Grateful Dead – Europe ’72: 40 Years Later – A Hot Night in Hamburg

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 continue with a look at a performance that took place 40 years ago today at Musikhalle in Hamburg…

April 29th, 1972, Musikhalle, Hamburg, West Germany

The Hamburg show from April 29th completes the West German trifecta, and is quite possibly the best show of the month. This last show of April from the Musikhalle was previously available in a super-sketchy audience recording or as a garbled soundboard. Even a matrix mix of the key portions did not do it justice, as this show was one of the most anticipated upon the announcement of the ‘Euro Box’. On the heels of some serious momentum from Frankfurt, the band collectively reeled in a bit more tight for this performance – let’s call it German engineering at work.

The stage is set by the Playin’ In The Band opener – only this show and the Rotterdam gig two weeks later can boast such an ambitious start. Garcia and company deliver a more than satisfying version to initiate the night’s happenings, and it can be compared to some of April’s better Playin’ jaunts such as Copenhagen or Bremen. The energy here is focused and not wasted, and their initial paths are carved from a strong groove. The next few tracks (Sugaree, Mr. Charlie, Black-Throated Wind) exude the same workmanlike ethic – nothing too flashy, just honesty backed by solid structure. The outstanding China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider readies the palate for the following gig’s famed version from Paris. To this day, the Parisian Europe ‘72 selection is still considered the definitive take from the tour, although some of the original overdubs still exist on the new release. The blues tunes, like Big Boss Man, continue to forge a new found looseness that seems to have started right around their arrival to West Germany. Compared to England and Denmark, the Pig tunes are less rigid and more fluid – also helped along by Garcia’s guitar tone which is wider than most shows from the tour.

The back half of the set is just as consistent as the first portion. The energy begins to pick up right around Chinatown Shuffle, and the juices are flowing towards the wheelhouse we’d expect from a band that’s been firmly planted in the country for over ten days. The pace continues to quicken (Me and My Uncle, Big Railroad Blues) to favorable results, just as Pigpen steps up for his third consecutive German Good Lovin’. His raps pull from more of his stock material, but they sound great as – once again – the warmth of the recordings really do the talking. Another Casey Jones ends the initial festivities as it has for just about every first set of the tour. Weir claims, “Intermission,” and an unknown German speaker assures the audience that the band would return…they had no idea.

Hamburg’s incredible second set opens with three standard selections; however, each one has merits deeming them “musical firsts” from the tour. Opening the second frame for the first time in Europe was Greatest Story Ever Told – Weir doesn’t repeat the first verse at the end of the track as usual, allowing Garcia to wah-wah more freely. The eliminated verse paired with the additional free space opens the track to more extended jamming, and we’re left hearing what is possibly the best version from Europe. Relative newcomer He’s Gone is next, and for the first time the bridge is added – each version shows development and by Summer ’72, the track’s structure is locked in. Pig’s contribution is a super-slowed Next Time You See Me harkening back to 1969 versions. There’s no other time that it had been played at such a deliberate tempo from this tour. The entire band was engaged from the opening notes, so it would seem that they simply wanted to change the complexion of the song just to see how it went. I would say the results weren’t very favorable, and they must’ve agreed since they only performed it in this fashion one time – the only snooze of the night, but still, great blues.

[Photo by Bejo / Creative Commons Bedingungen 3.0 Unported]

The risks taken in the first 20 minutes of Set II match the rest of the show. The 58 minute Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution that follows is a “must listen” for anyone looking for a peak hour from the European tour. The Hamburg Dark Star is much more organic and dream-like than the aural assault of Dusseldorf’s version. Garcia gently floats along for several of the first few minutes – I imagine this is reminiscent of the band’s travels through the Black Forest as they contemplated how they ever ended up in West Germany. Keith’s work must also be noted – for some reason he’s low in the mix on several of these releases, but on this night he’s balanced with the rest of the group. Entering the fold around seven minutes, Phil works in a Feelin’ Groovy Jam meshing with the light mood being played out. As Jerry counters with a minor key, it changes the face of the jam for the first time into uneasy territory. Around the 14 minute mark, the band ascends to more comfortable surroundings as Garcia sings the lone verse. Rooted in calmer themes, the band breaks off into several conversations – lots of muted reactions come from Keith, Bobby and Billy. Patience is lost around 20 minutes, and restlessness turns into controlled chaos…more odd muted themes circle the stage. A quick-paced jazz jam initiated by the rhythm section stunts Garcia’s space forcing him to create more rhythmic patterns than normal, almost forcing a Caution. While catching up – then centering the band – Jerry creeps in a brief, but ferocious ‘Tiger’ Jam closing out a masterful Dark Star. Billy and Weir cue a ripping Sugar Magnolia.

As marbles are being recovered, Hamburg is graced with one of the top versions of Caution from the tour – I go back and forth on this one and Rotterdam as my personal favorite. The penultimate Caution is a serious workout steeped in speedy blues. Pig’s still rapping at a healthy pace, and Billy, Jerry and Phil are relentless in their attempts to wear each other out. Almost as diverse as the Dark Star, Pigpen’s vocal jousts with the audience match the synergies of the band. A Nobody’s Fault jam almost materializes before a scorching finale dissipates into acceptable feedback, the swirl of the B-3, and Phil’s last bombs of approval…end of Set II, amazing. Eager for more, the crowd’s applause is longer than any other show from the box set. The band obliges with the first double encore of the tour. A hot One More Saturday Night is followed by a competent Uncle John’s Band – the first time played on the Europe ’72 tour.

As a final note, the strangest between song banter of the tour occurs midway through this show. After Greatest Story, a restless fan calls for Dark Star, and Jerry lays it down for him, “We’ll get around to that kind of stuff, don’t worry, everything’s gonna be alright…see we’re making a record, this is a record, this is all going to be a record someday…so we’re doing songs a lot of people haven’t ever heard before. You know how it is, can’t do the same stuff forever…” It’s very eerie to hear this from Jerry in today’s context, realizing it took the organization 40 years to “make the record” – it’s ironic that the next song played was He’s Gone.

Playing almost an hour less than in Frankfurt, the Grateful Dead were able to deliver a sharp and astute show. The extended time grounded in West Germany clearly sparked the band creatively, and if you purchase one show from this month, consider making it Hamburg. The angular approach of Dusseldorf was fused with the continuity of Frankfurt forming the most well-rounded show of April. The Hamburg show is special in many ways – get this one.

Grateful Dead, April 29th, 1972, Musikhalle, Hamburg, West Germany:

Set I: Playin’ In The Band, Sugaree, Mr. Charlie, Black-Throated Wind, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Big Boss Man, Jack Straw, Loser, Chinatown Shuffle, Me and My Uncle, Big Railroad Blues, Good Lovin’, Casey Jones

Set II: Greatest Story Ever Told, He’s Gone, Next Time You See Me, Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution

Encore: One More Saturday Night, Uncle John’s Band

Joe Kolbenschlag

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