Saturday, April 14, 2012

4/14/72 Copenhagen: Pigpen's Opus, Women in the Music, & Bourbon Barrel Beers


When: Friday, April 14, 1972
Where: Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, stream the AUD here)
  1. Bertha, Me & My Uncle, Mr. Charlie, You Win Again, Black-Throated Wind, Chinatown Shuffle, Loser, Me & Bobby McGee, Cumberland Blues, Playing In The Band, Tennesse Jed, El Paso, Big Boss Man, Beat It On Down The Line, Casey Jones
  2. Truckin', Hurts Me TooBrown-Eyed Women^, Looks Like RainDark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Good Lovin' > Caution (Do Not Stop On The Tracks) > Who Do You Love > Caution > Good Lovin', Ramble On Rose, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away  E: One More Satuday Night
As always, personal highlights are in bold.
^ Appears on Europe '72

This has long been one of my favorite shows from the tour not the least because of the ruthless jamming in the second set, but the first set is very well played, itself. Overall, it's an exceptional, high-energy show from start-to-finish, and if you haven't heard it before you should definitely check it out. Maybe it was just my mental state (and the volume on the stereo), but for me the "Black-Throated Wind," "Chinatown Shuffle," "Loser" section in the first set is played to perfection. We have Bobby, Pigpen, and Jerry all singing signature songs full of emotion, with tight rhythm and stellar lead play. Crank it up and let it rock, y'all!!
This one's from Copenhagen, but I'm not sure which night.
The rest of the first set and the beginning of the second are solid, but I want to focus on the meat of the second set. Not surprisingly, it starts with a ferocious "Dark Star" that features intense jamming throughout. Jerry kicks it off by throwing soaring, whining licks out there that remind me of Live/Dead. Absolutely dripping with psychedelia, and we're just three minutes in!

The jams on this version of "Dark Star" are special, with each band member on top of his game. It's truly a music-played-the-band improvisation, more melodic than spacey. Case in point: it's Billy on drums who steers this one into the stratosphere. About 20 minutes in, we are treated to a fast, powerful, energetic version of the "Mind Left Body Jam." Again, the tension is built through an exquisite combination of the instruments. While Jerry is in the "lead," you can't exactly say everyone else is following. After the mind has fully left the body, there is nowhere to go but the heart of darkness. The space that follows is frightening. Phil is up and down the fretboard, and Keith and Bobby play with dissonance. It's hard to describe drum contributions to space, but let me say simply that Billy is not just playing ambient cymbals here.

Once the band (and audience) have pieced together their groupmind, Jerry with a screaming effect on his guitar begins the theme from "Sugar Magnolia," and the rest of the band jumps in behind him. He's not ready to let go of that primal scream just yet, though, and his guitar rips the opening to shreds with just enough feedback to make you say, "Hallelujah!!" Needless to say, this "Sugar Mags" has it all!!
Just as you're shaking your head in wonder as you're showered with "Sunshine Daydream," up rises the original R&B intro to "Good Lovin'." You can tell from the first line Pigpen is on his game, howling and hooting his way through the opening verse. LOTS of energy from the band, with extremely competent backup vocals from Bobby. Jerry breaks it down with nasty blues licks, but it doesn't take long for Pigpen to let his presence known. What follows is easily the most raunchy, explicit piece of vocal improvisation in all of Dead-dom.*

Pigpen wants to know: Who do you love?
For those who aren't familiar with Pigpen's 1972 rants, there were a few sections he often repeated in one form or anther, including such classy classics as, "You're my sweet li'l mare, I'm gonna ride you everywhere / I'm gonna jump in the saddle and ride a while" and "If you can't turn your damper down, mama turn your oven around." But on this one, he goes off!! At various points he's being chased by the shotgun-toting father of a seventeen-year-old, a sheriff, and his wife. And the kicker:
All the boys in the neighborhood
Tell 'em that your bakery shop is good.
Let 'em try, some cherry pie
They go droppin' by, my my,
Yes I will, yes I will.
And with that, the band starts pumping the unmistakeable pulse of "Caution." The drums and rhythm pieces kick it into overdrive, while Jerry and Phil, in perfect counterpoint, run circles through the steam-locomotive rhythm. Scorching hot! Out of nowhere in the middle of "Caution" - with the tempo set to Ludicrous Speed - Pigpen steps back up to the mic and spits pure venom:
I walked 47 miles of barbed wire, got a cobra snake for a necktie
Built a new house by the roadside, made out of rattleskin hide
Brand new chimney set on top, made out of human skulls
Ask that woman, "Come on child, tell me who do you love?"
It takes less than a minute, but with those few lines Pigpen caps off his greatest vocal performance: planting a "Who Do You Love?" flag at the peak of a sexualized mountain of "Good Lovin'" > "Caution." Of course, there's still more left in the medley, including some more Pigpen vocal improv, but it's necessary resolution to the opus just laid out - like hiking down the mountain after taking in the expansive view from the summit.

The "NFA" > "GDTFRB" > "NFA" that ends the set is also played at breakneck speed. Before the initial "NFA" gives way, Bobby steers the jam and the entire band into a fully formed "China Cat" jam before the tempo drops and the rolling intro to "Goin' Down The Road" emerges. Needless to say, the set ends with huge fanfare and leaves the crowd in a frenzy.

Worth mentioning:
  • The entire show cooks from start to finish. I could say everything I said about the Newcastle show here, as well.
  • This is the final "Looks Like Rain" of the tour and, to my knowledge, the last with Jerry on pedal steel. What a sound!! I miss it already....
  • There was some hilarious banter on stage during set one:
    • After "Mr. Charlie," the crowd is clapping in rhythm, begging for more.
      • Phil (the Instigator): "You know what? We're gonna keep on playin', you don't have to clap like that."
      • Bobby (Mr. Positive): "But you can if you want to."
      • Phil (won't let it go): "I mean, go ahead, get it on. But we won't do one in that tempo, necessarily."
      • Jerry (the Peacemaker): "You can if you want to, but you don't have to if you don't want to. You can do whatever you want."
    • After "Cumberland:"
      • Bobby: "We have an equipment breakdown, and we're going to fix it shortly and be right with you. 
      • Guy in the audience: "Bullshit!"
      • Phil: "That guy must be from America."
      • Jerry (funny beatnik voice): "Hey well if we was to get high between songs, isn't that all right?"
      • Guy in audience: "Hell yeah!!"
      • Jerry: "Thank ya!"
  • Whose idea was it to squeeze "Ramble On Rose" between Pigpen's disgusting diatribe and the magnificent "NFA" sandwich? 

Song of the Day: "Me & My Uncle"

The Grateful Dead first played "Me & My Uncle" (not annotated, but read the lyrics here) in 1966, and it was a regular part of their rotation (and the most-played song in their repertoire) through the next 29 years. (The only years it was not played were 1968 and 1976.) Ostensibly, it's a gambler/cowboy tune about a man and his uncle traveling on horseback from South Colorado to West Texas. They stop in Santa Fe to "wash off some of that dusty dirt." After a while, the uncle's "friendly game" of pitch ("high-low-jacks and the winner take the hand") turns violent when the narrator's uncle is accused of cheating. They make off for Mexico with the gold, but not before the uncle is shot. The narrator, drawing on the lessons passed to him from his uncle, "left his dead ass there by the side of the road."

While the themes of this lyric fit with many of Robert Hunter's favorites, this one is actually a John Phillips original, though he was surprised to learn that fact. This amusing story is from the liner notes to his album Phillips 66 (via David Dodd's The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, pp 30-1):
John often used to tell the story behind "Me and My Uncle." Years ago he began receiving publishing royalties from a song on a Judy Collins record with which he was unfamiliar. It was titled "Me and My Uncle." He called Judy to let her know of the mistake because he hadn't written any such song. She laughed and told him that about a year before, in Arizona after one of her concerts, they had a "Tequila" night back at the hotel with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and a few others. They were running a blank cassette and John proceeded to write "Me and My Uncle" on the spot. The next day, John woke up to the tequila sunrise with no recollection of the songwriting incident. Judy kept the cassette from that evening and then, without informing John, recorded the song for her own record. Over the years, the song was recorded by several people, and eventually became a standard of the Grateful Dead. John used to joke that, little by little, with each royalty check, the memory of writing the song would come back to him.
The Dead played this song regularly, and following the Europe tour, it was often coupled with another Weir-sung cowboy tune like "El Paso" or "Mama Tried." However, the versions of "Me & My Uncle" from Europe that appear in the depths of a second-set thriller like "Dark Star" or "The Other One" capture a rare moment in Grateful Dead history where they were able to transform a simple, Americana story-song into an adventurous exploration on the edge of convention.**

*     *     *     *     *

Forbidden Ground: The Role of Women in the Music of the Grateful Dead

When I was in college, I took a great course from Charlene Makely called "The Anthropology of Sex and Gender." Through an anthropological lens, we read about and discussed the role of sex (physical and genetic attributes of male and female) and gender (social constructs of man and woman) in contexts as divergent as impoverished landfill-squatters outside of Mexico City, sex workers in Brazil, transgenderism in the Polynesian family, and masculinity and homoeroticism in American professional wrestling. Sometimes, however, the readings and classroom discussions hit pretty close to home.

I remember meeting with Charlene privately in her office to discuss one of my personal moral crises after a particularly riveting conference discussion. I'm paraphrasing, but she said, "There are some areas of our lives we just can't analyze, or else the self-reflection paralyzes us. For instance, I absolutely love Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings. But I can't analyze his portrayal of women; it would take all the enjoyment out of it." These are wise words I think we can all take to identify with in some area of our own lives, and I've carried the lesson with me ever since.

For me, the un-crossable bridge of self-reflection has been, of course, the Grateful Dead. However, in celebrating Pigpen's unbelievable rap from Copenhagen, it's important that I don't allow the underbelly of sexism and misogyny to go unaddressed. In his rant and many others, Pigpen treats women as alternately as sex objects worthy only of conquest and evil temptresses who use their sexuality to control him. I won't get into the details, but these sexual themes of domination and control (and the associated danger and emotion) essentially sum up the entire opus. These themes also dominate other quintessential Pigpen performances from the Acid Tests to the "Midnight Hour" from the Hollywood Bowl in '71 (see Fallout From The Phil Zone) through all his best versions of "Lovelight," and on and on.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a peculiarity of Pigpen and his musical influences and personal experiences, but he isn't alone in his sexism. The opening line to "Jack Straw" lumps women and wine into the same category: a source of pleasure (or escape) to be shared freely with your comrades. In "Let It Grow" Weir/Barlow celebrate "the love of women / the work of men." Even Brent Mydland in the '80s sang, "Never trust a woman / who wears her pants too tight." I could go on, but you get the point.****

The apologist may claim that the true Pigpen came out when singing, "This is a man's world / but it wouldn't be nothing without a woman or a girl." To me, that's a poor effort even if we give him the benefit of the doubt. Or that the rest of the band paid their penance in the '80s and '90s by asserting,
It ain't me, it's the people that say
The men are leading the women astray
But I say, it's the women today
Smarter than the man in every way.
That's right, the women are smarter.
Of course, Harry Belafante was singing these words a decade before the Grateful Dead even existed, yet the previous two paragraphs happened in the years that followed.*** Again, the most credit I can give for this single song is "too little, too late."

The 1960s are broadly considered today (for good or ill, depending your perspective) to be a time when social movements changed the way mainstream American culture viewed and treated race, American military adventurism, youth power, and identity politics (among others). There were exceptions, of course, but it is well documented that even within the civil rights, student, and anti-Vietnam War movements (and others), women were largely relegated to clerical roles rather than positions of leadership.***** In many ways, it was their struggles within their own movements for peace and justice that spurred politically active women to organize for rights over their bodies, in the workplace, in society, and even in the family. The feminist movement came into its own in the 1970s, and the hard work of dedicated, visionary women created a lasting impact through person-to-person organizing, often in the form of "consciousness raising" meetings of immediate friends and family.

Clearly the Dead weren't alone in their unenlightened treatment of women. Like the movements mentioned above (and countless other examples), they were all products of the larger society from which they grew. I still feel compelled to note the shortcomings of the band lyrically on this score, particularly in light of celebrating Pigpen's lyrical feats at this concert. Of course, in calling the band and Pigpen out for their misogyny, I'm not trying to condemn their music or them as people. In appreciating the things we love we must be honest with ourselves when they don't stand up to the moral standard we hold ourselves (and hopefully others) to in the rest of our lives. I enjoy this show for what it is - an incredible performance at a particular moment in time. But I also use it as a reminder of how far we've come and how far we still have to go to reach the moral standard of equality we individually and collectively hold as a goal.

- Morning Brewer


PS (Pairing Suggestion):

Seeing as this show highlights Pigpen, a lover of whiskey, I submit to you a range of beers aged in whiskey barrels. Belgian and French brewers have long repurposed oaken wine barrels to age some of their beers, typically sour ales. Relatively recently (roughly the past 10-15 years), American brewers have taken to re-using oaken whiskey barrels to impart wood and spirit characteristics into their aged beers, particularly dark and/or strong ales. Bourbon must be aged in fresh oak barrels, which are used only once, so brewers have a ready supply of barrels rolling out of distilleries from Kentucky to the Cascades. The base style can vary, but my favorite examples are based on big, strong beers like an imperial stout, a barleywine, or an American strong ale. The results are varied and interesting, with the wood contributing elements of vanilla and a light char, and the bourbon bringing heat and depth. Everyone's tastes are different, so try them out for what you enjoy!

If you don't like whiskey, you probably won't like these beers. However, I think whiskey-barrel aged beers pair nicely with the bold flavors of BBQ (what doesn't?) or a rich dessert that showcases dark flavors like plums, berries, or chocolate.
  • Here in Philly, I haven't had many stunning examples that are locally produced. However, we get plenty of beers from around the country that shouldn't be hard to track down. You can't go wring with the Burton Baton, an imperial IPA base blended with an oak-aged English-style old ale.
  • In DC, the Corruption goes with everything (even if it's not barrel-aged), just ask Dan and Sam!
  • In the upper Midwest, track down the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, but be careful since this one packs a major punch. At its base, it's an imperial stout with coffee, oats, and maple syrup. After a year in oak barrels, it's so much more.
  • Out West, try an oaked version of the ubiquitous Arrogant Bastard Ale. Its huge malt profile is not to be out-done by the generous hop bitterness. Somehow, I find the vanilla flavors from the oak soothing, considering the aggressiveness of the base beer. BONUS: From a request coming in from Fort Bragg, CA, check out the tenth anniversary version of Old Rasputin, a classic Russian imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels. This one's out of production, but it'll be worth tracking down.
  • In Alaska, I'm sure you'll be able to track something down, though I'm not familiar with any native examples. Try scoping the annual Great Alaska Beer & Barleywine Festival, usually held in January. I'm sure you'll find plenty of tongue-stripping examples to keep you warm through the dark months!
  • If I didn't hit your locale, please let me know where you are and I'll do my best to accommodate. 

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* It's transcribed in its entirety in Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Vol. 1, as well as re-published in one of those Deadhead magazines (Relix, I think) to promote the book's release in 1998. But it's best listened to in context of the instrumental improvisation behind it for a full appreciation.
** A prime example appears in the next show of the tour, 4/16/72 at the Stakladen in Aarhus.
*** This isn't to give Harry Belafante a pass. He was a high-profile civil-rights advocate and fundraiser for the movement, but that movement, like most of the subsequent progressive political movements, struggled to embrace women in roles of leadership.
**** For the purposes of this post, I'm limiting the discussion purely to song lyrics, though it amy be interesting to consider the band's staff and history at some other point.
***** A few examples I am familiar with include Doug McAdam's Freedom Summer, an oral history of SNCC's voter registration drive in Mississippi in 1964, and "Port Huron Statement" author and student/anti-war activist Tom Hayden's memoir Reunion. I'm sure there are plenty more examples from in feminist literature and history, so if you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments section so we can all learn more.

3 comments:

  1. Hey, Brewer -- just wanted to say that we folk are digging your blog long after the original run. Thanks for putting it together. Just got the Tivoli discs in the mail, so this post was particularly welcome!

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  3. Stumbled across this post while searching on Pigpen's Copenhagen performance. As a beer and Dead enthusiast myself I really enjoyed your perspectives. Cheers.

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