Europe ’72: 40 Years Later – A Tale Of Two Cities, Part I : London

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Europe ’72, a legendary Grateful Dead tour now available in all its 16-track glory, we enlisted the help of Joe Kolbenschlag and the Steel Cut Oats team to break down a handful of the most memorable shows from the run. Today, they start with an essay on a Grateful Dead concert that took place 40 years ago today in England’s biggest city.

Grateful Dead, April 7th, 1972, Wembley Empire Pool, London, England

One of the few misconceptions overheard once the mammoth “Euro Box” (Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings) was scheduled for release was “why bother?…everything already circulates in great quality.” Well, the very first disc of the 73 CD set squashes that theory immediately. Previously, the only lossless sources of the band’s first set of the tour were two dull audience recordings – considered more laughable than listenable. 2002’s Steppin’ Out With The Grateful Dead featured the significant jam portion of the second set – Truckin’ > Drums > Other One > El Paso > Other One > Wharf Rat – so we at least could estimate the rest of the show was safely tucked in the Vault. Using the same 16-track recordings as the ‘Euro Box’, Steppin’ Out was a 4-disc compilation culled from seven of their eight performances from England during the tour. Loaded with five hours of highlights, it was well-received by fans, and certainly proved that anything Europe ’72 was desirable in the Dead market. Ten years later, a gem like this inaugural set finally circulates in top-notch quality, so let’s get right to it.

Sam Cutler’s unmistakable ‘ho-hum’ intonation introduces the Grateful Dead to the London audience. Most would probably associate the Englishman and recent Dead tour co-manager as being the manager for The Rolling Stones – famously heard at the beginning of their Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! live album. Opening three of the first five shows,’Greatest Story Ever Told kicks off the tour with massive enthusiasm. Immediately tight, the entire band is represented sans Pigpen – Keith lays down some great piano work behind Phil and Billy’s beat, and Jerry’s wah-wah solos are spot on. Weir and Donna wail away to close out the track, and five minutes in, the band is brimming with confidence.

“Pig has the old-school organ tones cranking, Keith and Jerry are blistering their solos, and Billy is just snapping everyone in line for what might be considered the best version of all time – insane!”

Garcia calls Sugaree next, and although in 1972 it was considered simply a warm-up song, this version has solid footing throughout. Pig’s organ is finally audible, and proves to be another excellent track while Jerry demonstrates some very youthful vocals. The next highlight is certainly the China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider – having never heard this one before, I was stunned at how sprightly the opening sequence was. Phil is a monster during the post-verse jams, and aggressive right through Bobby’s solos. Jer/Bobby/Billy/Keith/Phil – all in sync here, and with that punch of Jerry’s ‘headlight’ verse, it’s so indicative of this entire evening. The perfectly executed transitions complement the grooves as Phil remains steady on the top side as the band closes the first mini-jam of the tour. Only 30 minutes in, and it had exceeded any type of notion I had for how the first set could possibly develop – stunning right out the gate.

  • Previous Steel Cut Oats Installments: #9, #8#7#6#5

Relatively rare over the entire ‘Euro Box’, one of two technical issues hampering this specific show produces the first bummer of the evening – an otherwise fantastic Big Boss Man is marred by a cut with about 30 seconds to go ending the song prematurely. Pig engages the crowd, his harp solos have minimal feedback as Jerry complements his leads, and you can feel and hear Pig just starting to get his feet wet in this strange place….and then the damn thing fades out. A real heartbreaking moment, but thankfully there’s very few of these that span the 22 shows.

The band attempts a few mid-tempo numbers next (Black Throated Wind, Loser), but it doesn’t suit them on this evening – there’s too much nervous energy abound, and the shorter songs are taking over. Bobby selects Beat It On Down The Line at just the right time. Setting the English audience right in the middle of San Francisco’s Acid Test days of the mid-sixties, BIODTL is amphetamine-laced right from the playful nine-count. Pig has the old-school organ tones cranking, Keith and Jerry are blistering their solos, and Billy is just snapping everyone in line for what might be considered the best version of all time – insane! As if plucked right from their first studio album, it’s four minutes of fury where the old meets the new, and East meets West. All parties are clearly satisfied.

Jerry confidently moves on to one of the new tunes that blossoms into an eventual classic from the original Europe ’72 album – Tennessee Jed. All the elements that have carried the band thus far are still intact – a bit of muscle mixed with some confidence and on-stage swagger – resulting in a wonderful reading of the six-month-old tune. Concluding the first set (as the true closer, Casey Jones is missing from the reels, becoming technical oddity number two of the set) is Playin’ In The Band. Played at every single gig in Europe – and twice during a taping for television exactly two weeks later in West Germany – Playin’ is the definitive benchmark track of the tour. Of any song played, this one clearly gains the most momentum artistically and creatively in these seven weeks.

The track really started to progress just prior to the European tour (specifically at Manhattan’s Academy of Music in late March before heading overseas), and once they returned to the States, it would never be the same. Just about every version brings something new to the table, and with constant evolution night after night, the real maturation of this classic begins on this tour. On opening night, it’s representative of the rest of the set – high energy backed with group synergy and competence. There are much stronger versions as the tour progresses, but this one caps a solid (yet short) first set. These guys were certainly chomping at the bit to finally get on with performing for their foreign hosts, and I was shocked to hear such a firecracker of a set coming right out the gate. Set I proved many, many more surprises were in store…..remarkable.

Opening the second set with Truckin’, we’re right back where we left off before the intermission – big energy coupled with a quick pace. As with most, Weir can’t quite nail all the lyrics, but his personality shines through as he subs the “Chicago” vocal for “London” – the spirits are high. After the closing lyrics, the band works to slow the pace down, shifting into a minor key – hinting at a possible Other One. The themes begin, all are ready to pounce, and just like that everyone drifts off leaving Bill Kreutzmann to deftly handle the reins. For those keeping score, Billy’s drum solos for this tour ranged between one and four minutes. Typically, there are some obvious signposts where these occur during the sets, but what he does inside those brief spaces is fantastic.

Without a doubt, a good chunk of the credit should go directly to the original recording crew – fan favorite Betty Cantor (2 track mixes), Bob Matthews (front of house), Dennis “Wizard” Leonard (16-track) and legends Jim & Janet Furman. When the crew set up the drum kit and applied the recording techniques used throughout the European run, Billy was given the first five of the sixteen recording tracks – 1 = bass drum, 2 = floor tom, 3 = snare, 4 = overhead, and 5 = hi hat. Be sure to crank these portions, it’s a real treat to be given the ability to hear so much sonic data produced by one musician from a 40 year old piece of magnetic tape – very impressive.

Without spending too much time on the Other One portions due to its previous official release, there are a number of quick bursts created, and the theme is again, fast and furious. It is, however, interesting to note Phil popping the Caution theme close to the 16 minute mark just before the band settles down for a few minutes allowing Weir and Garcia to sneak in an El Paso. After the sequence closes with Wharf Rat, an unidentified American crew member requests folks to “clear the aisles” due to fire code, prompting Sam Cutler to quip “so the police have more room to dance”…festive moods, indeed.

The final thirty minutes of the show bring more of the same juice – a triumphant, yet lyrically gaffed Ramble On Rose, a funky Sugar Magnolia and a hot hot Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad > Not Fade Away trifecta. This version of the suite was a ‘no-brainer’ to be included on 2011’s 2-disc companion release Europe ’72 : Volume 2. Once again, everyone is in the game, and the energy level is as high as it was at the start of the show – something that is typically not all that common over the next seven weeks of touring. One band member whose presence was clearly missing throughout the second set was Pigpen – he gives and gets plenty of attention throughout Europe in several Good Lovin’ and Caution romps, but he does save one last surprise for this evening. As the band closes in on the NFA reprise, he goes toe-to-toe vocally with a charged Bobby Weir, and it’s a thing of ragged beauty that only Pigpen could provide. Garcia, who stood between them on stage, must have had a huge grin as Pig does his best to keep right up with Bob as both shout into the microphones to finish off the set as the final crescendos fall to applause – one of those great Pigpen moments in which you can’t help but laugh, hoot, and holler right along with him.

Clocking in at under three hours, this show is one of the shortest of the run. With that being said, it comes highly recommended to anyone looking to hear a little something new from this tour – especially the first set tunes and the finale. This is a very unique European gig – a bit speedy with some decent jams, but it won’t ever be confused as being one of the ‘deeper’ shows from April or May. The compact nature of this show paired with the ‘we are finally here’ energy allows this night to burn a little more white-hot than most. With the Grateful Dead successfully managing their first night jitters, and with its (almost) complete official release decades later, this show can now be be held as one of the true classics of the Europe 1972 tour.

Grateful Dead, April 7th, 1972, Wembley Empire Pool, London, England:

Set I: Greatest Story Ever Told, Sugaree, Chinatown Shuffle, Me and My Uncle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Big Boss Man, Black-Throated Wind, Loser, Mr. Charlie, Beat It On Down The Line, Tennessee Jed, Playin’ In The Band, Casey Jones

Set II: Truckin’ > Drums > The Other One > El Paso > The Other One > Wharf Rat, Ramble On Rose, Sugar Magnolia, Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad > Not Fade Away

Encore: One More Saturday Night

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