I am convinced that God made the Grateful Dead so that they could be heard in concert. Besides the tremendous amount of music which the Dead plays at a date (usually they will play until they are stopped), the band exudes a laid-back, happy confidence that puts a flame in the soul and a smile on the face; yes it does. The group is a living sense of security and contentment for pop music watchers, and it is probably our most important band still functioning.
This three-record set is the result of the Grateful Dead’s European tour last spring. It was recorded in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Copenhagen, and it lacks just over ten minutes of being two full hours of music. The appearance of this album and the Band’s Rock of Ages is enough to make 1972 a very good year for live recordings.
First of all, it is exquisitely recorded, with some of the truest fidelity for location recording I have ever heard. Most of the tracks sound like studio material, but there is sometimes the faintest hint of applause at the end of a number. Most of the applause, by the way, has been edited out, so you’re not paying to hear the din the Dead gets after each number. As Ralph Gleason commented about the Band LP in these pages, this set is an incredible bargain at your local discount store, just like a real Grateful Dead concert is at your local rock hall.
Most of the 17 tunes included can be found on other Dead albums, but they are treated here with a muscular flexibility that makes them undeniably new performances. The version of “Morning Dew” included here is over ten minutes long; the band takes their time with the number, and the result asserts a new poignancy and taste. It’s preceded on the final side by an eight-minute instrumental prelude that sets the slowed-down-and-done-right flavor which permeates the record. You’ve got “Truckin'” and “China Cat Sunflower” and the like, but you’ve also got great treatments of Elmore James’ “Hurts Me Too” and Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” that the Dead make their own property from the first notes.
That’s not to say that the Dead don’t stand up and rock, either. “One More Saturday Night” is as lively as you’ll hear on any Southern truck stop jukebox, and there are riffs of all kinds liberally scattered throughout.
What do you say about the performance? Jerry Garcia is as fully in command of his instrument as anyone in rock. He displays more sheer savvy of the guitar fretboard and its incorporation — but not sublimation — into the rock milieu than anyone I can think of. Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Pigpen are all doing their jobs; not to star, but to form a unit — one of the happiest groups around. Keith Godchaux’s piano and Bill Kreutzmann’s drums and some vocals by Donna complete the circle; they make a wonderful whole in a field of music that is virtually defined by its fragments.
The obvious comparison is with Live/ Dead. While the extended jukin’ of that set has something to say for it, I like this one better. It’s better-recorded, it has a more generous supply of music, and it approaches the concert effect of the Grateful Dead more precisely. No record album can replace a live appearance by the Dead — but those who can’t get enough of this exceptional band will be kept busy for a good little while with this one.