The spring tour The Grateful Dead undertook in Europe in 1972 was historic, and those overseeing the Dead vaults know it. Later this fall, the band's archivists are going to release a sprawling 72-disc set that covers the entire 22-city tour. The price tag: $450.
There is no doubt about it. The Dead, though officially disbanded since guitarist Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, save for a few brief reunions by surviving members, are thriving in jam-band afterlife.
Why was the tour so championed by Dead fans young and old? It was a transitional time, to be sure. It would be the last tour to feature keyboardist and rock/soul devotee Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. It also was a run that cemented the presence of the husband-wife team of pianist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna Godchaux, which would ride out the rest of the decade with the band, taking it ever so close to the pop mainstream.
But the true thrill of those '72 concerts was the sense of improvisation — both casual and calculated, all played with loose confidence. We heard such a formula applied to Europe '72, a triple album set released in late 1972. It became one of the band's most cherished live documents.
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This week, for those without the budget or the completist's desire to fork out a mortgage payment for the forthcoming mega-disc package, we have the release of Europe '72, Volume 2 — a package that dissects the 1972 tour into a more thrifty and manageable set list featuring 20 songs spread out over two discs. The cost: about $13.
Dead Heads should note that Volume 2 contains none of the songs featured on the original Europe '72. But there are still obvious and welcoming concert highlights that introduce themselves — like the jovial opening of Bertha that winds its way through Bob Weir's light country gusto on Me and My Uncle, which leads into the roots groove of Beat It on Down the Line up to an explosive Playing in the Band that comes with a bounty of simmering grooves.
But the show-stealer leads off Volume 2's second disc. From the May 1972 Bickershaw Festival in Wigan, England, comes a 52-minute medley that opens with a spacious Dark Star, a brief two-minute drum interlude from Bill Kreutzmann and a luscious The Other One that builds and boils until the tune's rugged, assured medley bursts forth 10 minutes into the song's half-hour run.
Excessive? Perhaps. But if the Dead's mighty jams ever touched you, these audio snapshots from another era and shore will undoubtedly excite. Is it the Dead at its best? Hard to say. But within the heartily mined archives of the Dead's "long strange trip," Volume 2 is a sequel to be savored.