Tuesday, April 17, 2012

4/17/72 Copenhagen, Part II: Jack Straw, Justice, & Saison

When: Monday, April 17, 1972
Where: Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs. The concert was broadcast on Danish TV - links below are single-song selections, or check out the entire show here.)
  1. Cold Rain & Snow, Me & Bobby McGeeChinatown Shuffle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Jack Straw, He's Gone, Next Time You See Me, Black-Throated Wind
  2. Casey Jones, Mr. Charlie, Playing In The Band, Sugaree, One More Saturday NightHurts Me Too, Ramble On Rose, El Paso, Big Railroad BluesTruckin'
  3. Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution (Do Not Stop On The Tracks) > Johnny B. Goode
As always, personal highlights are in bold.

After a quick detour to Aarhus, the Dead returned to the Tivoli Theatre for a concert recorded for a TV broadcast. One section was aired live, while two other components were aired in August, 1972. In order to accommodate the broadcast, the show was split into three (relatively) short sets. The first set is solid, though it starts and stops for the TV broadcast and monitor issues. (Thankfully much of the Dead air is edited out on the release.) I think the logistics of the broadcast may have made it difficult for the band to find a groove in the first set, and may of the songs are played at a particularly slow tempo. No major performance issues, but at some points the performance is a bit low-energy. However....

Great opener!! The ever-elusive "Cold Rain & Snow" finally makes an appearance on the tour, and it's fantastic. Keith is all over the piano from start to finish, and the rest of the band responds. There is some great jamming through "China Cat" > "Rider," and the "Jack Straw" has excellent harmonies. I actually think the set's slower tempo is best suited for "Black-Throated Wind," in which the deliberate pace highlights the plodding narrator's heartbroken journey out of St. Louis.

Phil plays Bozo, if only for a song.
(He preferred napping on the Bolo bus.)
The "Casey Jones" that opens the second set is odd, and not just for it's position as set opener rather than closer. Again, it starts off slowly, but there is a section that sounds like Phil's bass is completing Jerry's guitar runs. They get amped by the end of the song, though, and the rest of the set is blistering. Before starting "Big Railroad Blues," the Bozos take over the stage!! Bobby dons cartoonish Groucho Marx glasses, while Phil, Keith, Bill, and Pigpen follow suit bald-and-rainbow masks, and even Jerry gets into the mix. What follows is a strong "Big Railroad Blues" that showcases their chops on their odd-ball circus show.

With the cameras off, they start the third set with another great rendition of "Dark Star." I'll spare you the play-by-play, but this is yet another great version. It contains patient explorations of the main theme and a mildly spooky space segment early on. The middle features Jerry leading the band with up-beat, virtuosic runs to an exultant jam before plunging them through the rabbit-hole and into darkness, this time closer to the edge of terror. Keith and Phil are all to glad to come along for the ride, providing perfectly-suited rhythm and counterpoint. I can't get enough of these '72 "Dark Stars!"

Catch it while you can: Jerry dons his mask, if briefly.
Eventually, a rockin' version of "Sugar Magnolia" emerges, at the end of which Phil insists upon another show-stopping "Caution" for Copenhagen. Those Danes didn't know how lucky they were! Phil drives this one with his power chords and counterpoint to Jerry's stellar guitar leads. However, Pigpen does not reprise the varied and energetic raps of the version three nights earlier. He seems tired and maybe a bit off - understandable considering the state of his health. But the rest of the band picks up the slack, and we're treated to the driving locomotive rhythms this song was built around. The set concludes with a respectable version of "Johnny B. Goode" without any time left for an encore. Unless, of course, you consider the whole third set an encore, in which this stands as probably the most epic encore the Dead ever played.

Worth mentioning:
  • Be sure to check out the video of "Chinatown Shuffle" linked to in the setlist above. It's great to see Pigpen behind his Hammond. Apparently the third set was not recorded for TV.
  • This is the debut performance of "He's Gone," and the arrangement isn't yet finalized. As Blair Jackson comments in the notes, "Now, that's fearless - introducing a song on TV!"
  • "Hurts Me Too" showcases a rare slide solo from Mr. Garcia, the nine-fingered man.
  • The "Playin'" is solid and succinct (again), and to me the jamming on "Sugaree" is stronger than other versions on the tour (so far).
  • This is the only version of "Johnny B. Goode" on the tour.

Song of the Day: "Jack Straw"

This concert features an excellent version of one my favorite Dead songs, "Jack Straw." Part of what I like so much about it as a song is that Bobby and Jerry sing it as a duet, telling a story steeped in several of Robert Hunter's favorite motifs: cowboys, gamblers, and the wild West. However, the early versions of this song (including this one and the rest performed on the first half of this tour) were sung entirely by Bobby, who wrote the music. The first time Jerry sings the "I just jumped the watchman" line, trading couplets with Bobby in the middle section, is 5/10/72 in Amsterdam. In fact, they both jump in on the line eight days later in Munich, only for Bobby to back off and wait his turn.

We learn from the annotations that the historical and literary roots of "Jack Straw" are varied and interesting. As an historical figure, Jack Straw was first mentioned as a participant in England's Peasant Revolt of 1381, though there is some controversy to his true identity. He is also mentioned in passing during the first act of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. "Jackstraw" has many other uses in England: it can connote a straw-stuffed effigy, an alternate name for the game pick up sticks, one of several small European birds, or a flower spike of the common ribwort plant.

The opening ("We can share the women / We can share the wine"*) conjures the motto of comrades on the road, sharing what little they have and keeping each other moving. The story that follows begins with a prison break, with the primary narrator running for his life in an ever more dangerous game. We come to learn the only guarantee is failure, at least in part: "There ain't a winner in this game / Who don't go home with all." We then find another voice riding the rails from across the southwest desert, heading for Tulsa to settle a score. In this game, "Ain't no bed will give us rest, man, / You keep us on the run." From there, the crescendo rises for the finale, which happens to be the first mention of the title character:
Jack Straw from Wichita
Cut his buddy down
Dug for him a shallow grave
And laid his body down 
Half a mile from Tucson
By the morning light
One man gone and another to go
My old buddy, you're moving much too slow
And the musical tension is released as we return to the opening line, bringing the story full circle. This ending recalls Bob Dylan's line, "To live outside the law you must be honest," and famous Baltimore stick-up man Omar Little's motto, "A man got to have a code!" Clearly, there are consequences for Jack Straw's turning on his buddy and denying him a proper burial.

I can recall so many memorable versions of this song, which is unusual considering that the band always played it pretty straight, as opposed to the varied instrumental improvisations of some of their jam vehicles like "Playin'" or "Dark Star." It's the composition of this song that makes it so interesting to me: It starts with the duet vocals and continues with the surging tension towards the end. Finally, the tension is resolved as the tune and lyrics gently return to the original beat and melody of the opening lines. We don't have a lot of Weir/Hunter collaborations, but the ones we do have - like this one - are a treat.

*     *     *     *     *

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

This is more timely for my own personal experiences than it relates to the concert or the song of the day, but in the name of consistency (and to suggest a line of logic may be drawn between virtually anything), I will try to connect my juror experience in a criminal trial to "Jack Straw." In the song, Jack Straw is the target of vigilante justice as the story's primary narrator enforces the moral code of criminals upon him for his transgressions against a comrade. In our mainstream society, justice is designed to be meted out by "a jury of your peers" in a court of law, where everyone is "judged equally before the law."

I recently served as a juror in a criminal trial in Philadelphia. The case was a murder/conspiracy trial that came out of a turf war between drug dealers. As a big fan of the HBO show The Wire, it was fascinating to see how “the game” plays out in the justice system with “civilians” judging the merit of the cases made in court. I don’t care to explore the details of the case made against and in defense of the accused, but I do want to share some of my thoughts about the process.

First of all, the initial pool of 60 jurors pulled for possible selection appeared to me to look much like our city, with men and women of all ages, races, and classes you find in Philly. Those jurors who felt serving on the jury would be a hardship or who had some other sort of conflict were returned to the main pool for potential selection on another jury. The faces that were left were far less representative of the city, with a disproportionate number of white faces and people dressed in professional attire. Surprisingly, one of the potential jurors not dismissed by the judge had identified herself in nearly every one of the disqualifying questions. We later learned that she works in the District Attorney's Office as a prosecutor in a different division (not homicide).

I was in the second group of 16 potential jurors to be questioned by the judge. We had completed a simple questionnaire of about 15 or so yes/no questions. While copies went to the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the defense attorney, only the judge asked clarifying questions: Where did you attend high school? What type of business do you work for? Would any experiences relating to crime, the police, and the law interfere with your ability to decide the case impartially?

It surprised me that the attorneys were not allowed to directly question the individual jurors, as they had been allowed the previous time I was summoned to the courthouse for jury duty. A vast majority of the jurors had either witnessed a crime or had themselves personally (or someone close to them) been the victim of a crime. After each juror had been questioned, the court crier passed a juror list between the attorneys, and it appeared they were striking certain individuals from the list. Eventually, I was one of the five jurors in my panel informed that we were selected to sit on the jury.

The following day the twelve jurors and two alternates were finally selected, though the testimony did not begin until the following day. The second day, however, all the jurors were in the jury room for approximately 30 minutes. Seven of us were professionals under the age of 40, and five of those were white. Of the other seven, two were Hispanic and the other five were black, with a mix of what I can guess were working class and professionals. Nine women and five men made up the jury. I believe the court officer wanted to ensure that we had an opportunity to all see one another before sending us home for the day.

Our court officer was very friendly and gregarious, setting the tone for the jurors’ interactions outside of the jury box. By the next day when the trial finally began, we had begun to develop a rapport between one another in the jury room. After we began hearing testimony, we were unable to discuss the details of the case with anyone, including one another. During down-time in the jury room (and there was plenty in the beginning), we got to know a bit about one another’s interests and played cards to keep the time moving. The details of a murder case can be emotionally challenging to say the least, so we did what we could to joke around and keep the interactions light.

I will continue to discuss my experiences on the jury during the actual trial and deliberation in posts to come, but in the interest of keeping this post succinct, I’ll leave you with these impressions of my preliminary juror experiences:
  • A “jury of your peers” is quite subjective, particularly in a drug-murder/conspiracy trial. While the initial pool of 60 potential jurors “looked like Philadelphia” (roughly, and in my opinion), none of the selected jurors (and at most one or two of those in the final panel of 16 that I was a part of) shared the race, class, and age of the defendant. I’m still somewhat conflicted as to how important this is. On the one hand, I wouldn’t say the defendant’s peers were chosen to decide guilt or innocence, but on the other hand each of us on the jury consider Philadelphia to be our city. It’s an open question in my mind.
  • When spending an extended period of time listening to the raw details of an unpleasant experience with 11-13 other people whom you have never met before, it's best to find ways to relate to them. If possible, try passing the downtime with games, jokes, and basic getting-to-know-you conversation; it'll only help you maintain a respectful and honest tone when you need to make a very real, difficult, and consequential decision.
  • Treat the court staff with patience and respect. If they could, they would most certainly speed the process up, but the delays are usually tending to details intended to ensure fairness in the process. While the court staff doesn't have to make a decision on the facts of the case, they hear every detail the jury hears - and likely more that were not admitted as evidence - and still have to go home to their neighborhoods and families at night. It was difficult for me to put the trial aside to enjoy my home life and a good night's sleep while I was on the jury, and I can only imagine the staff need to find ways to leave their work at the office, no matter how difficult that may be. On top of it all (in Philadelphia, at least), they are not allowed to be a part of any union.

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

The weather has gotten HOT here in Philadelphia (like summer yesterday), so the beer in today's PS is simple and refreshing: saison. This is one of the Belgian (and French) farmhouse styles, which means it was historically brewed on a farm with whatever ingredients were locally available.** As a result, it is a broadly defined style, often incorporating non-barley grains like wheat, oats, rye, and sorghum. The style typically has light color and body, moderate hoppiness (which is high for a Belgian style), and very effervescent. Its dominant flavors come from flavor chemicals called esters that are imparted by the yeast. Esters are often described as spicy, fruity, or even funky, and in a saison they are most commonly associated with pepper and citrus, particularly lemon. Occasionally, additional spices such as coriander, dried orange peel, peppercorns, or tart fruits (passion fruit, pomegranate, etc.) are added to the beer to complement the esters. Saisons finish dry and refreshing, without strong flavors lingering on the palate. Some examples, particularly strong, aged versions, often exhibit moderate to strong acidity, which tastes sour.

The prime example of the style is the Saison DuPont. As this is a broad style, it cannot approach defining the style, but it captures the finest attributes of a saison. If you haven't had one, it's very approachable for non-beer drinkers, exhibiting some wine-like characteristics.*** For beer drinkers, it's clean and dry, as refreshing as anything you can find on a hot summer day - but with far more flavor than your average "lawnmower beer!" Once you're familiar with the DuPont, try some of the many other versions from Belgium and the US easily found across the country.

The simplicity, effervescence, and dry finish pairs nicely with the cool acidity of a gazpacho soup. Still hungry? Open another bottle with an arugula salad topped with fresh herbs, toasted pine nuts, warmed goat cheese, and a lemon-honey vinaigrette dressing. Fresh, sweet, and herbal strikes a perfect balance with the my favorite saisons.


* Obviously, this line is fraught with misogynistic implications, as I explored briefly in a prior post.
** Saisons get their name for being seasonally produced beer in Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium), brewed in the winter for consumption in the summer. Historical versions typically had low alcohol content, as the seasonal workers would drink saison instead of water for its refreshing qualities and health. Unlike the water, beer wouldn't get them sick, owing to the fact that it was boiled during production. Over time, the strength has increased, but DuPont makes Avril, a lower-alcohol "table beer" version of the saison.
*** Some brewer-microbiologists (zymurgists) even claim the farmhouse yeast used in brewing saisons developed from a mutated wine yeast from nearby Walonia.

1 comment:

  1. I love revisiting this page every now and then.

    I'm not sure why but this Dark Star is my favorite of the entire tour.

    Has just the right amount of beautiful darkness.