The second set of 5-11-72 began with the first Morning Dew of the tour. Three songs later the Grateful Dead deliver masterpiece theater in Rotterdam. Here’s an excerpt from Europe 72 Revisited.
Snapping strings sing over twinkling keys and rattling percussion as the “Dark Star” probe ascends. Jerry noodles on and on as the moody and truculent jam thrusts forward. Phil’s lead bass forms a protective arc over the mischievous improvisation. All sorts of ideas emerge as the jam manages to remain in “Dark Star” motif. I hear traces of “UJB” and songs yet to be born; “Lazy Lightning” and “Let it Grow,” and fragments of music with a Blues for Allah flavor. Towards the end of this compelling, fourteen-minute opening foray, butter hits frying pan as Garcia sizzles.
Billy takes over with a drum solo, and Phil’s the first to return as the music takes on the feel of a Miles Davis composition, “Right Off” from A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Jerry glides in with smooth lyrical lines that conjure up images of a graceful ice-skating exhibition. Keith and Bobby jump in and the music rises back to the “Dark Star” melody line. Garcia sings, “Dark star crashes pouring its light into ashes.” Holy cow! The music is so compelling that the listener can forget they haven’t sung a verse yet. It took the Dead twenty-three minutes to get to this point and Garcia’s savoring the moment. As he croons, Jerry’s voice hangs onto every word—every syllable is precious.
Jerry bends a few shrill, ear-piercing notes as Phil bombs away. We are light-years from planet Earth. The inspired jam is relentless, wave after wave of purposeful, free-form improvisation. It’s amazing that the band continued to offer these types of jams on an almost nightly basis through 1974. Garcia’s imagination impossibly keeps this never-ending “Dark Star” fresh for over forty-seven minutes. Eventually, they will play another song. There’s a musical conversation as “Dark Star” winds down. How about “Wharf Rat”? No? Possibly? How ’bout we try “Truckin’” or “Caution”? “St. Stephen” for old time’s sake? Ah, but we don’t play that anymore. All right, “Sugar Magnolia” it is.
What a joyous release this is! Earlier, Jerry was ice skating. During the “Sugar Mag” jam Jerry’s a flying trapeze artist, a daredevil connecting urgent guitar runs with ease. One of the top “Mags” of the tour segues into the “Caution” express. The pistons are pumping and the danceable pulse rages. Pigpen jumps in to take an early verse and the jam rampage continues. After substantial jamming and more rap, Pigpen howls a verse of “Who Do You Love.” This is a clever setup for a thrilling Caution > Truckin’ transition.
At the tail end of this legendary segment, “Truckin’” is performed with celebratory swagger. The triumphant tale of the Grateful Dead’s long, strange trip fits like a glove here. Garcia adds lively licks as Weir sings. The band romps through instrumentals that are shorter than usual, based on the placement of the song.
A two-second pause is parted by the start of “Uncle John’s Band.” This performance is gorgeous. There are many versions with hotter jamming, but the actual song has never sounded sweeter than it does on 5-11-72. “Playin’ in the Band” opened up the show and “Uncle John’s Band” closes it out. How beautiful is that? These songs would hook up often starting late in 1973. However, this was the last version of “Caution (Do Not Stop on the Tracks).” Moving forward, the Dead would play “Caution Jam” on rare occasions. A “One More Saturday Night” encore finished this monumental show in Rotterdam.
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