Tuesday, April 24, 2012

4/24/72 Düsseldorf: "China" > "Rider," Meet-Up at the Movies, & Altbier

When: Monday, April 24, 1972
Where: Rheinhalle, Düsseldorf, West Germany
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, can't find an AUD stream, but here are some of the .shn files)
  1. Truckin', Tennessee Jed, Chinatown Shuffle, Black-Throated Wind, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Loser, Playing In The Band, Next Time You See Me, Me & Bobby McGee, Good Lovin', Casey Jones
  2. Dark Star > Me & My Uncle > Dark Star > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia, He's Gone, Hurts Me Too, El Paso, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away  E:  One More Saturday Night
As always, personal highlights are bolded.

The show gets of to an impressive start with an energetic, well played version of "Truckin'" to open the show. The band is clearly firing on all cylinders from the start, and the jam, while not profound, is definitely exciting. As Blair Jackson comments in the liner notes, "Let us now praise Keith Godchaux." I can't say a bad thing about any of the songs in the first set, but I need to draw particular attention to the "Black-Throated Wind" and the "China" > "Rider." Keith does a phenomenal job on "BT Wind" complementing Bobby's guitar work and vocals. It's almost like they reached a state of mind-meld on this song, one of my favorite Bobby tunes. The "China" > "Rider" is awesome!! They feel out new spaces on the transition, and over the course of the tour, I'm starting to think we're going to see the beginnings of the beautifully composed section that is showcased in '73-'74 versions. Though not as mature, these versions are certainly exploratory and exciting! Again, thanks in large part to Keith.
Not the Grateful Dead performing here, but this is the Rheinhalle in Düsseldorf. Impressive!!
The second set starts with another one of those mind-bending versions of "Dark Star," and if you've been reading this blog much, you know I can go on and on (and on and on and on...) describing these incredible feats of psychedelic improvisation. I'll spare you one today (there's more to come), but let me just say that in the first half, melody overshadows darkness. The jam gives way to a crazy version of "Me & My Uncle" that I can only describe as psychedelic country. It comes from all contributors: Jerry's guitar tone is dripping with lucidity as Phil dances across the fretboard, Pigpen pumps the organ at just the right moments to highlight Bobby's anything-but-standard rhythm guitar, and Keith's crashing piano chords seem to set Bill's rides off like a pack of coyotes. This is one for the ages, folks, not to be missed!
I didn't find this great shot from Tivoli
until now, so here's a bonus shot!
Finally, the country melody gives way to an astonishing jam. While not exactly "Dark Star," you know what they're getting at. Rather than some of the melodic jams of the tour, this one is definitely harmonic with Keith, Bill, and Bobby leading the way through many of the progressions. That's not to say Jerry isn't out front, but he seems to be following the rhythm as much as anything. The jam hits some frightening depths of space along the way, and a couple times I can almost hear them dropping into "The Main Ten" theme from "Playin'." They eventually settle effortlessly into an unhurried interpretation of the "Dark Star" theme - but only briefly. Within a few bars, they're playing the opening strains of "Wharf Rat" for the first time since the tour opener at Wembley. This version is very similar to the version released on Skullfuck, but that's no criticism. We're treated to a stellar vocal delivery from Jerry, and Phil's contribution captures the emotional distress of a wino seeking redemption and the suddenly self-conscious narrator. By the time they rock our socks off with a frantic "Sugar Magnolia," I've completely forgotten this we're just halfway through the second set!!

The rest of the show is wonderful but overshadowed by the inversion of jamming in the second set. As always, the "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA" delivers big time!! The opening "NFA" is a bit shorter than usual, but the entire segment is tight and fast. I can't get enough of this jam sandwich!! The "Saturday Night" encore is almost an afterthought, but I'm sure it was necessary to make sure everyone in the audience left the venue without incident.

Worth mentioning:
  • Excellent version of "Tennessee Jed" following the opener; so far, it's my favorite version of the tour. It's not "jammed" exactly, but the performance is stellar, particularly with the little flourishes that highlight the lyrics.
  • The liner notes from Blair Jackson do a wonderful job of showcasing Keith's (often overlooked) contributions to all components of a Dead show. In describing "BIODTL," he becomes "Jerry Lee Godchaux," and "Loser" is "oozing Old West atmosphere, and now Keith is the saloon piano player, in a haze of smoke at an upright in the corner."
  • This "Playin'" goes deep into space exploration, all in 11 minutes, 40 seconds. In Jackson's words, as the guitars "are playing in rhythmic unison, Keith is free to drift off on his own," setting up seamless symbiosis with Bobby during the jam.
  • Great stand-alone version of "Good Lovin'." Pigpen hits some of his usual grooves, but the band's playing behind him is tight and inspired. I'm starting to see how the Dead are often using this song to feel out the improvisational space a bit towards the end of the first set, clearly with their groupmind's eye towards the eventual jamming cataclysms that characterize the second sets.
  • In describing "Dark Star," Jackson draws attention to Keith's "full range of approaches to the piano, from great bursts of odd chords to percussive Cecil Taylor-ish clusters, bass-like bottom-end rumblings, and scattered notes that flit and drift like fireflies." On "Me & My Uncle," Keth is "at his Floyd Cramer best."
  • They're definitely still working out the kinks on the arrangement of "He's Gone." The intro is a bit flat, but it's getting there.
  • Bobby's voice must have taken a beating on "Sunshine Daydream" because it sounds completely shot when he sings "El Paso." I can definitely see why this one was a show-stopper rather than an opener....

Songs of the Day: "China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider"

This classic pairing was a regular staple of first-set jamming from 1970 through the rest of the Dead's career. At its face, it is a bit of an odd pairing: deeply psychedelic stream-of-consciousness imagery of "China Cat" paired with an energetically rearranged version of the folk classic "I Know You Rider." After so many listenings, it would be odd if the two were not played together. In fact once the two songs were performed together, the pairing was played 516 times in 29 years, and only twice in that span was "China Cat" followed by some other song than "I Know You Rider." Now that's a lasting relationship!

Robert Hunter said he has trouble taking credit for the lyrics to "China Cat Sunflower" (annotated here), as he has claimed they were dictated to him by a cat. As he explained to David Gans in 1977 (taken from Conversations with the Dead, p 22), he was in Mexico in 1967:
I had a cat sitting on my belly, and was ina rather hypersensitive state and I followed this cat out to - I believe it was Neptune - and there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the rainbow. This cat took me in all these cat places; there's some essence of that in the song. Oh, I wrote part of it in Mexico and part of it on Neptune.*
As you can guess, the images are fantastic and dripping with allusion: "Copper-dome Bodhi drip a silver kimono," "Krazy Kat peaking through a lace bandana," "A leaf of all colors plays / a golden string fiddle," "In the eagle wing palace / of the Queen Chinee," etc. Again, we find a recursive rhythm bouncing around in tight circles, and as you listen you don't worry about the meaning and just enjoy the images. As Hunter wrote in Box of Rain, "Nobody ever asked me the meaning of this song. People seem to know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a good thing that a few things in this world are clear to all of us."

The segue jam into "Rider" has always been the showcase of this pairing. It began as a rather simple yet energetic composed instrumental bridge on 9/30/69, but over the years developed into an exciting instrumental jam with a section featuring a rare Bob Weir solo. The apex of the transition jam was clearly in 1973-4, when there was an additional composed section that provided a springboard to the climactic transformation. There are countless excellent examples, but for me, the rendition from Dick's Picks, Vol. 12 (Providence, 6/28/74) captures the absolute quintessence of the pairing and the transition, with an added "Mind Left Body Jam" as the cherry on top. I hope someone collects every version of "China" > "Rider" from '73-'74 to explore the evolution of this amazing period in Grateful Dead history.

The jam gives way to "I Know You Rider" like a cresting wave surging upon the sandy shores. There is energy and a bit of chaos, but a persistent drive pushes on to a very non-traditional arrangement of this classic. To push this wave analogy a bit further, in the best versions of "Rider" Jerry's guitar leads move as a surfer does across the wave face, with his flourishes mimicking the turns and switchbacks of the surfer chasing the crest. The energy behind the wave, here, is the persistent rhythmic accompaniment of the rest of the band.

In exploring the lyrics of "I Know You Rider," Blair Jackson explains in Goin' Down the Road:
This traditional black song has been passed around in different versions (with different verses added and subtracted) for over a century, though it has been recorded relatively few times. The term rider comes up often in early blues, usually to talk about a woman, but in this case the song is popularly sung from each gender's perspective.
Jackson further notes that rider was also Texas prison slang for the guards on horseback who would supervise prison laborers. Whichever meaning you prefer, this song is clearly about escape (figurative or literal), seeking the freedom of geese on the wing, March winds, and the cool Colorado rain.

The energy built through the instrumental segue from "China Cat" carries throughout "Rider" on every version I've ever heard. The band has ironed out the kinks by that point, and it's downhill from here, as they say, all the way to the power finale, "Gonna miss your baby, from rolling in your arms."

*     *     *     *     *

Meet-Up at the Movies 2012: 7/18/89 Alpine Valley

Last Thursday was the second annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies, a tradition I can certainly get behind. I'm very sorry I missed last year's event, as it was a screening of the original Grateful Dead Movie from the amazing October, '74 run at the Warfield. This year's offering was the middle night at Alpine Valley in 1989, the night after the bulk of the Downhill From Here DVD release. I'm not going to do a full review, just a quick run-down of my impressions and thoughts.
  • How fun to get together at the movies with a bunch of Deadheads to listen to the music we love!! Could it be in better setting? True, a movie theatre is impersonal, and the setting doesn't encourage dancing, but it sounded and looked great in pretty much every part of the country. I hope they can get it together to do Sunshine Daydream at some point....
  • I have no idea why this was rated PG-13. No cursing, nudity, overt drug use or references, or violence whatsoever. Some things are beyond me.
  • Incredible performances of "Cassidy," "Brown-Eyed Women," and "I Will Take You Home" included before the feature from the Dead Covers Project. (Also be sure to track down "New Speedway Boogie" - the bass player's a stud!)
  • From the get-go, Jerry is on point!! You can hear him enunciate the Ts from the opening "Touch of Grey" to the "Mighty Quinn" encore. And his guitar playing backs up the theory!
  • Amazing to think Jerry wasn't even 50 years old. He looked terrible!!
  • Bobby in tiny cut-off jeans, even got the VPL. Maybe this is why it got the PG-13 rating....
  • Solid first set. I loved the "Jack Straw" and the "Memphis Blues." Good jamming on "Bird Song."
  • It sure looked like Brent and Jerry were having a great time playing together. I have no idea if this was typical at the time, but they kept shooting each other smiles and beamed over one another's solos. It's great to see how they interacted on stage, how much joy they found together.
  • There were a few unusual occurrences that makes me think they were particularly conscious that the concert was filmed, possibly eyeing a release of something special.
    • "Sugar Magnolia" as a second-set opener?!?! To that point, the Dead played the song 444 times, and excluding encores, this was just the 13th time it opened a set (and just 8th since the beginning of 1972). I can see why, though - beautiful segue right into "Scarlet Begonias!"
    • The first "Scarlet" > "Fire" was played on 3/18/77. The Dead played the combo 181 times from then until this Alpine Valley show in '89. This was just the 22nd time in that span that "Scarlet" was followed by another song, in this case "Man Smart, Woman Smarter."
    • The Wolf.
      The Tiger.
    • Jerry played his Tiger guitar for nearly the entire show. He whipped out the Wolf for "Space," and he played it until it stopped working during "Dear Mr. Fantasy."
  • However, you can see why they opted to release the previous night instead of this show.
    • Jerry was done on "Promised Land." They might as well have been playing without him, as his mind was clearly elsewhere.
    • The "Drums" break was tough. They found a groove once in a while, but Mickey seemed to be having technical difficulties, and at one point Bill turned to the crowd and threw up his hands, as if to say, "What, am I doing this alone?
    • "Space" wasn't a lot better than "Drums," minus the technical difficulties.
    • As mentioned above, the Tiger pooped out on Jerry late in the second set, just as he was supposed to trade solos with Brent. Oh, well....
  • "Throwing Stones" was great!! I love that song, and it's a very rare example of the Dead trying to make some sort of political point in the lyrics of their songs. You could argue the same for "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," but I'd beg to differ.
  • The credits rolled before the encore, and where I was watching, the house lights came up in the theatre. The audience started shouting at the projection operator to turn down the lights, and the "Mighty Quinn" that followed was accompanied by plenty of singing and clapping (at least from me).
Great fun at the movies, and I can't wait to do it again next year!

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

The typical beer style of Düsseldorf is the altbier (alt being German for "old," not alternative). Like Kölsch, it is considered a hybrid style of beer, that is a beer fermented with lager yeast at temperatures typical of an ale. It also undergoes post-fermentation cold-aging called "lagering" that produces a clean palate similar to a lager. This is where the term alt comes from - the older technique of making ales that was replaced by lager techniques in the industrial age of brewing. As Düsseldorf is relatively near Cologne, the histories of their typical styles are entwined until relatively recently.

The biggest difference between the two styles is that, where Kölsch is light in color and flavor, the altbier has more hue and heft, owing to the slightly kilned malts used to supplement the grain bill. As a result of these malts, the altbier is light-orange to deep copper in color (and the full range in between), and the flavor is complex and occasionally nutty. There is no trace of roast in an altbier, however, and despite the maltiness, it has very light body and crisp finish. A well-made altbier leaves you craving another on even the hottest of days.

For the most authentic versions, check out the Im Fucshen, Zum Uerige, Schumacher, or the Schüssel from Alstadt (old city) of Düsseldorf. For a real Rheinland experience, listen to Keith rock out from the Rheinhalle while you pair your altbier with some Sauerbraten (roast beef, first marinated in vinegar and spices) and Reibekuchen (fried potato pancakes). When you're done, youll need to dance it off to the "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA!"



* In the interview, Hunter then picks up a guitar and sings an the full version, including four additional verses. Portions of the final two verses would make up the bulk of the lyrics to "The Eleven." Initially performed in 1968-9, "China Cat" was linked to "The Eleven," likely through their shared lyrical conception. As the classic Live/Dead set emerged, however, "St. Stephen" was used as a segue from "Dark Star" into "The Eleven," and "China Cat" formed its lasting bond with "I Know You Rider."


  1. Great write-up/review (as with the other ones by you I've read). But one small quibble with this: ""China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider"
    This classic pairing was a regular staple of first-set jamming from 1970 through the rest of the Dead's career." Not quite true. They notably didn't play it from their return to touring in June '76 until Dec. 29, '77. Definitely not the longest song hiatus but enough for the serious freaking out when they break it out on that night of nights. If you haven't heard this AUD tape you really should. The energy is off the charts: https://archive.org/details/gd1977-12-29.holwein.audience.jfishman.108432.flac16.

  2. FWIW, The Grateful Dead Movie was shot at Winterland in San Francisco.