Sunday, April 24, 2022

Europe 72 Revisited Part Eight


Blowin’ Minds in the Rhein: an excerpt from EUROPE 72 REVISITED

            An upbeat “He’s Gone” with two stinging Jerry solos ignites set two. The Goin’ where the wind don’t blow so strange bridge isn’t part of the song yet, but these neophyte versions of “He’s Gone” are a treat to listen to. Picking up off their excellent previous set performance of “Next Time You See Me,” the band digs into “It Hurts Me Too.” Pigpen’s channeling the pain and Jerry’s bending strings and draining all the blues his guitar can muster. After “El Paso,” the Dead transport Dusseldorf to a place where mankind has never been before.

            Liftoff is smooth as the Grateful Dead enter the celestial space of “Dark Star.” The optimistic mood shifts as the music becomes dark and heavy. The band’s advancing rapidly without a compass. Gravity, time, and reason are suspended. The sounds lead the jam into a black hole. The band rallies with furious playing to find their way back to the melody line. As Jerry sings, his voice grabs and hangs onto the first word, “Darrrrrrk star crashes.”

            “Shall we go, you and I while we can? Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds,” sings Jerry, and then the Dead open the trapdoor to another universe. They are way out there, floating trillions of miles from Mother Earth. Phil’s in his glory, guiding the symphony with bass runs and bombs. Garcia’s noodling lights up the sky like a crowded constellation. Billy and Phil push, pull, and stretch the musical landscape. Garcia’s guitar velocity becomes terrifying. We are headed toward an abyss enveloped in a vortex. Keith and Bobby add essential stokes to the madness. Is this art, an experience, or an experiment? It’s all three, a musical mind-melt of the highest degree in terrain that only the Grateful Dead could navigate.

            Imagine a twenty-year-old German fan coming to this show in Dusseldorf on April 24. Let’s call him Franz; the classic rock fan who has only heard a few Grateful Dead songs on the radio. Franz would be expecting a rock and roll show where the band leader whips the crowd into a frenzy as they introduce the band’s anthems and then play them as they had in the studio: “Casey Jones,” Truckin’,” and “Friend of the Devil.” That would be groovy.

               But unless someone dosed Franz with some of Owsley’s primo acid, listening to this “Dark Star” will be a bizarre experience, possibly bordering on boring. This is the antithesis of giving the audience what it wants. Even a European Deadhead in the crowd might be confused by this outrageous musical exploration. Where did these guys get the balls to play this kind of music in front of any audience?

            The Grateful Dead had an artistic drive and devotion that mirrored legends like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. Trusting and following their musical instincts was paramount. If their records sold, or the audience enjoyed their live performances, that was great. But these heroic performers weren’t going to be shaped by the expectations of record producers or their fans. Dylan stood tall when he went electric at the 1965 Newport Festival as he broke the hearts of those in the folk movement who loved him. Miles Davis changed the direction of jazz with his groundbreaking fusion album Bitches Brew, although many old-school jazz fans and fellow musicians felt betrayed. Throughout their careers, Dylan and Miles never flinched; they always followed their artistic instincts, and the world of music is light-years the better for their conviction.

            The Grateful Dead never really had a Newport or Bitches Brew moment. They benefited from not being as commercially popular as Dylan or Miles early in their careers. Learning how to play as a band during the Acid Tests set the Dead out on an unpaved road without speed limits, highway signs, or exit ramps. And their rabid and unique fan base supported the band’s every move unconditionally. But for the Dead to be playing this kind of music in front of European audiences was beyond brazen.

            Back in Rhinehalle, after twenty-five minutes of “Dark Star” disorientation, Weir strums a familiar rhythm and sings, “Me and my uncle, went riding down, South Colorado, West Texas bound.” Garcia’s picking is attentive on this nice little version, but it doesn’t pull the band out of the “Dark Star” vortex. However, upon return, the band can explore “Dark Star” anew. With early hints of “Wharf Rat,” the jam takes a euphoric turn as it moves rapidly in various directions. As if they’re peaking on a collective trip, they pull out pieces of past jams and weave them together. There’s a touch of everything in here: “Caution,” “The Eleven,” “Alligator,” “Other One,” “Uncle John’s Band.” It even sounds like they’re time traveling and previewing traces of future tunes like “Throwing Stones.” Anything’s possible in the “Dark Star” framework.

            After fifteen minutes of further “Dark Star” disorientation, Garcia’s clearly playing the song’s melody line. It sounds like Jerry’s headed towards the second verse, but he flicks the switch and a mellifluous segue leads to “Wharf Rat.” They are still deep in the haze as they glide through the “Rat.” Jerry sings sweetly on this odd version that offers little in the way of jamming. A hypnotic spell has been cast over Dusseldorf.

            A more appropriate title for the official release would have been “Blowin’ Minds in the Rein.” Finally, the Dead rock the Rein with a “Sugar Magnolia,” NFA > GDTRFB > NFA, “One More Saturday Night” finale. The best jam of that grouping belongs to “Sugar Magnolia.” What a wonderful and weird evening it was in Dusseldorf! 


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1 comment:

Lars said...

This chapter left me slightly confused. Are you commenting on the He's gone being spectacular within the set and, if not, is the official track listing of a set two send off via Dark Star incorrect? Great book, happy to have my copy while piloting the 50th anniversary.

7-18-72 Roosevelt Stadium 50th Anniversary

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