For a number of years I've been keeping a Grateful Dead notebook. Eventually, I began writing impressions and capsule reviews of shows I have in my collection. I've adopted the style Dead archivist Dick Latvala used for the sake of organization, but also as a small tribute to the man. This blog will be an online version of that notebook. Feel free to leave comments or to email me. I want this space to be an open forum for all Deadheads.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

1972-05-03 - Olympia Theater

Venue: Olympia Theater - Paris, France
Tape History: SBD
Release History: Europe '72 Complete Recordings [Sugaree and GSET will be included in Europe '72 Vol. 2]

Set 1
*Bertha, Me & My Uncle, *Mr. Charlie, Sugaree, Black-Throated Wind, Chinatown Shuffle, *China Cat Sunflower -> *I Know You Rider, BIODTL, *He's Gone, Next Time You See Me, *Playin' In The Band, *TN Jed, Good Lovin', Sing Me Back Home, Casey Jones

Set 2

*GSET, Ramble On Rose, It Hurts Me Too, *Truckin' -> *The Other One -> *Drums -> *The Other One -> *Me and Bobby McGee -> *The Other One -> *Wharf Rat, *Jack Straw, Sugar Magnolia, *NFA -> *GDTRFB -> *NFA, E: One More Saturday Night

There are multiple reasons I'm reviewing this massive Europe '72 landmark now. First, I thought it would be a cool idea to celebrate the release of the mammoth tour boxset and the upcoming (Sept. 20th) Volume 2 release. Second, this is my twentieth post (!) and my first for the very special year, 1972. So what better way to celebrate these moments than featuring one of the most underrated shows of the tour.

There are undisputed Europe '72 masterpieces (for me, they are 04-14, 05-11, and 05-26) and then there is the rest, ranging from great to greater. All a matter of taste, really. And hey, why stress about it when there are 22 brilliant gigs to go through? For me, 05-03 is pretty damn close to masterpiece level. The amount of crisp, innovative, on-point playing is just staggering. Five fingers to the fist. In standalone tunes, the jamming is compact and short and the group's playing is supreme. And when the whole band is roaring along at full horsepower capacity ("Truckin'" -> "The Other One"), you should check your face to see if it's still there.

One of my favorite aspects of these '72 shows is the amount of attention they paid to both sets, choosing freely from Bobby, Jerry, and Pigpen tunes. Their focused playing on the standalone tunes are often the most spirited performances of those songs, thought of as the "ideal" cut all others are measured against. Take a look at this "Bertha," with Jerry squeezing squeals out of his axe or the break in the middle of "Mr. Charlie." It's heartbreaking to know that Pigpen was in ill health in this tour. His last show with the band would be their very first stateside gig (06-17) after the conclusion of the European tour. When I think of his best performances, and the many here and throughout this tour, Pigpen performs acts of sorcery. His voice, raps, and attitude would conjure sounds and risks the band wouldn't ordinarily take without him.

The first set, all hour and 45 minutes of it, is a set of continuous highlights. I had to pick the best among the great to recommend in this review. Telling you to check out the five-star tunes that were already included in the original Europe '72 compilation ("China" -> "Rider" and "TN Jed"; "Jack Straw" from set 2) feels ridiculous. We all know how wonderful these cuts are. How about the fifth-ever performance of "He's Gone"? They take a languid approach to the tune, Phil playing counterpoint to Jerry's picking and Bob's chords. Keith and Pig on the keys are creating lines out of Jerry's main melodic phrase. Check out the band's ensemble playing during Jerry's solo. They seem to live in each other's heads, knowing how their playing will fit in with teh others and how what they play next will work with what the rest of the group is doing. Brilliant. For those who want their jams a bit longer, we get prime versions of "Playin'" (love Jerry's wah-wah pedal!) and "Good Lovin'". To end the set a "Sing Me Back Home" for the ages and a "Casey Jones" closer. Are you kidding me?

I don't think they could have picked a better opener for set two. David Lemieux must have thought the same, since "GSET" was chosen to be in the upcoming Volume 2. Jerry's wah-wah flight before the final chorus is swift, while Keith on keys brings a honky-tonk flavor to his chording as Phil urges the band ever forward. The meat of the set goes from "Truckin'" through the three segues into and out of "The Other One" and settling into "Wharf Rat." It's an incredible, ever-shifting section of music. Going form big ensemble jams to standalone tunes back into big jams, cleanly, precisely, as if rehearsed that way. Throw in a textbook "Jack Straw" and a vibrant "NFA" -> "GDTRFB" -> "NFA" sandwich, and you have one of the best shows of the tour. Yep, this listen has firmly placed it among the masterpiece shows of the tour. Essential listening for all Deadheads.