Grateful Dead - Red Rocks 7/8/78 album review

First official release for epic gig from the Dead’s legendary Betty Boards bootleg series.

Grateful Dead Red Rocks 7/8/78 album cover

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Classic 70s Grateful Dead shows were rarely more triumphant or voluminous than this (numerically notable) outdoor spectacular. Red Rocks would become synonymous with U2’s pomp five years later, but in ’78 the Dead wove a very different sort of truly, deeply American magic into its dramatic setting.

Across the 169-minute performance the classic, Jerry Garcia-fronted line-up, augmented with Keith and Donna Godchaux, manage to be all things to all Deadheads; shambling bar-band morphs into rollicking kick-ass country band of your dreams… and more.

Garcia is in particularly good form on the ballads (a killer It Must Have Been The Roses, a mesmerising Ship Of Fools). Experts profess that Garcia’s personal condition/disposition could, by turns, render a Dead show of this period ill or wondrous. Here he glows like a sun king.

CD3 attains peak Jerry. His spectral odyssey on the delicate and barbed Terrapin Station is edged toward starburst by Phil Lesh’s stupendous bass playing – truly a wonder to behold. The closing careening cover of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves Of London (his version was then but a few months old) encapsulates Garcia and The Dead’s role as instant folk-art curators, while elsewhere potent creativity abounds. An unqualified triumph.

Late NME, Daily Mirror and Classic Rock writer Gavin Martin started writing about music in 1977 when he published his hand-written fanzine Alternative Ulster in Belfast. He moved to London in 1980 to become the NME’s Media Editor and features writer, where he interviewed the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer, Pete Townshend, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Dury, Killing Joke, Neil Young, REM, Sting, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Willie Dixon, Madonna and a host of others. He was also published in The Times, Guardian, Independent, Loaded, GQ and Uncut, he had pieces on Michael Jackson, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra featured in The Faber Book Of Pop and Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay, and was the Daily Mirror’s regular music critic from 2001. He died in 2022.