Today marks the anniversary of one of the last Grateful Dead shows ever to take place in Utica. It comes at a time that’s the end of an era, so to speak, as Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux’s final shows with the band would take place the following month in February before keyboardist Brent Mydland’s tenure began soon after. It’s not a very widely circulated show by any means; the lone audio copy is far from pristine and, supposedly, technical issues plagued the concert that night. It’s the third of four shows that the Dead would play at Utica Memorial Auditorium and one of the final times that fans in New York, and the Northeast for that matter, would be able to see the Godchauxs on stage.
In a fitting nod to the locale and season, the Grateful Dead greet Utica Memorial Auditorium with “Cold Rain And Snow.” The rowdy auditorium crowd eats it up, whistling and clapping endlessly throughout. A couple of crisp runs from Jerry Garcia on guitar give way to some engaged harmonies by song’s end, starting the show off nicely. First set stalwart “New Minglewood Blues” follows with the Utica faithful still very much engaged, taking the collective whistling of approval to another level. “Dire Wolf” does little to temper the audible energy, with Garcia’s signature guitar solo showing plenty of pep in its step. Bob Weir then tags back in on lead vocals for a jazzy “Me And My Uncle” which flows seamlessly into a rather percussive “Big River,” a song pairing that started the previous year and would remain popular for the rest of the Grateful Dead’s career.
The breakneck speed of all the songs after the opener finally comes to a halt with “They Love Each Other,” played very much in its low tempo format, lending itself much better to Donna Jean’s vocal harmonies which are also prominently featured alongside Weir for the emotional “Looks Like Rain” that comes next. A top notch “Brown Eyed Women” with a few more remarkable runs by Garcia up and down the fretboard follows, although it’s marred a little by some audio difficulties on the recording. The first set then begins to wrap up with a cover Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” perhaps foreshadowing the upcoming end of an era. It’s a spirited version though, with Garcia and Keith Godchaux on piano trading fills back and forth. After a run through the folksy “Jack-A-Roe,” a regular cover at future Garcia solo gigs, the set comes to a close with another legendary pairing of songs “Lazy Lightning” and “Supplication.” The jam connecting the two is very much energetic, heavily psychedelic and fueled with extensive work on the drums from the Rhythm Devils, a great sign for the second set to come.
After a set break to rehydrate and reenergize, the second part of the show begins with somewhat of a first set feel to it. “I Need A Miracle” has a slightly extended Garcia-driven jam neatly attached to it which builds the platform for a launch into a boisterous “Bertha.” The communal good vibes keep moving along into a customarily raucous cover of “Good Lovin'” with Weir taking his usual liberties with vocals before “Stagger Lee” mellows things out a tad.
Finally, for a show bereft of much deep end improvisation, the next few numbers do their best to make up for it. The composed section of “Estimated Prophet” is played to near perfection, minus some off kilter early Garcia vocals, before later devolving into near silence (with the exception of more whistlers) for a soaring, exploratory jam that literally builds itself from the ground up. As the pace reaches a crescendo, some familiar guitar chords begin to seep through and the Dead are off and running in Utica with a blisteringly quick “Eyes Of The World.” Garcia dazzles once more in the song’s first jam with a jaw-dropping flurry of notes that can’t seemingly be played any faster. The second one is dominated by the rhythm section of bassist Phil Lesh and the drummers so, naturally, this makes its way into the “Drums” portion of the evening, shining the spotlight on Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart for a while.
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A rather choppy-starting “Iko Iko” slowly but surely emerges from “Drums” and it’s played at a much slower tempo than it would be in the years to follow, making for an interesting early version. At its conclusion, the familiar noodley opening jam of “The Other One” begins to develop before Lesh’s thunderous opening bass riff confirms it. It’s a short but sweet take that serves as the evening’s last true dip into psychedelia.
Oddly there would be no encore for this show. Instead it wraps up with the lead singers going back and forth one last time. First, Garcia leads the band through a soulful “Black Peter” before Weir does the same for a show-closing cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around” that has both he and Donna Jean trading lyrics back and forth by song’s end.
Grateful Dead – Utica Memorial Auditorium – Utica, NY 1/14/79
Set 1: Cold Rain And Snow, New Minglewood Blues, Dire Wolf, Me And My Uncle > Big River, They Love Each Other, Looks Like Rain, Brown Eyed Women, It’s All Over Now, Jack-A-Roe, Lazy Lightnin’ > Supplication
Set 2: I Need A Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’, Stagger Lee, Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Iko Iko > The Other One > Black Peter > Around And Around