The final night of any given tour can find the musicians excited at the prospects of jobs well-done throughout the prior road work or exhausted and lethargic from their previous labors. Fifty years ago, when the Grateful Dead
's Europe '72
(Warner Bros., 1972) was released, the third LP of the set (conceived as such in part as fulfillment of their contract with the label), included material from the final show of the now mythic tour, clearly documenting how these psychedelic warriors were very much in the former state of collective mind. As such, if there was one performance that encapsulates the entirety of the excellence of their spring time jaunt across the water, it's Lyceum Theater, London, England 5/26/72
. In his discerning essay within the enclosed six-page insert inside this four-CD package (or alternately, the twenty-four pieces of vinyl) author/musician/radio host David Gans accurately encapsulates the essence of the Grateful Dead seven years into their existence.
As the writer duly notes, lacking the exploratory likes of "Dark Star" and an extended spotlight for Ron "Pigpen' McKernan, this iconic group was well into one of if not the most significant transitional phase of its thirty-year career. That is, the ensemble began to emphasize the structure of its musicianship to correlate with that of the plethora of original material now at its disposal. In that respect, if no other, it makes perfect sense that the original release serves as a combination gateway/benchmark for the Grateful Dead fanbase at large. This despite the fact that, as subsequent collections of such recordings were issued, it's become common knowledge that the content was fairly significantly overdubbed with additional vocal tracks as well as guitar and piano sweetening/correction.
To that end, in order to present polished excerpts from the tour, almost all of the stage banter and crowd reactions were edited out at the tops and tails of songs. To some extent, even Europe '72 Volume 2
(Rhino Records, 2011, compiled by chief archivist David Lemeiux at the time of issuing The Complete Recordings
(Rhino Records, 2011), is a live/studio hybrid. But then, such an approach was hardly an anomaly at the time (Merl Saunders
overdubbed some keyboards on the previous concert collection Grateful Dead
aka 'Skull & Roses' (Warner Bros., 1971).
And the fact is, the bedrock performances only required some accent, not reconstruction, as with the sweetening on the vocals for "I Know You Rider,": such attention to detail is indicative of the precision upon which the Grateful Dead put so much premium at this stage of their career. This careful orientation also applies to the rotation of songs in the setlist: sung in cyclical fashion by lead guitarist Jerry Garcia
("Sugaree," "Deal"), rhythm guitarist Bob Weir
("El Paso," "Black-Throated?? Wind") and keyboardist/harpist McKernan ("Next Time You See Me,' "The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion)") the tight economy of the arrangements, combined with the variety of stylesee also "Casey Jones"represent a quantum leap in sophistication for the Grateful Dead.
Even the most exploratory of intervals, such as the eighteen minutes-plus of "Playing In The Band," are earmarked by an emphatic authority that moves the improvisation(s) along with a minimum of aimless digression(s). There's a purpose to the playing around the fifteen-minute mark of "Truckin,'" too, an interval which otherwise bears no resemblance to the familiar blues-derived shuffle of the song itself. In that context the rhythm section's activity is at its most remarkable.
No matter how mobile and nimble are bassist Phil Lesh
and drummer Bill Kreutzmann
as they play the ebullient "Sugar Magnolia," they never collide with each other instrumentally. Instead, much like the fluid means by which Garcia's guitar and Keith Godchaux' piano counterpoint each other on, to name just one, "Cumberland Blues," these rhythm devils find myriad ways to complement each other in the very midst of the moment(s) they find themselves. And that's not to mention the sturdy organ backdrop provided by Pigpen: that instrument sets off in sharp relief the textures of the other instruments.
The near four hours of music from the venerable London venue moves in waves as it evolves. CD three, in fact, is comprised of seven cuts, all of which proceed via segues beginning with "Truckin,'" in and out of "The Other One" (twice!), a brief "Drums," then into "Morning Dew" before concluding with a cover of Merle Haggard
's "Sing Me Back Home" (also rendered in heartbreaking fashion by the late Gram Parsons during his tenure with the Flying Burrito Brothers). Such dynamics are testament to the ever-sharpening collective imagination of the Grateful Dead, the likes of which hadn't lessened in their modified approach to live playing, but had only become more focused.
No doubt there are skeptics who may wonder if the bottom of the barrel is being scraped to come up with a release like this, especially given its many antecedents. After all, Steppin' Out with the Grateful Dead
(Grateful Dead, 2002), Rockin' The Rhein
(Rhino, 2004) as well as Hundred Year Hall
(Grateful Dead, 1995) also come from the trans-Atlantic adventure marked by the birth of the 'bozos' and the 'bolos' (the colorful likes of which appear prominently within the booklet inside the two-CD anniversary package).
But that's all notwithstanding the half-century milestone this release recognizes in the most understated fashion. Lyceum Theater, London, England 5/26/72
is something very unique indeed within the Grateful Dead oeuvre, perhaps even as much (or more ?) as the fabled Cornell 5/8/77
(Rhino, 2017). First released as part of the aforementioned massive compendium and now available as a limited edition standalone, the recordings here have been remastered from the original 16-track tapes by David Glasser for alternately punchy and porous effect and suitably adorned with witty new cover art by the legendary Stanley Mouse. All of which scrupulous concentration simply ratifies the extent to which this title deserves its distinction.
CD 1: Promised Land; Sugaree; Mr. Charlie; Black Throated Wind; Loser; Next
Time You See Me; El Paso; Dire Wolf; Two Souls In Communion; Playing In
The Band. CD 2: He's Gone; Cumberland Blues; Jack Straw; Chinatown
Shuffle; China Cat Sunflower;I Know You Rider; Not Fade Away >Goin' Down
The Road Feelin' Bad>Not Fade Away. CD 3: Truckin'; The Other One;
Morning Dew; The Other One; Sing Me Back Home. CD 4: Me And My Uncle;
Ramble On Rose; Sugar Magnolia; Casey Jones; One More Saturday Night.
Jerry Garcia: vocals; Bob Weir:vocals; Ron (Pigpen) McKernan: organ,
harmonica; Phil Lesh: vocals; Donna Godchaux: vocals.