Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Post-Show Buzz: A Moment In Time

What a long strange trip it's been!! Listening to and writing about the Grateful Dead's 1972 tour of Europe these past seven weeks has been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope you've enjoyed reading (at least) portions of the blog. I've listened to quite a bit of the Grateful Dead's music over the years, but I've never listened so intently and with such consistency before. I now have a deeper understanding of this amazing era in the band's history. It was a time featuring musical freedom and exploration that also provided glimmers of a bygone era and foreshadowed musical developments to come.

The Band: Fingers On The Hand

This tour was Ron "Pigpen" McKernan's last hurrah, and while he graced the stage once more, his performances in Europe were his victory lap. Never again would we hear fully-formed versions of "Caution," "Who Do You Love," "Chinatown Shuffle," "Next Time You See Me," "The Stranger," or "Mr. Charlie." Classic show-stoppers like "Good Lovin'" and "Lovelight" would never be the same. We wouldn't hear Pigpen's organ adding weight to the intro to "The Other One" or ominously whirring in the background of a deep-space "Dark Star." The raunchy raps that evolved from the empty lots of East Palo Alto in the early-'60s through the Acid Tests and psychedelic dances of the Haight were once a foundation of the band's sound and identity. That had begun to change as the band developed musically through 1969 and explored acoustic musical forms in the 1970s. In 1971 - the year drummer Mickey Hart left the band and the Godchauxs came on board - the music had clearly turned a corner with musically mature songs like "Playin'" and "Wharf Rat." In Europe, the band's original frontman gave us something special to remember him by on this tour before stepping aside for good. Hearing him sing "Mr. Charlie," "Chinatown Shuffle," and some of the band's hottest versions of "Good Lovin'" just about every concert was a real treat. But to me, it will never get better than the emotion, uncertainty, and honesty of "The Stranger."

Since 1969, Jerry Garcia played a more prominent role in the band's music and identity. His singing and especially his masterful guitar-playing grew into the defining sound of the Dead's music, and in the mainstream for decades to come his iconic beard came to symbolize what was left of the 1960s. To me, 1972 represents his second musical peak (after 1970), a time when his tone had added depth that he manipulated with mastery and when he could go from playing and singing the simple twang of "Tennessee Jed" to a heart-rending performance of "Sing Me Back Home" to searing your ears off with a screeching, terror-filled meltdown on "Playin'," "Dark Star," or "Morning Dew." There was a levity and excitement in his playing throughout the year that may have arguably fallen short of the climaxes of 1974 and the emotional depths of 1977, but the consistency of Garcia's (and the entire band's) performances in 1972 make this the Golden Age of the Grateful Dead (at least to my ears).

If you've read this blog consistently, you have probably gathered that I believe Phil Lesh is the single component that set the Grateful Dead apart from any other rock band. He arrived at rock 'n' roll from an unorthodox path, that of classical composition and modern experimental music. When Garcia handed him an electric bass guitar for the first time in 1965, Phil had a deep understanding of counterpoint, tension/release, and polyrhythms. This provided the basis for his development into a singular specimen in classic rock music: the co-lead bass player. Without his ability to deliver rhythm through melody and single-handedly alter the musical trajectory of a free-form jam, Garcia would not be recognized today as the caliber of guitar player he was because Phil constantly challenged him musically.

Of all the epiphanies I've had while listening to this tour, I have been most struck by the adeptness and subtlety of the rhythm section. As I noted in one of my first posts, Billy Kreutzman seems almost liberated to be drumming alone over a year into Mickey Hart's hiatus. His solos are relatively succinct, but the greatness of his drumming is apparent in every jam and even relatively simple songs like "Me & My Uncle" and "Chinatown Shuffle." And his duets with Phil, which became commonplace a year later, were a rare treat in 1972. Bob Weir's rhythm guitar, too, struck me for its appropriate-ness in the deep jams, suggesting a theme or throwing a dash of musical color across the soundscape. His vocal contributions were consistent and solid for the entire tour, and it amazes me how his voice could hold up after closing a set with "Sugar Mags" and coming back for a "Saturday Night" encore! Keith Godchaux played incredible piano on this tour, about six months after his GDebut. He was clearly comfortable with the material, consistently adding color and light with is trills and fills to songs like "Mr. Charlie," "Jack Straw," and "Loser." He had a deep understanding of the musical relationship between Jerry and Phil, and he (along with Bobby) masterfully bridged the two in the deepest jams. In a way, his rhythmic contributions gave the freeform jams of the tour their typical melodic and joyous flavor that characterizes the tour in my mind.

The quick note I need to mention is regarding the much-maligned vocals of Donna Jean Godchaux. While they were never featured on the tour, she delivered a subtle and appropriate depth to the songs she contributed to, from the harmonies on "Sing Me Back Home" to the melodic wails in the depths of "Playin'." It just goes to show, when she could hear herself in the monitors she sang on key, and it sounded good!

The Songs: If My Blog Was A Show

I could go on and on about the songs and songwriting, but after exploring so many in my posts, let me just say that Robert Hunter is a master. I didn't even get to discuss several of his best lyrics of the era (most notably "Ramble On Rose" and "Sugaree"), but it's obvious that his stamp on the Dead's music was unique and lasting. Even as Bobby had begun writing with his high school buddy John Barlow, it was Hunter's poetry that dominates the songs of the tour. If you've been a regular and careful reader, you will have noticed that the Song of the Day section of my posts created their own concert setlist that could have been played on the tour. I've chosen some of my favorite renditions of these songs for my own personal best-of collection*:


  1. Greatest Story Ever Told (4/11 Newcastle)
  2. Cumberland Blues (5/26 Lyceum)
  3. Mr. Charlie (5/11 Rotterdam)
  4. Me & My Uncle (4/16 Aarhus)
  5. Tennessee Jed (4/11 Newcastle)
  6. Jack Straw (5/7 Bickershaw)
  7. Playin' in the Band (5/26 Lyceum)
  8. China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider (5/11 Rotterdam)
  9. Loser (4/24 Düsseldorf)
    The Stranger (4/26 Frankfurt)
  10. Chinatown Shuffle (5/7 Bickershaw)
  11. He's Gone (5/13 Lille)
  12. Brown-Eyed Women (4/8 Wembley)
  13. Good Lovin' (5/3 Paris)
  14. Casey Jones (5/23 Lyceum)
  1. Morning Dew (5/11 Rotterdam)
  2. Truckin' > (4/26 Frankfurt)
  3. Drums > The Other One > Me & Bobby McGee (bonus) > The Other One (5/10 Amsterdam)
  4. Dark Star > (5/11 Rotterdam)
  5. NFA > GDTRFB > NFA (5/26 Lyceum)
  6. Sugar Magnolia (4/14 Tivoli)
  7. Wharf Rat (5/10 Amsterdam)
    Comes A Time (5/25 Lyceum)
  8. E: One More Saturday Night (5/3 Paris)

This show would be quite the doozie, with a first set that's just under two hours long and a second set running nearly three hours. But in all, these were some of my favorite performances of the tour, and I look forward to listening to them when I need that special Europe sound!!

The Golden Age: Bridge Between Eras

There were moments on this tour that foreshadowed developments to come. I believe from one of the Lyceum shows I heard Bobby playing around with the opening chords from "Weather Report Suite Prelude" that became a standard in 1973-4. I heard more and more experimentation with the transition of "China" > "Rider" that also hinted at the epic arrangement of the next couple years. Songs like "Sugaree" and "He's Gone" would become bigger and more heavily jammed, and over the course of the tour you could hear the showcase jam in "Playin'" delve deeper and further. They played this song at every show on this tour, and while most ran 10-12 minutes, the final two performances at the Lyceum stretched to nearly 16 and then past 18 minutes, respectively. By 1973 (and beyond), it was quite common for the song to rage through the 20th minute. Clearly, this tour fell in the midst of a very fertile creative era for the band, and between Wembley and the Lyceum we were treated to a microcosm of the band's development.

The most striking aspect of the shows of the Europe tour, however, was their near flawless performances throughout. The closest thing I could find to an "off night" was at Aarhus on 4/16. Listening to this show on its own, however, reveals very good performances throughout. There were mistakes in almost every show, but there were no failures, a remarkable feat considering that they played 61 hours of music at 22 concerts over seven weeks!! In addition to the incredible peak performances of the tour, it's the impeccable consistency that may be the most remarkable part.

The shows of 1970 were closer to the Primal Dead era and benefit historically from an additional acoustic set. Those in 1974 showcased an enhanced repertoire and the energy from larger venues and the Wall of Sound. And 1977, of course, erupted with the return of Mickey Hart and an even more enhanced repertoire. For 1972, however, the freedom and exuberance that the band played with stands out. They were also able to tap into the Primal Dead era, re-visiting several of the songs ("Caution," "Dark Star," etc.) and much of the energy (Bickershaw) of those early years. After Europe, the Veneta 8/27/72 show captured a new terror-filled intensity that was hinted at throughout the tour. In Europe, however, it's the consistency characterizes 1972 among the other great eras of 1970s Dead.

Dead Bracketology: Finding "The Best" Show Of The Tour

As many of you may have seen, the official dead.net site put together a tournament bracket for the tour, which you can play here to come up with your own favorite show of the tour. Personally, I would have preferred to do the seedings differently (they were chronological), but in the end the final show of the tour won my bracket. If it was up to me, I would have structured the bracket and seeded the shows differently:
Obviously, it'll take a bit of jockeying to get this bracket to work out right. In the London and West Germany Brackets, the 2-seed faces the 5-seed, and the 3-seed faces the 4-seed. Those winners square off for the chance to challenge the two top overall seeds (5/26 & 4/26) in the tournament quarterfinals. You may think this would be an unreasonable advantage, but listen to those two shows and tell me they didn't earn a substantial advantage! In the North and Misc. Brackets, the 3-seed faces the 6-seed, and the 4-seed faces the 5-seed. The winner of the 3-6 matchup goes on to face the 2-seed, and the winner of the 4-5 matchup faces the 1-seed. Since I made up the seeds (and you can read my reviews of all the shows), you have an idea of which are my favorites. However, I also tried to build in some upsets into this tourney, so please leave a comment to let me know which upsets you would call!!

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog, and I very much appreciate your feedback. Another great big thanks to all you who were able to come to my party over the weekend, as well! I had a great time, and I think you did, too!!

I'm also considering revisiting this blog for other notable moments in GD history. It makes a big difference to me that the recordings are pristine, so if you can help me stockpile great recordings of any of the following eras (or have other suggestions), please let me know:

  • May (& into June), 1977
  • June, 1974
  • May, 1970
  • February, 1969
  • August, 1972
  • July, 1978

- Morning Brewer


* In the interest of variety, I've avoided the versions I know made the original Europe '72 release.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

5/26/72 Strand Lyceum: "Saturday Night," Smoked Pork, & Barleywine

Sorry for the late post, but it's been four posts in four days, and it took me a while to finalize this one. I'll be posting a wrap-up in the coming days, so please check back next week. Thanks for reading, everyone, and it's been a lot of fun writing this blog.

When: Friday, May 26, 1972
Where: Lyceum Theatre, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, stream the show on dead.net here)
  1. Promised Land, Sugaree, Mr. Charlie, Black-Throated Wind, Loser, Next Time You See Me, El Paso, Dire Wolf, The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion), Playing In The Band, He's Gone, Cumberland Blues, Jack Straw, Chinatown Shuffle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away
  2. Truckin'^> The Other One > Drums > The Other One > Morning Dew^ > The Other One > Sing Me Back Home, Me & My Uncle, Ramble On Rose, Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones  E: One More Saturday Night
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.
^ Appears on Europe '72

This show is hands-down one of the hottest of the tour (quite possibly the hottest). How fitting that it's the last show of the tour!! To be perfectly honest, much of the following review of the show is colored by my intense desire for the tour to continue!! This era of the Dead is truly a special thing to behold, especially when listening in such close detail to such spotless recordings. As a result, my personal highlights are largely colored by my listening experience over the past eight weeks, and for the first time I've been listening to the show for flaws instead of perfection. And there isn't much along the lines of flaws in this show (or many others, for that matter). I've noted a few times that I've been reticent to highlight entire sets, but I'm breaking the rules on this show. I can't find a flaw in the entire thing, but for a minor vocal flub in "China" > "Rider." Does that mean this show is getting the benefit of the doubt in a way other shows haven't? Absolutely, but it's the last show of one of the greatest tours in GD history, and I find no reason to apologize.*

Sam Cutler, in the liner notes to the first show at the Lyceum, remembers stumbling on the streets of London at 5 am, remembering all the professional promoters that took a leap of faith on an American band they had never seen perform - based solely on the Dead's reputation - to help them pull off one of the most magical tours in their history. No band could have been prepared to pull off a tour of such epic proportions in all the right halls in all the right towns on their own, without the assistance and guidance of the pros that knew the terrain.** Several of these promoters came to London just to see a bit more of the band that brought their unique brand of rock 'n' roll across the pond. It just goes to show how incredible this tour is that so many people who had never been directly involved with the Dead before March, 1972, were invested enough to make special accommodations to see them off at the end of the tour.

The first set is nearly flawless, and as close as we could reasonably expect from any group of mere mortals. Bobby starts out by begging the crowd's patience for waiting for the band to reach "an unequivocal state of readiness," to the point that "Pig is polishing his organ" (but not like that!). The show kicks off with a phenomenally energetic and tight version of "Promised Land" in which the band makes clear that this train is rolling hard out of the station. Hop on if you want a ride because this train cannot be stopped!!

"Sugaree" is exceptional, with a somewhat longer instrumental section that is typical for the year, and Pigpen's organ brings an unusual flavor to the early minutes. The song features a strong finish from Jerry  on vocals and the guitar. "Mr. Charlie" follows with an up-tempo, energetic rendition that would prove to be Pigpens' last. "B-T Wind" is played at a moderate temp and is stellar all round. To me is's flawless and emotional, one of the best on the tour and ever. Next up, "Loser" cranks out the desperation and turmoil, culminating in Pigpen's final version of "Next Time You See Me." The ensuing line, "Things won't be the same," only makes me think he's speaking the truth. Very different next time, my friend. Both "El Paso" and "Dire Wolf" are amazing: the first because of its longevity on tour, and the second for its rarity. Both are death-songs, but with a certain lightness and humor (at least at times). But the highlight of the first set is Pigpen's amazing "The Stranger." It definitely rivals any version we've heard so far, as much for the collective effort as for anyone's individual contribution. To me, this is Pigpen's farewell to his fans, and he's moved that the English crowd is so tuned in.

Thank you, Pigpen, for gracing us with your talent. May your soul find communion with another.....
Scanned from the program provided at the Lyceum, 1972.

The "Playin'" that follows is a remarkable piece of music.*** Longer than most of the many versions played in Europe, this one has plenty of room to explore. And explore it does!! At times it's spacey, and at other times it's slow and introspective. It moves from one to the other - and back and through the theme and lyrics - seamlessly, with passion and purpose. This is a second-set quality jam, folks, and we've still got quite a bit of the first set to go. "He's Gone" is stellar, with Bobby fooling round with the reverb early, and the jam continuing to grow late. It's so fantastic, featuring rumbling Jerry vocals coming out of the jam, it's puzzling to me when the jam ends with a cadence instead of flowing into the next song.

"Cumberland Blues" reminds me of how far we've come from that early post about the song and how far we've all come. WALSTIB, my friends. I can, again, find no argument about the following songs: Jack Straw" is precise, "Chinatown Shuffle" swings, and "China" > "Rider" is phenomenal. The latter (or lattest) is far mellower than most of the renditions on this tour, but they have a feeling of authenticity and introspection that is admirable and unique. Following "Rider," however, we are treated to most synergetic moment of the tour. The audience begins to clap the rhythm of "NFA" quietly at first, but in the end the band is compelled to succumb to the power of the groupmind. What follows is one of the finest versions of "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA" on the tour and in recorded history. Owing not just the fact that it's played at the end of the first set (not the second),**** this is a remarkable feat by the Dead to pull this off. You tell me, what could I possibly afford not to highlight from this set?

It's the second set that shines above and beyond on this show. From the jump, "Truckin'" is relentless, and it's been called "the standard by which all other... [versions] must be judged."***** I don't need to go into detail, since it graces the final section of the album, but from the beginning through the "Prologue" jam is a spectacular creation. Bravo, gentlemen. It rests a bit differently in the context of the show rather than the (edited) album release, but it leaves nothing to the imagination: with lucidity, touch, and gravity, the band is clearly dominating their final set before returning home. In the words of Jeff Teidrich in the Compendium:
Here's where things get interesting, and where it becomes apparent that we're in fo r some truly spectacular improvisation. Telepathy must have been in high gear on this evening, for every musical idea thrown out by any band member is immediately picked up and built upon. not a single note is wasted and not a single avenue goes unexplored. Complex polyrhythms and tonalities coalesce out of nowhere, live and breathe for half a minute, and then the band will turn, en masse, on a dime and head off in another direction. And it's all gold\. not one sour note, not one uninteresting tangent. This is pure improvisation at its finest.
Phil's solo before "The Other One" drop is a bit unusual, replacing a straight drum solo with Phil-bomb chords that present the main theme. I had always heard "The Other One" was left off the album due to its recent inclusion on the on the Skullfuck album, but in comparison to other (and recent) performances it falls short of the energetically high bar. However, you've never heard the drums feature so prominently in a jam on this theme, and it has the feel of a jazz trio, with bass and guitar merely adding color and light to a jam featuring an all-time drummer. In short, it's notable for its atypical constitution. The jam eventually falls into a fantastic drum solo, in which Billy shows just what he's capable of, blowing minds out onto the Strand. After substantial and fascinating solos, duets, and trios, we're treated to a rare second rolling Phil intro, followed by Bobby belting the first verse of "The Other One.' Keith jumps into the fray for an insane jam that appears on the album as "Epilogue," and I don't need to tell you what an amazing jam that one is!
As heard on Europe '72, the jam falls seamlessly into an over-the-top "Morning Dew" that takes the energy to yet another level. This rendition is one of the Mighty. It's always been immortalized at the end of the album, but listening to it in complete context brings another level of emotion and chaos. In Tiedrich's words, "Just as tension reaches its highest point - as you start to grind your molars into dust - the band releases the latch on the intense feedback and, once again turning on a die, creates some breathing space, a great collective musical exhale. Garcia, mindful of the delicate moment, opens "Morninig Dew" not, as usual, with a power chord, but rather with some gentle fretwork that gradually builds into the song.
Like "Truckin'" before it, this is the benchmark "Morning dew," the version against which all others must be compared. Each band member manages to build a delicate framework around this song, with (here's the collective mind at work again) very little overlapping of musical ideas. As one instrument makes a  tonal point, it recedes into the background and another steps forward.  
This is why we love the Grateful Dead!! The meltdown at the end is complete, and the rebirth rapid. Before you know it, the Dead are back into "The Other One" deep!! I cannot believe that a jam like this could survive the death-song shocker of "Morning Dew," but clearly the band isn't ready to say goodbye. Instead, after a brief break "to give us some time [to] scrape our brains off the ceiling and pour them back between our ears...," they decide to give the death-song a second whirl with an emotionally compelling "Sing Me Back Home." I'm surprised to say it continues to drive the show deeper, considering that I could imagine absolutely no conceivable way the "Morning Dew" could be topped. The clarity, melody, and soul-wrenching precision of this songs, on the most blessed of nights, leaves me tingling! Jerry's voice in the quite moments seem to be following Pigpen's organ (or vise versa), lending added LuSiDity to the entire experience. If you had any doubt to this point, you have to admit it's time to succumb.

Bobby buys time by telling how Billy vetoed this one last time, so it's up to him! "Me & My Uncle" scorches, leaving me wondering how, at this point in to such a phenomenal show, the band can continue to impress with a short freaking cowboy tune!! It's beyond me. I could listen to this "Ramble On Rose" every day and be happy about it. Everything you ever wanted the song to be, and then some. JERRY!!!!

We can't have another show without "Casey Jones" making an appearance, so we get a crazy  double set-closer before a great-as-usual "Saturday Night." I have so much to say about all this, but there are no words left.

Worth mentioning:
  • I discussed every song of this remarkable show in my initial review.
  • Check back in the next couple days for a tour recap and next steps.
  • Beer and pork (and the Grateful Dead) are a blessed combination.

Song of the Day: "One More Saturday Night"

At this point in the blog, I'm emotionally drained and have little to give by way of insight or eloquence. There must have been countless versions of "Saturday Night" when the band felt that way, and so much more. But they managed, throughout the tour, to rock this show-stopper hard, giving their audiences one last chance to dance hard before the end of the show. As you can see from the annotations, the lyric is relatively simple, about partying hard on a Saturday night. A good omen, don't you think?!

Bobby sets the scene of a raging party in a fully stocked armory. It doesn't take long for him to make a call to the audience, singing, "Temperature keeps rising / Everybody getting high." One of my favorite lines has always been, "Turn on Channel 6, President gets on the news / I get no satisfaction, that's why I sing the blues." It's funny to think how many horrible things occurred, in part, because world leaders couldn't get their rocks off. So sad.

The brief instrumental interlude features the rhythm section, particularly Keith's piano pounding out the rhythms. Before long, Bobby's back at it, taking the extremely big-picture view:
God way up in heaven, for whatever it was worth,
Thought he'd have a great big party,
Thought he'd call it planet earth
By the end, the band is in full rock-out mode and the crowd is in a frenzy: guitars screaming, four-on-the floor drums, rockin' piano chords, a start-and-stop rhythmic build towards the peak, Bobby's raging vocals, a return to rhythmic stops for emphasis, a bit of boogie-woogie, and the final push RAGES!! Yes, it just makes you want to shake your bones before the night is through!!

*     *     *     *     *

Final Cookout! Smoking Pig Parts

Just sharing with folks the smokehouse secrets. Come on by the festivities today for a taste and let me know what you think!

BBQ Pulled Pork
I'm starting out with two bone-in pork shoulders, rubbing them down with more than a half-cup of rub with salt. I allow them to rest a room temperature for a half-hour while I prepare the grill for smoking over indirect low heat.

Once the grill hits the target temperature, I put the shoulders on, smoking it for three hours until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. The meat is so soft at that point that the bone slides right out. I continue smoking the shoulders for a total of 8-10 hours over indirect low heat. By the time the meat's done, the meat is falling apart, and it takes a bit of finesse to get it off the grill and into a large roasting pan. I cover it with tinfoil, and let it rest for 30 minutes before pulling it into shreds and serving it on hamburger buns with some of that mustard-vinegar Carolina BBQ sauce. Delicious!!

Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Seeing as today I will be hosting a phenomenal BBQ, I'm going to give some insight into the plan. Part of the menu includes BBQ baby back ribs, in which ribs need not be smoked. They may, of course, but the dish features a sweet and spicy glaze that sets up perfectly over a slow roast. This recipe makes 3 racks of ribs, so adjust as you see fit

First of all, the marinate:

  • 1 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • Grated zest of 3 limes
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped ginger
In a blender or food processor, combine all the ingredients, blending for at least a minute. Set aside 1 cup for basting.

Trim membrane off of back of ribs, and season the meaty sides with salt and brush marinade over those sides. Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature, prep grill for indirect cooking over low heat.

Brush grates clean and stack the ribs on top of one another (bone sides down) over indirect, low heat for 45 minutes.
Undo the stack and brush meaty sides with marinate. Re-stack ribs, reversing order. Cook over indirect, low heat for 45 minutes.

Repeat above process, cook for 60-90 minutes over indirect, low heat. Re-position ribs (after basting with marinade when moving them) so faster-cooking ribs are in the center of the stack. 

When the meat is tender and the meat has shrunk back from the bones, cook ribs over indirect, low heat for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally to prevent burning.

Transfer racks to a sheet pan, cover with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into individual ribs. Server warm.

Sorry for the short alternate topic, but it's party time!! Thanks to all the friends and family who came from out of town and/or brought contributions that make any party a success!!

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

The most epic of shows certainly deserves the most epic of brews!! I present to you, the barleywine!! These are the strongest and most potent of beers, featuring heavy doses of hefty malts that mask all alcohol and drown out even the most generous of hop additions. Ranging well above the normal limit of earthly brews, this transcendent ale seemingly combines all others under its breadth. The style grew out of the English old ale, an aged ale with the malt-heft to stand up to the ravages of time in an era devoid of a clear understanding of basic biochemistry. Since they were aged in barrels, it's not uncommon for old ales to exhibit some tart or sour flavors from wild yeasts and bacteria. This isn't a tight, narrow style, and strength will range from 6-9% ABV with a broad range of colors, usually to the darker end of the spectrum. The flavors favor malt, as hops will fade as the beer ages, and these beers are often quite full-bodied and their sweetness may linger. Older versions may exhibit vinous, or even port- or sherry-like characteristics. Many beers calling themselves winter warmers would fall into this category. According to famed international beer writer, the late Michael Jackson, "It should be a warming beer of the type that is best drunk in half pints by a warm fire on a cold winter's night." English examples almost always have "Old" in their names, like the Gale's Prize Old Ale, the Olde Suffolk English Ale, and Winter Warmers from Samuel Smith's and Young's. Wonderful American versions include the Old Stock Ale from North Coast, the Curmudgeon from Founders, and of course Adam from Hair of the Dog in Portland.

The English barleywines that grew from these old ales tend to the darker side, with incredible depth to the malt flavors. The dark color usually comes from a lengthy boil rather than the use of roasted malts, so chocolate and coffee flavors are unusual. While quite strong (8-12% ABV), they shouldn't exhibit the "hot" flavors of alcohol but rather strike a balance between sweetness and strength. Usually these are the strongest beers a brewery produces and a bit hoppier than the old ale. Barleywines age exceptionally well, and many breweries now distribute bottles stamped with the beer's vintage. For authentic English versions, try the Bass No. 1 or Thomas Hardy's Ale (if you can find them, but neither are brewed any longer), the Thomas Sykes Old Ale from Burton-on-Trent (birthplace of the pale ale and the barleywine), of the amazing J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (fortunate enough to try a ten-year-old bottle of this at a recent homebrew meeting). American brewers also make quite respectable English-style barleywines such as the Old Foghorn from Anchor, the Blithering Idiot from Weyerbacher, and the Brooklyn Monster, to name a few. Of course, one of my favorites is my own brew #7 that is closing in on three years in the bottle. It's been interesting to enjoy this beer's development over the years, and I certainly should have been more judicious in saving bottles early in this beer's life.

American barleywines, on the other hand, are quite strong and exceedingly hoppy. There is a fine line between some imperial IPAs and some American barleywines, but it comes down to a matter of emphasis between the hops and the malts. Brews that swing more towards featuring hops will be imperial IPAs and those with dominant malt flavors are more likely to be American barleywines. Since hops are the first flavor to degrade, however, a brew that began its life as an imperial IPA could taste more like an American barleywine five or more years into its bottled life. Citrusy and resinous hop aromas and flavors are the tip of the iceberg, with plenty of bitterness to balance the biggest of malt bills imaginable. These beers are often lighter in color than their English counterparts, but there's plenty of pale and caramel malts to enjoy here! Mirroring the English history of Burton-on-Trent, American pale ales and barleywines both find their roots in Chico, California's Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, this time with the incomparable Bigfoot Ale. Some of my other favorites are the obscene Olde School from Dogfish Head (15% ABV), Hog Heaven from Avery (9.2% ABV), Great Divide's Old Ruffian (10.2% ABV), the Old Horizontal from Victory (11% ABV), last year's winner at Great American Beer Fest the Flying Mouflan (9.3% ABV), and Rogue's Old Crustacean (11.5% ABV). My new favorite is by own brew #50, which I'm calling the Morning Dew, a red-hued banger clocking in at 9.8% ABV. It's very young and quite sweet, but there are plenty of hops to bring balance to the brew. It will age quite well, and based on my lessons learned from #7, this one will be around for quite some time. These beers may be overly bold for many people, but if they taste too sweet at first, give them a good five or ten years to grown into themselves. You won't be disappointed!!

What food goes with a barleywine? Honestly, this is an after-dinner (and after-dessert) beer for me. No pairing necessary, just let your taste buds succumb to the intense flavors as you've let your mind succumb to this epic concert!!


* Not to mention the fact that this is the fourth show in four days, and in case you haven't noticed, my posts are rather involved. I give immense thanks to my supportive and understanding wife for all of her patience. I promise, we're almost done with this project (at least for now!). Future endeavors will be somewhat less ambitious.
** Cutler gives special thanks to the European Promoters Group, in particular John Morris and Tony Smith in England, and Fritz Rau, Knud Thorbjornsen, Norbot Gamson, Berry Visser, and Claude Nobs (haha!) on the mainland. Well done by all, and thanks for your part in making these recordings possible!
*** In the Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Vol. 1, Jeff Tiedrich makes mention that this is "one of the first to break through the 7/4 beat an diffuse into a free-form jam. The Dead had begun, over the previous months, to stretch this song out but had always kept things within the confines of the 7/4 time." Sounds good to me, but I can't count that high right now. I'll take your word for it, Jeff!
**** Tiedrich also notes this is the Dead's only version of "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "|NFA" to appear in a first set.
***** Again, Tiedrich.

Friday, May 25, 2012

5/25/72 Strand Lyceum: "Comes a Time," "Wharf Rat," Justice Part II, & Porter

When: Thursday, May 25, 1972
Where: Lyceum Theatre, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs)
  1. Promised Land, Brown-Eyed Women, Big Boss Man, Black-Throated Wind, Tennessee Jed, Mr. Charlie, Jack StrawChina Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Me & Bobby McGee, Good Lovin', Playing In The Band, Brokedown Palace, Casey Jones
  2. Me & My Uncle, Big Railroad Blues, Chinatown Shuffle, Ramble On Rose, Uncle John's Band > Wharf Rat > Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Comes A Time, El Paso, Sitting On Top Of The World, Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > One More Saturday Night
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.

Not a bad spot for a Dead show in 1972, eh?
The show opener of "Promised Land" is a bit choppy, with a few flubbed lyrics and a halting ending where not everyone is on the same page. However, that's picking nits because this show is hot, hot, hot!! I really enjoy Jerry's vocals on "Brown-Eyed Women," a classic from the tour that I haven't raved about nearly enough. Along with "Ramble On Rose," it's among my favorite "short" songs on the album, and this version is a stellar performance. The versions of "Mr. Charlie" and "Jack Straw" leave nothing to be desired: flawless vocals, tight instrumentals, and very to-the-point. On another tour, these could be show highlights!

As we get into the meat of the first set, the "China" > "Rider" stands out - despite its uncharacteristic mellow energy level - for stellar melodic jams and delivering high-impact emotion in a subtle manner. We get another fantastic version of "Good Lovin'" a couple songs later, which gets the crowd (and myself) frothing at the mouth. The "Playin'" shows how versatile this song is. After listening to it from each show on the tour, it's still fresh and the jams interesting. Well done, fellas (and lady)! We're then treated to a very rare and beautiful "Brokedown Palace." The emotional depth of the vocals make this one a special treat, even if they had played it more frequently. Between the harmonies and the simple yet emotional instrumental performance, however, this song rests upon a separate plane with the likes of "Attics of My Life" and the a-capella versions of "And We Bid You  Goodnight."

The second set starts off with several shorter songs, each of which is well played. The best is "Ramble On Rose," with Keith stepping up big during the intro with some inventive chords and solid throughout. Everyone turns in fantastic performances in a playful and loose rendition of this classic. But the set really takes off on from there with an unusual (for the tour) mid-set "Uncle John's Band" that sets up an amazing jam sequence, featuring the heavily jammed bridge/reprise that doesn't stop with the final vocal. It drops directly into a superb version of "Wharf Rat." Again, the song has a fantastic instrumental and vocal performance from Jerry. He delivers the "I'll get up and fly away" section with remarkable anger to cap off an epic version. 

"Wharf Rat" segues seamlessly into a beautiful "Dark Star" that is dominated in the first half by fascinating and light melodic jamming. Even the spacier jams are devoid of screaming terror, but the entire song is as intense as any, just without the darkness. About 15 minutes in, the theme emerges with clarity, dropping into the vocals. In the 19th minute, an amazing rhythmic sequence emerges with Billy seemingly at the helm. This one gives way to a fabulous "Feeling Groovy Jam" filled with joyous emotion. At one point, Phil almost sends it into "Good Lovin'," but they stick with the theme. Jerry also plays with a bit of tension, but the rest of the band is having such a fun time exploring the "Felling Groovy Jam" he has to return. He sticks around just long enough to grab Phil and leap of the deep end into what becomes a dark and weird space. By the 32nd minute, the whole band reaches a dissonant and cacophonous meltdown, and "Sugar Magnolia" rises from the ashes shortly afterwards. This version is smoking hot, with a bit of leftover chaos and feedback towards the beginning.

From there we get my favorite "Comes A Time" of the tour, a bit slower than the wonderful version from Frankfurt. The raw emotion comes through with intensity throughout this exceptional version, inspiring me to feature the song in a special second edition of the BONUS SONG OF THE DAY, PART II!! Again, this has been a very special and meaningful song in my life for quite some time, and listening to it here brings back memories.... It's followed by "El Paso," a relatively mellow interpretation the death-song conclusion to the incredible jam sequence. What a ride, and the set isn't even over yet!

Jerry decides to go old school, kicking the band into an incredibly energetic "Sitting on Top of the World." Great rendition of this unusual song!! From there, it's time for another great "GDTRFB" that gets the crowd (and the band) fired up before a scorching "Saturday Night" finale. I can't say enough about this show, and the second set is as good as you can get. The Dead are making the most of their final stand across the pond, and it makes me a bit melancholy to think there's just one more show left.

Worth mentioning:
  • I haven't mentioned "Big Boss Man" enough on this blog. One of the most over-played blues songs in the catalog, the Dead do a respectable but unremarkable job with it regularly, especially on this tour. Pigpen pays homage to the fans and the scene by changing one of the lines to "sure get stoned at night" (instead of "sure gonna sleep at night").
  • "Black-Throated Wind" is played quite slowly, and Bobby again misses a couple lyrics. Sounds to me like he's a bit off, at least so far.
  • I can't help but think that "Tennessee Jed" is a bit ironic. They seem to be having so much fun on this tour (and at this show), but Jerry's still singing about heading back to Tennessee!

Song of the Day: "Wharf Rat"

Today's Bonus Song of the Day, Part II, comes to us as the Dead delivered at the Lyceum on 5/25/72: a rare and special second Jerry ballad!! This song signaled the dawn of a new era, debuting on 2/19/71 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, the band's first show without drummer Mickey Hart. It indicated a new level of craftsmanship in the band's songwriting and performance, conjuring emotion and showing their ability to nimbly changing directions in an instant. 

Hunter tells us the story of a man who encounters an elderly, down-and-out drunk by the docks. When asked for a dime for a cup of coffee, he responds, "I got no dime / But I got some time to hear your story." The story the old man tells him is moving, sad, and a lesson to the audience:
My name is August West
And I love my Pearly Baker best
More than my wine
... More than my wine
More than my maker
Though He's no friend of mine
Jerry Garcia drew this picture, calling it August West,
his only piece of visual art connected to his music.
There was an historical figure in the temperance movement named Purley Baker, who headed the Anti-Saloon League for roughly two decades starting in 1903. August West continues his tale:
Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them 
Half of my life
I spent doing time for
Some other fucker's crime
Other half found me stumbling around
Drunk on burgundy wine.
They take us to the bridge, literally and figuratively, as we hear the old man recount his story. To me it is the story of his survival in the face of his greatest enemy: self-doubt.
But I'll get back
On my feet someday
The good Lord willing
If He says I may
I know that the life I'm
Living's no good
I'll get a new start
Live the life I should
He's conquered that doubt with hope, against all odds and in the face of certain failure. His hope is his salvation, and his refrain of, "I'll get up and fly away," recalls the similarly named folk song. As with most down on their luck, his mind returns to his greatest memory - Pearly Baker - and he's convince she's been true to him. With that, the narrator is struck with his faith in his true love, turning introspective:
I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown
Nowhere to go but just to hang around
I got a girl
Named Bonny Lee
I know that girl's been true to me
I know she's been
I'm sure she's been
True to me
The old drunk's story, whether based in truth or delusion, clearly resonated with the man. Is he convincing himself of that Bonny Lee has been true? Will he call her? Go to her? Or will he get a drink instead?

BONUS: Song of the Day, Part II: "Comes a Time"

As I noted in a previous post, "Comes a Time" has long been an incredibly moving song for me. It's a relatively simple lyric, the imagery is stark and the message is moving. The chorus sums it all up:
Comes a time
When the blind man
Takes your hand
Says: Don't you see?
Gotta make it somehow
On the dreams you still belive
Don't give it up
You've got an empty cup
Only love can fill
Only love can fill
As we find in the annotated lyric, the powerful image of the blind man asking if you can see alludes to Tiresias in Sophacles's Oedipus, Dylan Thomas's poem "Was There a Time," Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," and no doubt other literary works. But it's the message of following your dreams through darkness and light that is resonant for me. A fellow traveller once told me early on my path fighting for justice that it is critical that we surround ourselves with others in the struggle because we will fail more than we succeed. We need comrades to catch us when we fall if we're to continue to fight.

The other stirring image from the song is that of the empty cup, also employed by Hunter in "Ripple." Again, we learn from the annotations that the image echoes the W.B. Yeats poem "The Empty Cup," and that the Cups in tarot signify emotions. The empty cup reference from this song is later followed by the moving lines:
You can't let go
'Cause you're afraid to fall
Till the day may come
When you can't feel at all
This song is sad and stirring, but it's not hopeless. That is why it has always been such a resonant song for me. To me, the finest versions were played later in the 70s at a much slower pace. Check out my absolute favorite from the Boston Music Hall on 6/12/76. Listen to the full jam starting with "Let It Grow" for the full effect.

*     *     *     *     *

Civic Duty: My Week as a Juror in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Part II

Calling my previous post on my experience as a juror "Part I" tied me into revisiting it before the end of the tour. My initial thought was that it was emotionally taxing being on the jury, and I wanted to sit on it for a bit, and in the back of my head I wanted to discuss it when I explored "Wharf Rat" for the Song of the Day, as it contains one of the Dead's few references to the justice system.*

Overall, the experience was emotionally exhausting. As I mentioned previously, the charges were for murder and conspiracy in what was essentially a turf war between two groups of drug-dealers. Regardless of the criminal activity that underlay the murder, listening to the details of a crime that caused a tragic loss for one family inspired self-reflection about my own life and my place on the jury. It's a tough thing to stand in judgement of another person, weighing the facts to make an incredibly serious decision, made tougher by our instructions not to discuss the trial with anyone in our lives or even with other jurors.

The attorneys were both quite good, building their respective cases around their professional strengths. The prosecutor relied on emotion and oratory, telling the story from the perspective of the killer and the aftermath from the perspective of a grieving mother. However, her delivery was occasionally choppy, a feeling we can all identify with in some way. The defense attorney questioned details and testimony, using incisive cross-examination and a conversational ease of delivery in making his case as strongly as possible. At times, he came off a bit too slick, though, in part because of his fine suit and flashy watch.** In all, both lawyers did an excellent job making their cases and carrying out their charges.

We listened to three days of testimony and closing arguments before we were left to deliberate as a jury at about 3:30 pm on Friday. We chose a jury fore-person by "consensus," however the decision was made when I was out of the room. The person who volunteered would have been the very last person I would have chosen, and upon opening the deliberation it became clear that he wasn't interested in  (or capable of) steering a healthy discussion to build consensus. However, I had already identified a number of jurors who shared many elements of my own worldview, particularly with regards to building consensus through the respectful exchange of ideas. Together, we were able to help direct the discussion and keep the foreman in check.

I'm not interested in recounting the details of the case or of the deliberations, but there were several questions about the validity of some of the evidence. The judge was clear that as jurors, we were each to weight everything we had heard and arrive at a conclusion based on her explanations of the law. There were a few jurors who were not immediately convinced of the facts, and we ended up carrying the deliberations into Monday.

The backgrounds and experiences of the various jurors played out a bit in the discussion, and it took a bit of effort to ensure that everyone could speak their minds. As you may expect, the difference between the more aggressive members of the jury and those who were more reserved was generally found along gender, race, and class lines. In addition, the majority of jurors never questioned the testimony of police personnel and other witnesses in positions of authority in any way. Their reasoning was that they would have so much to lose if they offered misleading or limited testimony, but these jurors did not consider the manner in which the system protects those individuals, evidenced by the rarity of consequences of those with authority. Unfortunately, there is little time for consciousness-raising during a jury deliberation.

After a lengthy discussion, we arrived at a consensus, convicting the defendant on all counts. In the end, the judge came to talk with the jury and answer any questions we had. Apparently, the topics of our discussion were hotly contested before the trial, as well. We also learned that there were a number of defense witnesses that did not answer their court summonses, not surprising in a neighborhood drug case. In the end, it was an instructive experience, and I'm glad I won't have to sit on another jury for several years.

Here are a few more lingering thoughts before I put this one to bed:
  • When you're given the opportunity to choose your own authority figure, it's best not to choose the old white dude - and that applies to me as well.
  • If you're ever in a situation where someone in authority is not carrying out his/her responsibilities, your best bet is to identify allies and take control of the situation. Don't ask for permission, just do what needs to be done. There is strength in numbers, and allies allow any negative reaction to be more easily deflected and redirected.
  • I don't believe it's any coincidence that we were left to deliberate with an hour left in the work week. Everyone in that room had their own work to tend to, and a conviction is more likely with a quick deliberation. With a consensus decision as important as this, it's critical that everyone involved arrives at a conclusion they can live with. The defendant more than anyone deserves the benefit of a complete deliberation.
  • At the end of the day, if you weren't there you don't know what happened. Depending on who or what they believe, the jurors could have come to any of a number of different 
  • Upon serious reflection over time, I have concerns about a legal system that allows confessions to be used in court. Despite the legal protections in place, there is a basic imbalance of power in any interrogation. Interrogation techniques are aimed towards getting a specific answer, not finding the truth.
  • I believe the verdict in this case really only affected one man - the defendant - and his family. To some extent, I could see it as a relief for the family of the deceased, but ultimately nothing will change in the neighborhood. The drugs are still being sold, and for all I know there are still murders happening between these same two crews. None of that would be affected by the outcome of this trial.
  • I can't say enough about the staff in the courtroom. They listen to all the details we heard as jurors, plus more information that isn't part of the testimony. This courtroom only hears homicide cases, and as emotionally draining an experience as it was for a week of my life, I can only image what it must be like when that is your entire work life. It take a certain type of person who can leave the work at work and come back every day.
  • I look forward to staying in touch with several other jurors I got to know through the trial. It's always great to meet interesting, good-hearted people who love Philadelphia like I do.

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

Where the pale ale was favored by the upper classes of English society, the porter was historically the beer of the English working class, favored by laborers after a day of their toils. It was the precursor to the stout, and today there are several distinct sub-categories. All are some grade of dark in color, featuring some degree of roasty flavor and an overall malty profile. However, the style (particularly the American versions) may feature quite a bit of hop bitterness and flavor, but all are build upon a malty foundation. Outside of the States, brewers are far less likely to attempt to define the line between a porter and a stout, but it's often recognized as a degree of roastiness and/or color, with porter usually showing some ruby or garnet highlights against the light. However, a range of these qualities appear within the style, as well.

The least dark sub-category is the brown porter, which may be quite dark indeed, but it always falls shy of black. It is malty and often displays some degree of roast with a moderate body and restrained hops. Relatively few American versions are produced, but be sure to check out the London porter from Fuller's and the Taddy porter from Samuel Smith's, both fine examples that are readily available. The Steelhead from Mad River is a notable American version. Pair any (or all) with a shepherd's pie for a hearty meal.

The robust porter is just that, flavorful and moderately full-bodied. Again there's plenty of malt, particularly roasted malt, that contribute a sweetness behind a strong chocolatey flavors. There may be quite a bit of bitterness from hops, but also benefitting from acrid qualities of roasted malts. Most American porters fall into this category, so some may be quite hoppy (and pretty strong). There are plenty of fantastic examples, but the benchmark for me is the Walker's Reserve from Firestone Walker, a heady brew to be sure!! If you've never had it and like porters even a little bit, track this amazing beer down. Some of my other favorites are the Black Butte porter from Deschutes, the porter from Anchor Brewing, the porter from Bell's, and the Edmund Fitzgerald out of Cleveland's Great Lakes B.C. For a different (and fantastic) take on this style, try the smoked versions from Stone or Alaskan Brewing or the vanilla porter from Breckenridge; they're all delicious!! I could drink these beers all night, but to me they go really well with a bacon cheeseburger.

Finally, the Baltic porter is quite similar in history to the Russian imperial stout, as the English style drifted eastward, gaining strength, body, and flavor along the way! While often quite dark, this beer is rarely (if ever) truly black. It is often brewed with lager yeast, and in that respect it can be compared to a strong version of a schwartzbier. These beers occasionally flirt with 10% ABV, but they most commonly fall in the 7-8% range. The BJCP succinctly summarizes the style:
A Baltic Porter often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwartzbier, but with a  higher OG*** and and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors.
For excellent Baltic examples, check out the Finnish Sinebrychoff, the Polish Okocim, or the Russian Baltika #6. American interpretations are often "imperial porters" (supercharged robust porters), but a couple I've enjoyed are the Gonzo from Flying Dog, Victory's Baltic Thunder, or the fantastic version from the dark-beer experts at Duck Rabbit. Worth noting is the uncharacteristically mild Carnegie from Carlsburg, Sweden, that clocks in at 5.5% ABV. Try pairing the strong, clean versions with a fruit sorbet or gelato, but for the giant American versions I suggest a spicy curry.

Again, I will be serving a delicious London porter in honor of the Lyceum shows at my party tomorrow. Hope to enjoy a pint with you!!


I can think of the jail break in "Jack Straw," getting busted by the heat in "The Other One," and the New Orleans references in "Truckin'" as other justice-system references. If you can think of any more, please leave them in the comments section below.
** After the trial was over, we learned from the judge that the defense attorney had previously been a judge and that he had taken the case on a pro bono basis.
*** OG = original gravity, or density, i.e., more sugars before fermentation

Thursday, May 24, 2012

5/24/72 Strand Lyceum: "Sugar Magnolia," MLB, and the ESB

When: Wednesday, May 24, 1972
Where: Lyceum Theatre, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, stream the show from dead.net here)
  1. Cold Rain & Snow, Beat It On Down The Line, Mr. Charlie, Deal, Me & My Uncle, Hurts Me Too^, Dire Wolf, Black-Throated Wind, Chinatown Shuffle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Playing In The Band, You Win Again^, Jack Straw, Casey Jones
  2. Rockin' Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu, Mexicali Blues, Black Peter, Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Sing Me Back Home > Sugar Magnolia > Turn On Your Lovelight > The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)  E: One More Saturday Night
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.
^ Appears on Europe '72; final version of "Hurts Me Too" and final Pigpen performance of "Lovelight"

Is that a fish-lens effect, or is it the Dead?
Stellar recordings of this blistering show have been in wide circulation for many years, making it a Europe favorite of many Deadheads.* The performance is above average from start to finish, reaching incredible heights at times. Truly a show for the ages! In the liner notes, we learn from attendee Chris Jones that in 1972 the Lyceum was a ballroom, not the theatre arrangement we see in the photo to the left. He also reminds me that the New Riders of the Purple Sage opened these shows

The "Cold Rain & Snow" (just the second on the tour) that opens the show as a rarity, is very well played, with stellar lead play and vocals from Jerry. We're clearly off to a special start tonight, folks!! A few songs later, "Me & My Uncle" scorches from start to finish, with great drums, bass, guitars, and piano. Yes, that's everyone. This is yet another fantastic version of "Playin'" that stretches a bit longer than most on the tour. The jamming is excellent and weird throughout, and you can tell we're in for a treat for set two!

And what a treat it is! The "Rockin' Pneumonia" that opens the second set is very good and a bit smoother than the one the previous night. It's great to hear the band having so much fun up there!! The "Black Peter that follows is the first for the tour (and first for the whole year, in fact), and it is incredible. This Jerry ballad that has really grown on me over the years for its lyrical strength, and I wish I could have featured it in Song of the Day. It's a story of a coal miner dying of black lung disease, and there is wisdom in the koan-like lines, "It seems like everything, leads up to this day / And it's just like every other day, that's ever been." Well, this version is a magnificent, stand-alone performance that really shakes the soul, another example of the Dead taking advantage of their Lyceum residency to explore some songs they haven't played much (if at all) on the tour so far.

The rest of the set is absolutely epic. "Truckin'" is a hot start, even with a flubbed lyric from Bobby, and the jam is as they all are on this tour - stellar!! We're then treated to one of Billy's best solos of the tour, which Phil caps off by ripping the roll into "The Other One." What this segue lacks in tone and delivery, it makes up for in volume!! The jam that follows is everything you want from "The Other One," pure energy and chaos!! The spacey section in the second half features one of the most remarkable guitar screams I've ever heard from Garcia, fanning away at the strings while toeing the wah to create a blood-curdling effect. Amazing!! I'm not going to get into too much detail, but this is one of the finest jams of the tour, and that's saying a lot!! They cap it off with another spectacular version of "Sing Me Back Home," making me wonder what ever happened to this song after 1972? It's moving and interesting, and it fits the death-ballad spot that tends to cap off these epic jams to complete the psychedelic life cycle.

The "Sugar Mags" is a great rockin' version, well worth a listen - and not just for bridging the gap to the Pigpen portion of the set. And what a healthy portion it is!! Diving right into a raging "Lovelight" gets it off to a great start, with Phil and Jerry dueling and Bobby doing a great job keeping up with the extremely rapid pace. Pigpen finds some new and interesting raps ("I know you got it, I've been in your door before," "You took your love, and you left my door," etc.) we're also treated to a very brief "Caution" tease with an ominous howl of "All you need...." It's just a tease, and Pig and the band all finish the song strongly, falling directly into a particularly measured version of "The Stranger." Pigpen provides some of his own accompaniment with a soulful whirring of the organ to go with his sorrowful vocal delivery. Jerry's solo is less angry screaming than pensive and sad on this night, but it nails the whole feel of the song. It's amazing how varied the delivery of this song was considering how few versions we have to enjoy. Pigpen gets all worked up into an angry, howling mess in the final vocals. What a fantastic song to close out a fantastic set!!

Worth mentioning:
  • "BIODTL" is a bit on the slow side, but very well played.
  • Another fantastic "Mr. Charlie," get it while you can. So sad that there are so few left....
  • "Deal" is a played in measured tempo, and you can tell from the vocals that Jerry is totally dialed in tonight!! According to Bobby, this rendition is "respectfully dedicated to the memory of Reverend Gary Davis," the legendary bluesman who died several weeks before. Davis was born in 1896 in South Carolina and lost his sight as an infant. Singing and playing ragtime, blues, and gospel songs, he developed a finger-picking guitar style that was hugely influential on American music, including the Grateful Dead. He died on May 5th in Hammonton, New Jersey at the age of 76.
  • Seeing as this is the "Hurts Me Too" from the record, it's a highlight. Same goes for "You Win Again."
  • I can't remember where, but I think there was a "White Rabbit" tease somewhere in the first set.
  • This is a very hot version of "Mexicali Blues," but again I don't want to highlight an entire set. Short straw, sorry.
  • Following "Black Peter" there is a well-formed "Beer Barrel Polka" tuning that Jerry tries to segue directly into "Truckin'." Unfortunately, the rest of the band doesn't jump on it with him.
  • Bobby dedicates the "Saturday Night" encore to "the key of C." What a showstopper, can't wait for tomorrow night!!

Song of the Day: "Sugar Magnolia"

This classic rock song became a show-stopper and Deadhead euphemism for "the woman of my dreams." It's a simple, adoring lyric is filled with blooming blossoms, color, sunlight, and a river. The opening chords are as characteristic as the opening notes of "Truckin'" (both appeared on American Beauty), but this one came to signal the last chance to really shake your tail feathers before the end of the night.

David Dodd points out in the annotations that this song is deeply rooted in American music, not surprisingly for a Hunter classic. The magnolia tree is native to the Americas (and Asia), showcasing fragrant white and purple/pink flowers signalling the beginning of spring. I first came to admire them while living in New Orleans (there was one in the lot behind my apartment), and here in Philly one of my favorite spring gardens features several magnificent trees. The opening verse, much like "Playin'" and other care-free songs of this era, celebrates the pleasures of a careless life:
Sugar Magnolia blossom's blooming
Head's all empty and I don't care
Saw my baby down by the river
Knew she'd have to come up soon for air
From there, the narrator takes us under the willow, where he begs his lover, "We can have high times if you'll abide." Ladies and gentlemen, that is how you "discover the wonders of nature." The annotations make comparison to the nymph-like creature Goldberry from J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy, particularly for the "rolling in the rushes" line at the end of the second verse.

The woman who is the subject of this song fills all the narrator's needs, desires and wishes, by driving when he's too blitzed to see straight, paying his speeding tickets,** diligently waiting backstage, and dancing the zydeco. But it's the sensory descriptors that paint an emotional sketch that is as much about the feeling behind the love as it is about the person so cherished.

In Phil Lesh's autobiography Searching for the Sound, he describes that Bobby adding the line "jumps like a Willys in four-wheel drive" was the last straw for Hunter's songwriting partnership with him. When i first heard the song, I was always puzzled by that line until my mom explained it's basically a Jeep.

The finale of the song is "Sunshine Daydream," little more than a refrain of supplication that the band played with over the years. At first, it was played straight, but by the mid-'70s each line was preceded by a single beat before jumping into the final rage. As Dodd explains in his published version of the annotations,
The space between these parts ["Sugar Mags" and "Sunshine Daydream"] could be as brief as the space of several beats; could frame a set, as in the closing of Winterland [on 12/31/78]; or could be as long as a week, the case of the performance occurring in the week of Bill Graham's death, on October 25, 1991, when "Sunshine Daydream" came during the Polo Field concert in Golden Gate Park a week after the band opened a show with  "Sugar Magnolia" (Graham's favorite Grateful Dead song) at the Oalkand Coliseum Arena.
However they were arranged, the two are clearly born of the same kernel of inspiration. Hearing them, while at times a bit wearisome, never fails to bring a smile to my face, even on the toughest of days.

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One More Trip Around the Bases

I know I did a sports post yesterday, but I want to get one more baseball post in before the tour ends.
  • I was watching MLB network late on the night of 5/18, the night Justin Verlander got 25 outs without surrendering a hit. He had called into the broadcast earlier, and I caught the replay of his phenomenal interview. The retired players asked him to walk them through specific at-bats (including the one that resulted in a hit), and it was incredible to hear his thought process and his reflections on execution. He described how he got one slider to break at 50 feet ("a 50-footer"), and the next pitch - also a slider - was a 55-footer. What incredible control to be able to execute those similar but subtly distinct pitches, and what a nightmare to try to hit either of those pitches, let alone back-to-back. Doc Halladay - another master pitcher at the height of his powers - doesn't talk in such detail (though I'm sure he's thinking the same thing), and it goes to show what a special modern, professional athlete Verlander is. When asked when he started thinking he had a chance for another no-no, he interrupted the question to interject, "The third inning." WOW!! That dude's got brass... and brash! On top of all that, he said he had started to get a blister on his finger after his last start, so he changed his grib a bit. I guess it worked!! No one is supposed to mention the possibility of a no-no when it's working, but apparently Verlander can tell you all about it once it's through!!! Two more outs without a hit, and Verlander would have joined a very small club (of six) of pitchers to throw at least three no-hitters in a career. Hats off to you, JV! After watching those highlights and listening to his thoughts, I think he's got at least one left in that unbelievable right arm....
  • The Phillies were starting to put it together, winning six straight recently behind major contributions from Cole Hamels and surprisingly Joe Blanton. However, it turns out they were just playing the Padres, the Astros, and the Cubs. The Nationals have their number, taking six of their last eight games.
  • Long-suffering Cliff Lee has a jaw-dropping 0.76 WHIP and an 0-1 record to show for it. No worries, Cliff, we know you're killing it!
  • Phillies catcher Carlos "Chooch"* Ruiz has been raking, hitting right around .348, moving up from hitting seventh to sixth, arriving at fifth on 5/14. In his first four games in the five-hole, he was 10-for-15 with 7 RBI and 5 runs. Not bad for a defensive catcher. (Of course, he went hitless until they moved him to the 4-hole last night, when he went 3-for-4.)
  • When it became clear that Chase Utley was going to miss a chunk of time for the Phillies, the concern was whether Freddy Galvis could hit well enough to not sink the team. He's only hitting .235 overall, but in May he's hitting a serviceable .279 with2 HR, 12 RBI and slugging .810. Pretty good for a defensive rookie who's not quite ready for the bigs!!
  • The defending world-champion Cardinals were killing it for a stretch, but after slowing down a bit they're looking mortal. Good thing, because when you lose your best player to free agency and one of your top pitchers to injury you should really struggle a bit. Good team, though; keep an eye on them!
  • I see the NL Central coming down to a dogfight between the Reds and the Cardinals. Both teams are built to win now and playing solid baseball.
  • Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman is pitching phenomenally. He breaks the 100-MPH barrier regularly, but the really impressive thing is the movement he milks out of it. They're handling him with kid gloves, pitching once or twice a week, but he's got the goods, folks.
  • Speaking of coming down to earth, Matt Kemp slowed before heading to the DL for a bit, and the Dodgers slowed with him. That's why you build a big lead, especially in a winnable division. Don't freak out yet, Giants fans; it's early, yet.
  • The AL East looks upside-down, with the Orioles and Rays at the top and the Red Sox and Yankees at the bottom. Crazy....
  • Despite captain Derek Jeter hitting like a younger version of himself, the Yankees are struggling big time. They lost 6-0 to the Royals earlier this week. Ouch!
- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

Today's beer is the extra special bitter, or ESB, a stronger version of the typical London session ale, the bitter. In general it is a bit on the malty side with ample hops to balance the flavor, and because of it's strength (5-6% ABV or more), a bit of the alcohol flavor is commonly present. English versions will feature a toasty malt profile and an Anglo hop balance, often from Goldings or Fuggles hops. In geeky beerbars in the states, you will often find these ales served traditionally from casks that are hand-pumped or gravity poured from a "firkin" resting on the bar. Cask-conditioned ales are naturally carbonated by being sealed before fermentation is complete. As the yeast completes its charge, the carbon dioxide byproduct has nowhere to go but into solution as the pressure builds. This is an example of what English beer geeks call "real ale," as opposed to the commercial (or American) practice of forced-carbonating the beer with pressurized carbon dioxide gas. To experience a traditional English version, try one of these fantastic brews, either in the bottle or on cask: Fullers is the gold standard, Wells Bombardier and Hobgoblin are closely tied for second, and Young's Special London Ale is also quite special. Export versions you can find in the States are typically different from the traditional versions in England, which tend to be a bit stronger and more malty. When in England, be sure to sample a wide variety for comparison!!

American-brewed versions are about the same strength or stronger. The malt profile will commonly leave the toasty, English corner to venture towards the caramel end of the spectrum, and it's more common for these styles to utilize American hops like Cascade or the like, alone or in combination with English hops. Here are a few respectable examples produced in the U.S.: even though they are now owned by a mega-brewery, Redhook makes the version that first turned me onto the style***, but be sure to check out Sawtooth from Colorado's Left Hand Brewing Company and Boont from Anderson Valley Brewing in California. A big shout-out to southeast Pennsylvania's own Scarlet Lady from Stoudt's and the Extra Special Ale from Yards.

The ESB is today's pairing suggestion because it's one of London's typical styles, but it's also one of the fantastic brews that will be on tap for Saturday's party. I've conditioned the brew in the keg, but it'll be pushed through the tap and into your glass with carbon dioxide because I don't have a hand pump or a proper firkin. Pair this one withe BBQ baked beans we'll be serving at the party.


* Interestingly, this show is missing from the Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Vol. 1, which I can only guess was an inadvertent error. Ouch!!!
** This line ("pays my ticket when I speed") is one of the most commonly mis-heard in all of Dead-dom, mistakenly understood by some as, "bakes my chicken when I sleep."
*** It was after a crazy week on tour with SCI, and after the last show I was double-fisting a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine and a Redhook ESB. The combination was sublime!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

5/23/72 Strand Lyceum: "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA," NBA Playoffs, & Dubbel

When: Tuesday, May 23, 1972
Where: Lyceum Theatre, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, check out the stream on dead.net here)
  1. Promised Land, Sugaree, Mr. CharlieBlack-Throated Wind, Next Time You See Me, Jack Straw, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Me & My Uncle, Chinatown Shuffle, Big Railroad Blues, The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion), Playing In The Band, Sitting On Top Of The World, Rockin' Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu^, Mexicali Blues, Good Lovin', Casey Jones
  2. Ramble On Rose, Dark Star > Morning Dew, He's Gone, Sugar Magnolia > Comes A Time, Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away > Hey Bo Diddley > Not Fade Away  E: Uncle John's Band
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.
^ First time played.

It wasn't exactly the Lion King that came through the Lyceum in late-May, 1972.
As I noted in the tour opener, the Dead's initial venue to start the show - the Sunshine Theatre - closed its doors for financial reasons a few short weeks before they arrived in England. The Wembley shows were a poor replacement in a giant, partially filled, boomy room that once housed a swimming pool. The Lyceum shows were the real make-up for London, and what a treat it turned out to be. First of all, the historic theatre built in the heart of London during the 19th century was an intimate gem, much like many other venues that saw the Dead perform some of their best shows of the tour. Elegant inside and out, the current building is only the latest iteration of a London institution that was burned and rebuilt, housing such treasures as a Mozart performance, a chapel, Madame Toussade's first exhibition of waxworks, and even a circus.* Its central location just off London's famous Strand was also fitting, allowing the band to channel the energy of a bustling metropolis (and the hall's historic forebears) and filter it through their own lens.
Imagine these seats filled with English heads in 1972. Crazy, man... crazy.

Sam Cutler in the liner notes:
The Lyceum was exactly the right venue [for the Dead's "swan song for Europe"], and we had the perfect pleasure of doing four dates in a row, which would allow everyone in the band to settle in and produce some of their hottest music. The place was all gold leaf and crumbling wallpaper, and a somewhat shabby reflection of its glory days as a London theatre. The staff were in bow ties and maroon jackets, and it was run with British stiff-upper-lip military precision. It was just the kind of venue the Grateful Dead loved to descend upon, grinning from ear to ear, and reduce to a more relaxed form of chaos where everyone could have a California version of anarchic fun.
Dennis McNally, in the band's official band history Long Strange Trip, describes the entire entourage's awareness of the final run of shows as inspiring everyone to break out the Visine bottles and turn up the psychedelic energy for a mini-residency in London. In Living With the Dead, Rock Scully tells the (likely embellished) story of the red-coat-wearing ushers being dosed into oblivion each night, causing a new batch to be brought in for each show. Colorful and dubious in detail, we can get the picture of how electric the atmosphere must have been inside the 2500-seat theatre in the heart of London proper.

Now this version of "Promised Land" is more like it!! Fast and hot from start to finish, it starts the show off on a different foot from any other show on the tour and sets the tone for an out-of-the-ordinary setlist. As you'll see, there were many unusual songs performed at this show, evidenced by the fact that "Greatest" and "Bertha" are both absent. "Black-Throated Wind" holds a special place in my heart and memory, and I haven't drawn attention to the stellar versions played throughout this tour. Listen to this one for another stellar and succinct version of this great Bobby tune. "Me & My Uncle" is likely the hottest stand-alone version of this song performed on the tour, with scorching guitar leads from Jerry, swingin' drumming from Billy, and bouncing bass runs from Phil. Outstanding!! As always, "The Stranger" tugs at your heartstrings, and Pigpen really reels off the final vocals. The whole band really nails this version. Another fantastic version of "Playin'" follows (what more can you say at this point?), and then we're back into unfamiliar waters with "Sittin' on Top of the World." Like "Promised Land," this version is greatly improved over its tour debut, and with the entire band ripping through it with energy, speed, and precision. Next up is the band's debut performance of "Rockin' Pneumonia," which is exciting and fun but needs some work. Phil drops some classic polka bass on a fantastic version of "Mexicali Blues." Listening to this version the other day got me thinking about the meaning of the lines:
She took me up into her room, and whispered in my ear
"Go on, my friend, do anything you choose"
Now I'm paying for those happy hours I spent there in her arms
With a lifetime's worth of the Mexicali blues
This verse, along with "thinkin' and drinkin' are all I have today" made me think "Mexicali blues" may refer gonorrhea or some other STD. The idea doesn't necessarily hold for the final verses, when "He made me trade the gallows for the Mexicali blues," but it's an interesting thought nonetheless.

The "Dark Star" is everything you want from the song in 1972. The initial jam is melodic and fast, as the band finds new grooves and permutations of the theme to explore with fervor. They descend into a quick spacey jam that is cut short with a brief drum interlude. Phil joins Billy for quick, melodic drum-and-bass duet, and then it's off into deep space. Jerry plays wandering lines with that harsh yet clean tone, as Bobby, Keith, and Billy strive to find weirder and weirder ways to play the rhythm, ultimately settling on dissonance and chaos. Jerry finds some semblance of form coming out of the chaos, and Keith peppers his meandering notes with crashing piano chords. Billy swings like the rhythmic beast he is, and Phil helps steer the groove back to the light. Jerry takes some coaxing, but eventually they find release and re-emerge with the "Dark Star" theme, crisp and clear. However, it's clear this one traveled a long, arduous road to get back to the song. It must all seem trivial to Jerry, and he signals the dawn with the opening chord of "Morning Dew." What an epic way to end this sequence, with the gently building guitar lines eventually exploding into the crescendo and the nuclear ashes settling on the soundsphere. Ladies and gentlemen, we're not yet halfway through the first set!!

After a remarkably mature rendition of "He's Gone" (see below), we're treated to a wonderful version of "Sugar Magnolia." As if making up for a slow start, Grateful Dead monster rears its magnificent head at the end of the song; Jerry's chords scream with joy, Billy pounds out the groove, Keith chops it up on the piano, Phil unloads power-bombs, and of course Bobby must have shattered his vocal chords with his spine-tingling shrieks. But my favorite part of the set follows, with one of the most soulful renditions of "Comes A Time" I've ever heard. In the opening verse, Jerry's voice nearly cracks with emotion, and his guitar solo drips with painful emotion. Pigpen's subtle organ captures the solemnity of the song, adding an ambient shadow of misery. You can tell Jerry is trying to convince us all of something he doesn't quite believe himself when he sings, "Gotta make it somehow / On the dreams you still believe." Phil steps in with big bass that pushes the door open for Jerry's angry guitar to step through, as Pig's organ continues to whir in the background. The ending is almost hopeless. Incredible!

From there, the Dead waste no time jumping right into "GDTRFB" featuring excellent playing throughout, particularly during the gospel bridge and the energetic finale. The familiar rhythm of "NFA" emerges, and the band plays a nice introductory exploration. Before long, however, Jerry steers the melody towards the rare and exciting "Hey Bo Diddly," which he sings with gusto, and then it's back to "NFA." Bobby again rakes his vocal chords during the finale, and Jerry tries (with limited success) to get fancy with some of the final flourishes. For the encore they bounce into a singalong version of "Uncle John's Band" that, despite its noticeable flaws, leaves the crowd primed for not one, not two, but three more nights of this amazing band of psychedelic rangers!!

Worth mentioning:
  •  It's a shame I didn't get to use "Promised Land" for a Song of the Day, but maybe someday. When I was about to move to Albuquerque, I remember finding new meaning in the line "I woke up high over Albuquerque on a trip to the promised land."
  • This is probably my favorite version of "Mr. Charlie," as the whole band seems to bring the boogie-woogie rhythm to new heights. Pig's clearly feeling good for the extra rest before this show!
  • This is the first time the Dead played "Rockin' Pneumonia," and you can tell they're having fun with it. Like many other FTPs on the tour, it's a bit rough and definitely unrefined. It's loose and exciting (and noteworthy) to be sure, but the performance is not a highlight for me.
  • This is yet another scorching version of "Good Lovin'" in which Pigpen does a fine job on vocals (and organ in the beginning), but he lets Jerry and Phil steer the song through an incredibly nimble jam. I love the way Phil signals the end of the instrumental section with his fat bass chords, bringing it back to the familiar theme. Keith really caps it off with stellar rhythm work on the ivories.
  • This version of "Casey Jones" cooks!! The closing rhythmic rampage leaves nothing to the imagination.
  • "He's Gone" sure has grown up over the course of this tour! This version features energetic grooves  while still attaining an emotional stillness. It still has some growing to do, but the overall arc of the song is in place. Bobby, seemingly mocking the English reputation for propriety, explains the pause before the next song by saying, "We're being ever so careful to make sure that the intonation is painstakingly proper."

Song of the Day: "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA"

The version played for this show, like several on the tour, jumps in with the meandering theme from "GDTRFB," but the full combination was long a staple for the Dead that showcased their rhythmic facility, instrumental brilliance, and keen awareness of the need for soulful release within what would otherwise be an energetic free-for-all. The classic "Not Fade Away," of course, is a Buddy Holly original written with the help of his producer-manager Norman Petty in 1957. The genesis of this song had it played in that rockin', rhythmic style that made Buddy Holly so famous, and the lyrics seem sweet and almost innocent. It was transformed by the Rolling Stones into a fast, raunchy tour-de-sex with a grinding rhythm, catapulting them onto the American rock scene for their first of many appearances on the charts in 1964. The lyrics themselves are a simple love song, steeped in bravado ("I wanna tell you how it's gonna be / You're gonna give you love to me") and Americana ("My love is bigger than a Cadillac").

Particularly from 1967-1971 (and after 1974, the Dead's version was driven by the two drummers, pounding out a thick, heavy beat with the rest of the band surfing the melody over the wave of rhythmic energy. Garcia scorches on the lead guitar, and you can always count on Bobby to sing the lyrics with verve and volume. In the end, though, it's the drums that set the tone for the song, taking the inspiration of the most popular renditions to new heights. Even in 1972, with only Billy Kreutzman on the kit, the Dead managed to bring a depth to the rhythm that is missing in even the Stones' version, with stellar contributions from rhythm guitar, piano, and organ chugging away. I love Pigpen's organ whining emphasis behind Bobby's over-the-top vocals. And with all due respect to the immortal Keith Richards, Garcia cannot be matched on lead guitar. His tone, precision, and energy takes the melody to new and amazing places, with Phil Lesh's bass contributing mind-bending counterpoint unmatched in the world of rock 'n' roll.

Before the final verse, however, Jerry will typically veer off into the lead melody of the folk classic "Going Down the Road Felling Bad." This is a traditional song with deep roots. As we learn from Blair Jackson (via The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics):
This is one of those songs that have been popular in both black and white musical traditions for many decades, and with a number of titles. According to noted folk ad blues authority Dave Evans of Memphis State, the tune is of Negro origin, but it surfaced as an Appalachian Mountain tune in the twenties. It became a popular song among Okies during the Dust Bowl era (for obvious reasons), and as impoverished famers fled the Southwest, they took t he song with them to California's blossoming fruit orchards, the best farms of Michigan, Oregon's cherry orchards, and a hundred other points scattered around the land. As the song traveled, the verses changed frequently, so the Dead's ersion is most likely a hodgepodge of lyric ideas from all over.
They launch almost immediately into the vocals, with Jerry on the lead and Donna providing apt and soulful melody with her Nashville sound. Bobby highlights some of the vocal flourishes, but it's again Jerry's guitar that lifts the song to new and amazing heights. By the time he is fully into his solo, the rhythm has built beyond anything in the opening "NFA" segment, with Billy's rolls popping in emphasis at the end of Jerry's phrases. Just like that, they settle back to a mellow groove for the next verse, only to build it back up again with the power of Donna's pipes. This time, Jerry's solo brings the business, shredding his way through impossible runs and challenging the rhythm section to up their game. They don't disappoint, especially Keith on the ivories, but Jerry pulls up shy of liftoff for another round of vocals.
Going down the road feeling bad
Going down the road feeling bad
Going down the road feeling bad
Don't want to be treated this-a way
With every turn through the chorus, the musical monster gains stature and power, ultimately exploding into a a screaming crescendo that falls into the amazing instrumental groove from the gospel classic, "And We Bid You Goodnight." Jerry coaxes every big of emotion through a relatively brief release, and the band soon drops back into a redoubled "NFA" beat with screaming, teasing chords from Jerry helping to rebuild the tension. The song re-emerges with a giant wave of organ behind it for the final verse, and the "Love is love and not fade away" refrain from Bobby is pushed higher and harder as the Grateful Dead dragon takes fiery flight before exploding in a giant ball of sonic energy. The fallout is immense, and as a listener you are left marveling at the adventure on which these six men and one woman were able to take you.

*     *     *     *     *

(One of the) Most Exciting Month(s) in Sports

Excuse me for following another sports tangent outside of baseball, but the NBA playoffs are heating up (no pun intended). It's one of the most exciting months of sports for me because there are literally multiple games pretty much every night, played with utmost intensity and skill. NBA athletes are freaks of stature, conditioning, and skill, and watching them play in fear of elimination and hopes of glory. The conference semifinals are wrapping up, and the eight teams involved each feature compelling storylines. Even though a couple teams are already eliminated, I'm going to review the storylines of each of the eight teams.

First, the eliminated teams from Los Angeles:

  • Los Angeles Clippers: This is possibly sports' most snakebitten franchise, and if you agree with Phil Jackson it's karmically warranted for owner and infamous slumlord Donald Sterling. They turned the corner this year when NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the Lakers' trade for superstar point guard Chris Paul, paving the way for a trade that brought Paul to the Staples Center to play for the other LA basketball team (and I'm not talking about UCLA). With young, athletic big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordon, the no-luck Clippers were transformed into "Lob City," making the highlight reel almost every night with poster-worthy dunks. They won their first playoff series since the dinosaurs were around this year, but were stopped short by the hot and experienced Spurs. However, this is a team to keep your eye on over the next couple years, as they could easily become perennial contenders.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: The exact opposite of the Clippers, the Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports with a tradition of championships that leaves anything shy of that a failure. The current dynasty is built around superstar scorer and accused rapist Kobe Bryant, with a major assist from legendary coaching guru Phil Jackson. Jackson had the ability to balance the egos on the team and the pressure of the purple and gold with a proven system and championship pedigree. His retirement after last year's playoff loss cast major doubt on their fortunes this season, and his replacement, Mike Brown, has struggled to get buy-in on his offensive scheme and to balance his superstar players. With two dominant seven-footers (Spaniard Pau Gasol and hothead Andrew Bynum) to go along with his aging superstar, their method should be to wear out their opponents by pounding the boards and grinding out points in the post. However, the team's wildcard is Metta World Peace (neé Ron Artest), who can always be counted on for fireworks on the court and colorful interviews.** They survived his suspension for the bulk of the first round after he caught Thunder guard RJames Harden in the head with an elbow. Kobe Bryant - rejuvenated in an experimental German fountain of youth and focused on his legacy by matching Michael Jordan's six career championships and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 career points - wouldn't let anyone else shoot the ball at the end of the game, cursing them to failure. He scored 42 of their 90 points to earn the Lakers elimination a couple nights ago. So it goes....
Next up are the teams I expect to be eliminated in the next couple nights:
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Under the guidance of journeyman coach (and former Sixers draft pick) Doug Collins, this young team has exceeded all expectations this year with team defense and unselfish play. The new owners (including Philly native Will Smith) are trying - successfully so far - to inspire the city that adored Philly's own Wilt Chamberlain, cultural icon Dr. J, legendary board-crashers Moses Malone and Charles Barkely, and the incomparable Allen Iverson. Despite inheriting crippling contracts of aging big man Elton Brand and offensively mediocre (though defensively talented) Andre Iguadala, they managed to beat the top-seeded Chicago Bulls with a little help from injuries to their two best players. So far, they've been able to hang with the Celtics, but overall Boston looks like the better team. The Sixers are in dire need of an elite scorer who can close out games late, and it's never been more obvious than in this series. They could still pull off a conference finals berth by winning the final two games, but I would be surprise. However, if they are able to deal with one (or both) of those contracts and find an elite scorer, this is a team that could rise to the second tier of the eastern conference.
  • Indiana Pacers: What can I say? They're from Indiana! This franchise has been struggling since Ron Artest decided to go into the stands, killing three-point assassin Reggie Miller's best chance of a championship. However, Indiana legend and Pacers General Manager Larry Bird won Executive of the Year (to go along with his MVPs and Coach of the Year awards) this year in building a team that surprised the basketball world with their talent and success. However, they're still from Indiana, and despite winning the first two games of this series, they're going to lose to the Heat. Oh, well.
My prospective winners who should face off in to represent the east in the Finals:
  • Boston Celtics: Their core Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen) has seen it all, from a championship to injuries to heartbreak at the hands of the Lakers a couple years ago. Their young talent (like Brandon Bass who went off for 27 points a couple nights ago, 18 of which came in the third quarter) has filled a lot of holes that have opened as the core has aged, but it's point guard Rajon Rondo who makes this team eminently dangerous to go all the way.*** Garnett has played like a younger man in the playoffs so far, dominating the boards and draining 17-footers like he did in Minnesota. This may be the Big Three's last chance to win a second championship, without which much of their rabid fan base will think they fell short of expectations. Last year, the team traded defensive center and Ubuntu (togetherness) brother Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, and if they meet in the Finals, this will be as compelling as any of the possible match-ups.
  • Miami Heat: Last night, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade brought the business to the Pacers, getting one step closer to another conference final. After the theatrics of building the core of this larger-than-life team, anything short of a championship is an utter failure that could likely spell the breakup of the three superstars. The third, Chris Bosh, has proven his value in absence due to injury, but if James and Wade can play the way they have the past couple games they'll survive long enough for him to get healthy. Many fans of the NBA can't stand James, criticizing his perceived inability to close big games. He just won his third MVP award in four years in what may have been his best season, but without a championship, nothing else matters for his legacy.
Finally, here are the teams that will face off in the conference championship out west:
  • San Antonio Spurs: This dynasty has won four championships, the first coming 13 years ago in Virgin Islander Tim Duncan's rookie season, but it's been five years since their last one. They always fly under the radar, even when marching ever onward towards another championship as they did in the mid-aughts. Like Garnett, "The Big Fundamental" (Duncan) has played like a younger version of himself down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he also benefitted from many DNPs (did not play), with the listed reason being "Old." Frenchman and guard Tony Parker had an MVP-caliber season, carrying the team when third star, Argentine Manu Ginobili, went down with a torn meniscus. The fourth major figure on the team is coach Gregg Popovich, who is making his seventh appearance with the Spurs in the conference finals. They've also benefitted from talented, young role-players, much as the Celtics have. Watching Dunkin and the others play without any wasted movements, turning it on at the end to seal the game in crunch time makes me think they may have enough to close out their season with another improbable championship. But the amazing thing is that this team hasn't lost a basketball game in almost a month!! Perfect in the playoffs is a good way to come into the conference finals.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: In 2008, new owner Clay Bennett knifed one of America's best basketball cities into moved his SuperSonics out of Seattle when lawmakers decline to pay for a new arena. Today, they have brought professional sports fever to the southwestern burg of Oklahoma City. This team has as much young talent as any team in the league. MVP candidate and three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant (at 6'10 with a wingspan of 7'5" "The Durantula" is an apt nickname) is just 23, as is scoring point guard Russell Westbrook. Twenty-four-year-old shooting guard James Harden**** is called the "Old Man" by his teammates, obviously for his beard and on-court wisdom. So far in the playoffs, the three have combined for just shy of 70 points per game, playing at a breakneck pace. In addition they get solid contributions from Perkins and always-hustling Nick Collison. They are exciting and flashy, but the question is how they'll match up against the veteran Spurs who are hotter than anyone. One thing we do know is that they will be a dominant force in the west for years to come.

That's where it stands right now, so enjoy the conference finals on TNT with that hilarious and astute studio crew. And Shaq.

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

Today's show is paired with the Belgian Trappist/Abbey dubbel, similar to the quadrupel described in a previous post, but with less body, sweetness, and alcohol. When done right, this style is fantastic, with sweet, bitter, and spicy/fruity flavors blending into a complex and unique taste experience that masks the moderately high alcohol content (6-8% ABV) and leaves no cloying sweetness on the tongue. Trappist monastaries of the Cistercian order are the only producers of authentic Trappist ales (and cheeses). However, similar styles are produced elsewhere in Belgium, and since they cannot use the name, they are called Abbey beers. Historically, this beer was made for the enjoyment and spiritual health of the monks, occasionally sold to the community. But the brewing tradition of the monks is an institution in itself, and one that has made this world a better place (at least for beer drinkers!).

But why pair this show with a dubbel? Well, because I'll be serving my homebrewed version at the end-of-blog party on Saturday, of course!! Hope to see you then.


* In addition to performances from such legendary groups as Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Clash, Queen, and more, Bob Marley & The Wailers would release a live album from recordings of concerts performed at the Lyceum on July 18-19, 1975.
** After Saturday's game, Craig Sager from TNT interviewed MWP at his locker in front of a gaggle of other reporters. One of the others got tired of waiting and asked him a question. MWP responded somewhere along the lines of, "What do you think you're doing? Don't know know Craig Sager is asking the questions? You know, Craig Sager with the funny jackets. From TNT. Sorry, Craig, what were you saying?"
*** What was GM Danny Ainge thinking when he considered trading him?!?! If the Celtics have an immediate future, it's with the ball in the hands of #0.
**** Harden not only exacted revenge on Metta World Peace for the elbow to the head when the Thunder vanquished the Lakers, but he also beat Kobe, his high school hero.