times. But a spirited “Bertha” flows effortlessly into a cover of The Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin'” that has the Buffalo crowd screaming in delight. Things finally cool down a little with a “Loser” that’s played more than ably but seems a little misplaced here mid-second set.
The latter part of this particular Buffalo show is vintage Grateful Dead and features something that those who were there would be able to brag about for years to come. It all begins with an “Estimated Prophet” that fires on all cylinders early before settling into a mellow, soulful jam with the bottom end handled nimbly by bassist Phil Lesh. As the mellowness fades and the tempo picks up, he helps steer the jam seamlessly into “The Other One” that gets a round of applause from Shea’s. This yields a jam that quickly goes deep until it’s just Garcia and the drummers remaining, with parrying back and forth. Naturally, this gives way to the “Drums” portion of the evening, with these three songs producing a full 30 minutes-plus worth of sonic wizardry.
After the band reemerges for a brief “Space” with its usual noodle-y nonsense, they immediately go back and complete “The Other One” and its final verse. Instead of raging on afterwards, instead the jam dwindles down to nothingness before the iconic opening notes of “Dark Star” ring out. Deadheads would need to savor this one though as this seminal tune would not be played for another 238 shows, not returning until almost three years later.
From “Dark Star” it almost sounds as if the music wants to return back once more to “The Other One” but instead Garcia starts up the opening chords of “Not Fade Away” as the show begins to come to a close. The set ends with a “Sugar Magnolia” that’s spurred on by clapping from the ever-engaged Shea’s Theatre before Weir belts out another one with “One More Saturday Night.” The tour would then head Midwest afterwards, officially bringing the end of a Grateful Dead era to the East Coast.
Grateful Dead Shea’s Theatre – Buffalo, NY 1/20/79
Set 1: Promised Land, Sugaree, El Paso, Peggy-O, It’s All Over Now, Jack-A-Roe, New Minglewood Blues, Stagger Lee, Jack Straw
Set 2: I Need A Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’, Loser, Estimated Prophet > The Other One > Drums > Space > Dark Star > Not Fade Away > Sugar Magnolia
E: One More Saturday Night