Today in Grateful Dead History: April 24, 1972 – Rheinhalle, Duesseldorf, Germany

stealieWhy is it that every time I have a show this good to write about, I don’t have the time to do it justice?  I’ve owned this one for years – it was officially released as Rockin’ the Rhein with the Grateful Dead, and it was the first full concert from the band’s famous Europe ’72 tour to be commercially released – and it’s a whopper .  So I could have written this earlier and been more thorough.  Sorry.  If you don’t want to read my random notes, just pop it on any song – it’s that good.

The key takeaways from this show are as follows:

  1.  For my money, this European tour represents the greatest stretch of amazing playing in the history of the Grateful Dead.  Barring a few mishaps, almost every show from this run is incredible from start to finish.
  2. The opening Truckin’ is flavored in so many ways by Keith Godchaux, who just excels tonight.  This is the first of many songs that he simply crushes.
  3. China Cat Sunflower>I Know You Rider.  There are no words.
  4. Good Lovin’ is one of the best ever, with a jam through the middle third that is waaay out there and a superb ending.
  5. This up-tempo He’s Gone features a loud Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir in total communion.
  6. Dark Star, which is a two-parter separated by Me and My Uncle, is 40 minutes long and goes through every possible Dark Star mutation possible except for the most obvious ones.  You’ve been warned – this is one of the greatest of all time in a year that is just loaded with amazing Dark Stars.
  7. Sugar Magnolia and Not Fade Away are as hyped up as it gets for this band in 1972.
  8. Ditto One More Saturday Night.

This show is the real, real deal.  Unfortunately, the sound quality on the Archive versions is garbanzo.  The good news, for those of you who don’t own it, is that Rockin’ the Rhein is on Spotify and other streaming services, so if you can’t find a copy to buy, you can listen to a much better version there.  For those of you who want the Archive version, here it is:


Today in Grateful Dead History: March 21, 1972 – Academy of Music, New York, NY

stealieThe Grateful Dead used tonight’s show at New York’s Academy of Music, along with the following six shows at that same venue, as the warm up shows (and funding source) for their much-heralded 1972 tour of Europe, which would start on April 7th.  Since this is 1972, the songs don’t need a whole lot of honing, and the band smokes throughout the night.

Tonight is also the live premiere of Looks Like Rain and The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion), two songs with very different histories.  Looks Like Rain is a Bob Weir staple that was played 417 times in every year from 1972 – 1995 except 1974 and 1975.  It also features one of the worst sets of lines of any rock song ever written: “Did you ever waken to the sound of street cats making love? You guess from the cries you were listening to a fight. Well you know, oh know, haste is the last thing they’re thinking of. You know they’re only tryin’ to make it through the night.”  It hurts just to type it.  BUT, having said that, Jerry Garcia seemed to love ripping frenetic background runs all over this song and it’s often a really good part of the evening.  For tonight’s debut, Jerry is unusually playing a pedal steel guitar and he tears it up.  So don’t skip it.

The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion), on the other hand, is a very rare Pigpen composition that was only played 13 times – 6 times here at the Academy of Music and another 7 performances in Europe.  It was never released on a studio recording.  It’s a searching, soulful blues number that Pigpen really owns every time he sings it.  I wish he wrote it a couple of years earlier – it would have been perfect in the 1970 – 71 repertoire.

The rest of this show is a typical beast of a 1972 performance – there is almost nothing bad about it.  The first set is anchored by a thrilling, 14-minute Good Lovin’, but all of the short songs are awesome.  The main course in the second set is Truckin’>Drums>The Other One>Wharf Rat.  Truckin’ doesn’t get totally out there, instead sitting firmly on the ground and rocking with a tremendous force.  The Other One feels like it is going to follow this same pattern, but midway through the jam really opens up into some abstract playing that is unusual there – the band is completely engaged and fluid, allowing the space to serve as another instrument.  Wharf Rat is typical until close to the end, when the band switches gears and rattles the walls with a power that the Dead rarely unleashed on this tune.

Some of the other nights from this run can only be found on horrific audience recordings or on Dick’s Picks 30, Dave’s Picks 14 and various bonus CD’s, so tonight is a good chance to catch the boys as they gear up for Europe.  Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: December 12, 1972 – Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA

stealieToday’s show is from 1972, so it’s a good one (haven’t heard a bad one yet).  But the meat of the performance is definitely in the 2nd set, so if you don’t have a ton of time, you can skip the beginning and jump right to Playin’ in the Band, which clocks in at a smooth 17 minutes of psychedelic fun. There’s nothing here that a fan of 1972 hasn’t heard before, but that’s why you’re listening to this show, right?  So dig in.

Right after Playin’ in the Band we get the extended jam of the night, a He’s Gone>Truckin’>The Other One that seems to go on forever in the best possible way.  There are not a lot of wasted notes here and Phil and Billy play off each other for several minutes in the transition into The Other One.  This is high quality 1972 Dead and it flows into a pitch perfect, beautiful version of Sing Me Back Home, with Jerry playing a heartfelt, gorgeous solo that will sweep you away.  The rest of the night is spent rocking, and let me tell you, something must have gotten into Bob Weir, because he brings everything up to 11.5, hollering away at another level.

If you have time for the first set, Box of Rain sounds really good today, as does Bobby McGee.  But, honestly, everything is clicking tonight – you’re going to like this one.

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: November 13, 1972 – Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS

stealieIf you are a soundboard snob, then you might as well pack it in right now, because today we’re going to discuss a slightly dicey forty-five year old audience recording.  But those of you who stick around will be rewarded with one of the most unique Dark Stars of the 70’s.

The reason that this show probably isn’t very well known is that almost all of the first set only exists online in the form of a very muddy audience recording.  The levels are far to high and the instruments  don’t blend well at all.  Most of the vocals top out.  But trust me, the underlying music is very good here, no more so then on Tomorrow is Forever, which suffers more than most songs from the recording quality.  This is probably my favorite Grateful Dead version of the song – Donna rises above the occasion and Keith’s piano is a work of art.  I remember that the other band members used to compliment Keith by saying that he could pick up any style of playing almost immediately, and this particular song shows just how well he could play country piano when he wanted to, which, unfortunately, was not too much as the 70’s wore on and the Dead moved away from those roots.  But not tonight.  You should listen despite the audio issues.

Playin’ in the Band is the last song of the first set, and it is also the first song on the second audience source that furnishes most of the music from this point forward.  This recording was made by Bear himself and it is exponentially better than the first source, which is good, because the Dead turn things up to another level on this Playin’ in the Band, which lays waste to your senses starting about halfway in.

After the set break we get a few warm up songs before the main event, a 33 minute Dark Star for the ages.  This one builds very slowly, but you need to stick with it until approximately 20 minutes in, at which point the dissonance begins to build and the tension in the room rises.  Just when you’ve probably reached your breaking point, Phil takes over and drives the song over a cliff into a frenetic Feeling Groovy jam.  This is one of the fastest versions of this sequence that I’ve ever heard, yet the Dead are up to the task tonight, rocking on Dark Star like you’ve probably never experienced.  I know I haven’t.  And then, without missing a beat, we’re off into a Morning Dew that will lacerate your spirit.

This review isn’t going to do justice to these two songs – just plug them in and be patient.  If you sit back and let it unfold, you’re about to experience a phenomenal 45 minutes of pure 1972 Grateful Dead.

You can listen to all the glory here, and remember, the sound gets better with Playin’ in the Band, so don’t judge this audience recording by its opening songs: 

Today in Grateful Dead History: July 18, 1972 – Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ

stealieTime is short today, which stinks because I could write two thousands words on this excellent show and not sum it up properly.  After further review, I even added this show to my “best of” list because, for some reason, this crappy stadium brought out something extra special in the Dead and why not have three shows from Jersey City in the mix. Anyhows, since there is so much to talk about with this gem, I’ll do a really quick list:

  1. After a whirlwind tour of Europe in the spring, the Dead took some time off before heading out for the summer.  There was a one off show at the Hollywood Bowl on June 17th and then a month before they opened the summer tour in Hartford on July 16th.  So they are rested.
  2. Pigpen was very ill at this point and didn’t come with the band on this tour.  This would obviously completely alter the history of the Grateful Dead.  For tonight’s purposes, it represents a dramatic left turn, song-selection wise.
  3. This is as raw a show as you are going to hear between 1972 and 1974.  It is just all power and very heavy guitar.  If you doubt me, listen to the AUD.
  4. You’re going to hear the first Bird Song in almost a year.  Enjoy that.
  5. Stella Blue debuted at that Hollywood Bowl show in June and was played in Hartford as well, but since this was the 70’s and music didn’t travel via the internet, I’m pretty sure that almost no one in this crowd had heard it before.  (Wake of the Flood didn’t come out for another year).  It’s amazing to hear everyone talking and yelling during the slow start, only to suddenly come under the spell of this completely new song.  Jerry works the mojo throughout in a special version that stuns everyone into submission.
  6. Oh dear Lord, Playin’ in the Band is an all time monster of guitar noise.  One of the best “shorter” versions you’ll ever hear.
  7. If that’s not enough, get ready for Truckin’>Dark Star.  This is not delicate music, and comes as close to rocking as Dark Star will ever come, but it is also totally unique and impressive and gets better every time you hear it.  Again, check out the AUD if you want to hear what this does to the people in attendance and if you want to get the gist of just how much energy was flowing from the band tonight (it’s a lot).
  8. Dark Star segues into a crystalline Comes a Time that, if you were really into that Dark Star, is going to make you cry.
  9. The rest (and there is still a ton before they’re done in this three set show) is quite the party, including an off-the-hook, second-time-played Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo and a brilliant, perfectly placed Sing Me Back Home.

I’ve written more than I thought I would.  Since this show is obviously a beast, go from Playin’ in the Band through Comes a Time for the best part and add Stella for an encore.  But it deserves to be played repeatedly and loudly, in full.

Matrix here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 28, 1972 – Stanley Theatre, Jersey City, NJ

stealieThe Grateful Dead Listening Guide has a perfect post describing this show and the Dead’s September ’72 output in general, so go there and read that.

I don’t have much more to add.  This show is a beast throughout, with the highlights being Playin’ in the Band and The Other One, as they often are in 1972.  I will note that The Other One is based around a lot of space – there are times where it goes very far out there and the distance becomes almost untenable.  But the band brings it back in by the end.

Seriously, just read the essay on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide and enjoy.  I’ll be more thorough tomorrow (today, since this is being posted late).

Listen here:

Today in Grateful Dead History: September 26, 1972 – Stanley Theatre, Jersey City, NJ

stealieWhen last we spoke about 1972, I warned you that September was chock full of incredible Grateful Dead music.  Exhibit A – tonight’s show, the first of three nights in a row at the Stanley Theatre (people in Jersey can’t spell too good), is the worst of the three and it’s still amazing from start to finish.

Things get off to a fast start with The Promised Land, Cold Rain and Snow and Me and My Uncle, but it’s when the boys slow things down on He’s Gone where you really start to get the sense that something is in the air.  In later years, the band would lean heavily on dirgey vocal improvisations at the end of this song, but during 1972, and at this point in 1972 in particular, the closing jam was all guitar, with Jerry and Bob lashing back and forth while Phil scurries around on the notes in between them.  Tonight’s jam strikes that tenuous balance between fragile and fractured that makes the best He’s Gones so gripping.

Skipping ahead to Deal, you hear just how confident everyone is.  This isn’t the best version you’re going to hear, but Jerry rips off several tight solos and lifts the band with him.  Big River, sometimes just a vehicle for tight bursts of Jerry’s manic guitar wizardry, chortles down the tracks like a train on a schedule, with everyone pulling their weight and the engine in perfect time.  The first solo in Sugaree comes in hot, almost feeding back, but when Jerry pulls it together, it’s a brilliant thirty seconds of music.  It’s interesting to hear it in its raw state.  Ditto Around and Around, which had not been played too much yet.  It sounds amped up yet cautious, as if the Dead are still figuring out the best way to make it their own.  (Maybe they should have stuck with this version).

We’re missing the second set opening Bertha, one of several flaws with this recording including major cuts in Cumberland Blues and The Other One.  But nothing is missing from Playin’ in the Band tonight – it’s a twenty-two minute barn burner that achieves great things three quarters of the way through.  (And if you think this one is good, wait until the 28th).   A few songs later, we get one of the Dead’s ten versions of Tomorrow is Forever, and a good one at that.  This tune really shows off Donna’s ability as a background vocalist and is much more in her range than most of the other songs that she sang with the Dead.  The second major piece of the second set is Truckin’>The Other One.  It’s not possible to write about these extra long segments of music without listening to them ten times, and I don’t have the capacity to do that.  So just plug in and enjoy the ride on this one – it gets better as it goes, that’s for sure.  At the end of The Other One, we end up with It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, which fits in perfectly here.  The Dead had played this tune off and on in 1966 and then again in 1969-70, but they would only play it twice in ’72 and once in ’74 before setting it aside until the 80’s.  So enjoy it while you’ve got it.

The next two days of music are even better than this one, so if I don’t make it back to 1972 this week, and if you have the extra time, sample those shows, too.  Otherwise, enjoy this one here: