Day 11: Uncle John’s Band, 12/26/79

Grateful Dead Dick's Picks 5 album cover artwork

I was first introduced to the Dead by kid named Jesse who I knew in 8th grade. Like many, I’m sure, my first entry point to the band was Skeletons in the Closet. Interestingly, I shed my copy of Skeletons years ago because I had all the other albums and didn’t need it, but it’s contents have proven their durability over the years. The first Dead song that I could call my favorite without reservation was Uncle John’s Band. Again, I’m sure I’m not the only one who found this song’s accessibility as an entry point to the Dead. While I now find it difficult to name a favorite Dead song, as it changes by the day, UJB is always in the conversation.

This New Years run in 1979 is one that seems to have garnered a bit of infamy over the years. The 12/26 show was released at DP5, and 12/28 was released as RT3.1. The latter was also the topic of discussion on a recent episode of Tales from the Golden Road (12/29/13 broadcast). I had heard previously plaudits suggesting that the 12/26 version of UJB is one of the best. The song has seen a number of different iterations and arrangements that it’s difficult to name a definitive version; studio acoustic, live acoustic, live electric all have their own nuances and rewards for the listener.

In this version Garcia meanders through the intro and Brent supports with a bit of the rinkety-plinky keyboard sound that was common for him during his first few years with the band. The vocals are solid all around without some of the, er… variations that marred some version of the song. This is one area where Brent was a solid addition to the band in my opinion; his strong vocals. Garcia’s first solo starts with some lightning quick riffs that quickly segue into a more legato, comparatively, feel before returning to the quick bursts of energy before heading back into the next verse. The tension and release in Jerry’s solo is evident as the peaks and valleys reveal themselves. Phil is present throughout and keeps everything moving forward (or is it furthur?). After the singing is done, around the 7 minute mark, the band moves into the minor key ending jam. Garcia flips on his envelope filter and coaxes some interesting sounds from his trusty axe. The effect change may also be a subtle hint to which song the band would play next, as anyone reading the setlist can suss out on their own. The crescendo of this section continues to build only to devolve quickly as the band adjusts their timing and tempo for the 7/4 monster that is Estimated Prophet.

There is little fault to be found in this UJB.

Complete Setlist 12/26/79

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  1. A church organ warmup gives the false impression that this will be something else before Jerry starts in on the chords to this favorite. Bob makes a few moves toward the islands but not excessively. The singing as it enters is fine. Confidence exudes and the words are nailed. Hoo-ray! Garcia’s first solo is sublime in its turns through what could be just about anything but are here the chimes of heaven. It goes on and on as he just has a lot to say. Come hear! The re-entrance to the singing is smooth and once again nails all of the lyrics. Yes! But, where does the song go? Or how? Come on along anyway. It is such an intense jam that we can’t resist. Awesome in every way. Phil signals the transition with a hold on the root which prompts a pleasant wreck through any number of possibilities before the band magically lands on the the top of Estimated Prophet.

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