Grateful Dead: Europe ’72, Vol. 2

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Grateful Dead
Europe ’72: Vol. 2
(Grateful Dead/Rhino)
[Rating: 4.5 stars]

Back before nearly every note the Grateful Dead ever played was available at your fingertips, there were generally two ways people were introduced the live Dead experience. One was to be taken to a show by an older sibling, friend or relative. The other was to buy Europe ’72. While there were several other live Dead albums out there, the triple album was the one that best demonstrated the group’s stylistic diversity. It also sounded great, although some of that was due to harmonies being overdubbed in the studio.

Nearly 40 years later, the Europe ’72 tour remains legendary among Deadheads. While the real hardcore fans with money to burn will want the 73-CD collection that contains every concert from the entire tour, the combination of the original Europe ’72 and Volume 2 should satisfy everyone else.

Like the original Europe ’72, Vol. 2 captures the band at the peak of its powers and is among the best of the band’s dozens of live releases. It’s also the place you’d want to start if you were trying to convince someone why they should care about the band.

Over the course of nearly three hours, the Dead back up the case some have made for them as the quintessential American band. On disc one alone, you can find them singing the blues (“Next Time You See Me,”), going country (“Dire Wolf”), twisting a classic pop hit into their own style (“Good Lovin’”) and singing a lovelorn ballad (“Sugaree”). Is there any band working today that could pull all of that off so well?

Then there’s Disc Two, which is centered around an hour-long jam of “Dark Star”, “Drums” and “The Other One.” As you might expect of something that long, you can find just about anything you’re looking for. There are moments of incredible improvisation, from interesting jazzy explorations to pulse-quickening moments when Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir’s guitars intertwine perfectly, Phil Lesh’s bass thunders and the rhythm section locks in. Of course, there’s also some of the aimless noodling that drives non-fans up a wall.

Perhaps the best thing about Europe ’72, Vol. 2 is that it avoids the problem that Deadheads tend to sweep under the rug, namely that the band could be awfully inconsistent from night to night. (This was less of a problem in the ‘60s and ‘70s than later in their career, but it always existed). The tracks on this collection are well-chosen. In fact, you could make a strong argument that many of these songs are performed as well as the band has ever played them.

The Dead is energetic throughout and seems excited to be playing soon-to-be-classics that were new material at the time. Check out Garcia’s passionate vocals on “Bertha” and “Sing Me Back Home,” or his fiery guitar solos on “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” for proof.

Unlike the original Europe ’72, these performances appear to be untouched in the studio. The ragged harmonies on “Loser,” among other tracks, would likely have been redone back in the ‘70s, although the beautiful harmonies on “Sing Me Back Home” show that sometimes no artificial sweeteners are required.

With archival Dead releases coming out every few months through the excellent Road Trips series, it can be easy to overlook each new one. Don’t sleep on Europe ’72.

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