Review Summary: The Grateful Dead are most famous as a live band and Europe '72 encapsulates the group at one of its creative peaks.
At the start of 1972 the Grateful Dead were on a roll. After struggling for years to reach mainstream success the Dead released two hit albums in 1970, the classics American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. In 1971 the band released their first commercially successful live album, the self-titled album more commonly known as Skull & Roses. The Grateful Dead have had many creative peaks, but perhaps the most famous incarnation is the one that invaded Europe in April of 1972
When the Grateful Dead packed up for their European tour it was like a vacation for them. After six years of constant touring and recording they would be doing just 22 shows in two months. The tone for the tour was set by Jerry Garcia when during a band meeting deciding who would tag along for the trip he declared "Fu
ck it. Everyone goes."
You can tell the band was going to enjoy themselves. They brought along friends, family, and relatives to join in the fun.
The most important thing they brought with them was a 16 track mixer. Every show of the Europe tour was recorded, and thank God. The triple vinyl that was the result of the tour showcases the Dead at their very best. The Grateful Dead are most famous as a live band and a good listen to this album proves why. The album shows two different sides of a dead concert. The first CD is a continuation of Skull & Roses, with the band playing country influenced rock songs. The second cd is all jam-based, revealing why the Dead are recognized as not only the granddaddy of jam-rock, but also one of the best jam bands of all time.
The first cd kicks off with a song off of Workingman's Dead, Cumberland Blues
. You may ask why the band would release the song on a live album just two years after it was originally released. Give the two versions a listen and you'll hear why. While the original version was a great folk-rock song, the version on Europe '72 is turned up a few notches. The song is in your face in a way the original only hinted at. This is a reoccurring theme with all of the songs on Europe '72 that had been previously released. The live versions of China Cat Sunflower
, Sugar Magnolia
are all a different beast from the studio recordings.
The new songs on the album are also excellent. He's Gone
, Jack Straw
, Brown Eyed Woman
and Ramble On Rose
are all laid back country influenced songs notable for their wonderful vocal work. One More Saturday Night
is a fan favorite rock song, often played at the end of the show to rip the roof off. The rock songs are well placed among the country tall-tale ballads preventing the album from hitting any kind of rut.
However, there are weak points in the first disc. You Win Again
is a mediocre song that seems out of place with the other excellent songs. The Pigpen song It Hurts Me Too
is dreary and far too long for its own good. The other Pigpen song Mr. Charlie
is thankfully more upbeat and interesting.
The China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
gives a peek into the second disc. Not only did the Grateful Dead improvise within songs, they would also improvise their set lists. They would string together several songs to produce a "suite," effortlessly navigating from song to song without stopping. The China > Rider was a common song transition. The versions selected for this album on the other hand is anything but common. The solo in China Cat seems effortless, demanding your attention as it weaves through the psychedelic chord progression. The jam in between the two songs is also fantastic. The transition is so good that if you don't pay attention to the tracks changing on your cd player you may be tricked into thinking they're the same song! The transition period eases you from the china cat jam into the country rocker perfectly.
This kind of set list improvising is what the second cd is all about. The band starts out with Truckin'
, one of the Grateful Dead's signature songs. Once again the live version rocks harder than the studio cut, with Jerry Garcia playing a particularly good solo. Instead of ending the song however, the band moves into a jam labeled on the cd as Epilogue
. The rock beat slowly melts into a mellow groove. It seems like the band members are reading each others minds. They pick up on each others nuances influencing the direction of the jam. You can almost imagine Jerry yelling at Phil on stage to keep going with a musical idea.
Right when it seems like the jam has exhausted itself it is born again as the band transitions into the Prelude
track. The jam becomes much more loose and experimental, with each band member reaching out exploring outer space with their instruments. That's not to say that the jam is a mess, it is still mellow and relaxing and the band is still coherent. This jam eventually turns into a gorgeous version of Morning Dew
, a song off of the band's debut album. This is the only previously released song that the Dead slow down on this album. Instead of a moving, engaging piece they turn the song into a beautiful, delicate ballad that explodes with an emotional guitar solo. It's the perfect way to end the album.
But it doesn't look like Morning Dew is the last song on the track listing! That's because when Rhino released the remastered cd's (which sound terrific) they decided to fill in every sonic crack with bonus material (seriously, the total track time is 2:39:18, just 42 seconds short of full capacity for two 80 minute cd's.) The first cd only gets a run through of The Stranger
, a Pigpen ballad that I've never particularly cared for. The second disc has much stronger bonus material. First is Looks Like Rain
, a lovely Bob and Donna duet. Next up is another suite of songs that is almost as long as the Truckin' > Morning Dew already discussed. This suite is the polar opposite though. This one is all Pigpen doing his blues thing. In contrast to the slow ballads he did on the first disc, Pigpen rips your head off with Good Lovin'
. After the words to the song are over he keeps going with an improvised "rap," one of Pig's trademarks. He takes the opportunity to sing stories, condemn and praise women; saying just about anything that crosses his mind. The band weaves the music around his rapping, fitting in snippets from the songs Caution
and Who Do You Love
, before bringing everyone back together for another run through of Good Lovin'. It's truly amazing that the band could keep up continuous song suites like these. Both of them on the second cd last for over 30 minutes!
However, this album is definitely not for everyone. Anyone that looks at country rock songs as sappy drivel should steer clear of the first cd. Anyone that casts aside jam bands as mindless randomness should avoid the second cd. On the other hand, anyone that can appreciate great tunes and an improvisational band at a creative peak playing in one voice should pick up this album right away.
The Grateful Dead have so many cd’s available that it can be intimidating to a new listener. This album in my opinion is the best to start with. It showcases how versatile of a band the Grateful Dead were and how powerful they could be live. Like concert promotor Bill Graham once said: “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”
Jerry Garcia - Lead Guitar and Vocals
Bob Weir - Rhythm Guitar and Vocals
Phil Lesh - Bass Guitar and Vocals
Bill Kreutzman - Percussion
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - Organ, Harmonica and Vocals
Keith Godchaux - Piano
Donna Jean Godchaux - Vocals