Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Grateful Dead (#1 in 1972)

1972. The Grateful Dead were on a roll, having released four of their best albums ever: Live/Dead (1969), Workingman's Dead, American Beauty (both 1970), and Grateful Dead (1971), known as "Skull & Roses." Title proposed to Warner Bros.: Skullfuck.

How to follow that? Well, how 'bout a monumental two-month tour of Europe, yielding a triple-"live" album? Plus three members' "solo" debuts?? "Live" because Europe '72 is based on live multi-track soundboard recordings, played in a studio through the stage sound system, then cleaned-up with overdubs and edits. "Solo" because rhythm guitarist Bob Weir's Ace is a Grateful Dead record with only Bob songs, and drummer Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder has most all of the surviving Bay Area hippies on it (plus the titular Shoshone medicine man). Only Garcia is truly solo, with Jerry doing everything but the drums, provided by the jazzier one.

So, one at at time: Europe '72! If I was asked to suggest one Dead album to own, it would be tempting. If asked to suggest one live album, it's a lock. You get sweet 1970 album highlights like Truckin', Sugar Magnolia, and Cumberland Blues. New songs like Brown-Eyed Women, Ramble On Rose, and Jack Straw. The definitive released versions of China > Rider and Morning Dew. There's some signature noodley explorations, but much more of the ol' time party-rockin' jams. Hell, even a Hank Williams cover! The only possible issue is the shortage of blues-belting from Pigpen, who would die within a year. (Corrected with 1973's memorial Bear's Choice, compiled by Owsley Stanley.) This line-up had everything... Pigpen's organ and harmonica balanced with new member Keith Godchaux's piano. Double-drummers at the height of their power. [Edit 11/28: just caught some Fillmore doc on PBS, and made me rethink and recheck: Mickey wasn't playing with the band in '72 - solo drummer, d'oh!!!] The front line firing on all cylinders, and then some! This is some seriously primo triple-live stuff, man.

Rolling Thunder
None of the solo records can match those heights, but they're all good too. Garcia has Dead mainstays like Loser and The Wheel. But also several weird electronic noise experiments - used in the opening to The Grateful Dead Movie (1977). Ace has the full band going on other long-time lynchpins, plus great nuggets like Cassidy and Mexicali Blues. Definitely a fertile period for Weir songwriting, maybe the only one. But the Grateful Dead were never a top-flight studio band, and Rolling Thunder has the most Dead-like ragged, lived-in feel of the three. Clearly made on the casual with buddies in a ranch-home recording studio, it's the least professional and most personal. Probably not the place anyone would start, but still criminally overlooked within the Dead library.

1972 is among the most highly revered years from the Grateful Dead, up there with 1977, 1970, 1989-90, 1967-68. These things are determined almost entirely by the live show history, but this particular peak is also reflected in the official record.

Concertgebouw Amsterdam
In case you couldn't make it... the Europe '72 tour!!
(Links to streams, with DeadBase tape rankings.
Seriously... Rotterdam.)

04/07/1972 [n/r] Wembley Empire Pool, London
04/08/1972 [released] Wembley Empire Pool, London
04/11/1972 [n/r] City Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne
04/14/1972 [#136] Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
04/16/1972 [n/r] Aarhus University, Denmark
04/17/1972 [#310] Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
04/21/1972 [n/r] Beat Club, Bremen, Germany
04/24/1972 [released] Rheinhalle, Duesseldorf, Germany
04/26/1972 [partial, #473] Jahrhundert Halle, Frankfurt
04/29/1972 [#474] Musikhalle, Hamburg, Germany
05/03/1972 [#475] Olympia Theater, Paris
05/04/1972 [#476] Olympia Theater, Paris
05/07/1972 [released] Bickershaw Festival, Wigan, England
05/10/1972 [#477] Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
05/11/1972 [#23] Rotterdam Civic Hall, Holland
05/13/1972 [n/r] Lille Fairgrounds, France
05/16/1972 [n/r] Radio Luxembourg, Luxembourg
05/18/1972 [#478] Kongressaal, Deutsches Museum, Munich
05/23/1972 [released] The Strand Lyceum, London
05/24/1972 [partial] The Strand Lyceum, London
05/25/1972 [partial, #479] The Strand Lyceum, London
05/26/1972 [#35] The Strand Lyceum, London

Europe '72
Official - dead.net/
Myspace - myspace.com/gratefuldead
Purchase - Amazon
iTunes - Grateful Dead

Genre - Ur-Jamband
Reviews - Sputnik Music, AllMusic Guide, Sputnik again, AllMusic again...

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