Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Opener: 4/7/72 Wembley and the Greatest (Baseball) Story Ever Told

When: Friday, April 7, 1972
Where: Wembley Empire Pool, London, England
Setlist: (stream an audience recording here - warning: it's notoriously poor quality)
  1. Greatest Story Ever Told, Sugaree, Chinatown Shuffle, Me & My Uncle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Big Boss Man, Black-Throated Wind, Loser, Mr. Charlie, Beat It On Down The Line, Tennessee Jed, Playing in the Band, Casey Jones*
  2. Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > El Paso > The Other One > Wharf Rat, Ramble On Rose, Sugar Magnolia, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away  E: One More Saturday Night
I've bolded my personal highlights. BTW, the released recordings are SPARKLING!!
^ Casey Jones was not recorded on the 16-track equipment, and the final minute of Big Boss Man is cut off. These CD case claims these are the only recording issues of the tour, though the setlists don't line up with the ones in Deadbase IX and The Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Vol. 1. For this blog, I use the song order on the released CDs because I believe they are most reliable, though it is possible they moved some of the songs around to fit them onto CDs efficiently.

I learned from Gary Lambert's liner notes that the Dead had planned the whole tour for "intimate, acoustically excellent concert halls." However, a few weeks before they arrived for shows scheduled April 5-8 at the 3,000-seat Rainbow Theatre, the venue closed due to financial issues. A smaller venue, the Commodore, was booked and publicized as a replacement, but co-manager Sam Cutler vetoed the space for financial reasons. Instead, he booked two shows at the Wembley Empire Pool, a venue that could accommodate 12,000+ people (roughly 8,000 attended each night), with the tradeoff that the band would return to London at the end of May for what turned out to be an epic run of four shows at the Strand Lyceum Theatre. And everybody wins!! (Except for those folks at the Rainbow Theatre... and the Commodore. Sorry, dudes... er, blokes.)

I'm keeping this review short (a few notes below), but the highlight is clearly the huge jam to start the second set. "Truckin'" starts tight and energetic, but it doesn't take long for the band to dive into weird, energetic improvisation. "Drums" inevitably drops (hard) into "The Other One" for an awesome version of this memorable pairing. After "Wharf Rat" concludes, co-manager Rock Scully spews some thoroughly bummer-inducing drivel into the mic about hall management, dancers in the aisles, and fire codes. Thankfully, Sam Cutler saves the buzz by quipping, "Y'see, the thing is, the cops haven't got enough room to dance." Classic when-the-circus-comes-to-town stuff. England more than Germany, but I'm not sure how prepared the European authorities were for this freak parade circa 1972!!

Song of the Day: "Greatest Story Ever Told"

This post is about openers, so I want to write a bit about "Greatest Story Ever Told" (if you're curious, see the annotated lyrics). For those who aren't familiar it, this song is a four-on-the-floor rocker with characteristic GD flair of scorching guitar leads and Bobby's typical flair and showmanship. Phil's bass pumps the intro, and though it starts out a bit sloppy, it tightens up as they work off the jitters (courtesy of Lady C, certainly) in the changes as Keith pounds out the rhythm on the piano, and Jerry lets fly with the envelope filter (or is that a Wah?). Donna jumps in for the chorus but the band doesn't really get going until the final, "Cool clear water where you can't never tell," at which point the song screeches to a halt. Certainly not a stellar version, so be sure you check out the one from 4/11/72 for comparison (sorry, can't find a link, but it's worth seeking out).

I'll be sure to note hotter versions of this song (there will be plenty before May is over), but I've always thought this song showcases Hunter's adaptability, allusion, and absurdity. The music was written (and the song named) by Bob Weir to go along Robert Hunter's rock-'n'-roll-gets-Biblical lyrics.* The narrative includes Moses and Gideon trading truisms about an open door, while Abraham and Isaac do all the grunt work. Hunter spins such unforgettable lines as "the one thing we need is a left-hand monkey wrench" and "I asked him [Moses] for mercy, he gave me a gun." Compound that with the image of the narrator kickin' back with Moses (the size of Malone**) pounding bottle after bottle of wine, and it definitely earns the title "Greatest Story Ever Told."
Phil Lesh.jpg
Phil Lesh, 4/7/72. (from David Botterell)
Worth noting:
  • I'm VERY excited for a "Chinatown Shuffle" on nearly every show of the tour! Can't wait for "The Stranger"... PIGPEN!!
  • I love these succinct (~10 min) versions of "Playin!" They waste no time diving off the deep end, and they bring it back before you know it.
  • Amazing what Billy Kreutzman pulls off on the drum solos from this tour, almost makes me think he feels liberated with Mickey on hiatus. Did I mention the drop to "The Other One" hits hard!!
  • I love sandwiching "El Paso" (or some other cowboy tune) into the middle of a tour-de-force "The Other One" exploration (or deep "Dark Star" jam). Plenty more of those to come!!
  • For another post, but this "NFA">"GDTRFB">
  • "NFA" reminds me of unsettled business, Dan and Liam. I haven't forgotten.
  • They certainly got geeked up before the "Saturday Night" encore.
Bob Weir & Garcia.jpg
Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, 4/7/72. David Botterell.
*     *     *     *     *

Opening Day: Not Just For US Anymore

This may not be entirely timely at posting, but it follows my theme of the day of openers. There has been plenty of talk about Opening Day of baseball season this year, in light of the Athletics and the Mariners playing the first meaningful game of the season over a week ago in Japan. I've heard people taking issue with a couple teams starting earlier than the rest, and other people taking issue with the fact that the games were overseas. Really, I see them as the same issue: if you're going to play a meaningful MLB games in Japan, it has to be a week or so before the rest of the league starts for logistical reasons. The travel schedule is grueling enough; the players need travel time, jet-lag time, and rest. No one can dispute the fact that the premier players won't see much action in an exhibition/pre-season game, so in order for the game to be meaningful, it must count. Therefore, I see the issues as opposition to playing the game in Japan. A few notes:
  1. American interest in baseball has waned over the past decade or two (IMO, largely due to the rise of the NFL and niche sports gaining creditable followings as cable coverage expands, as opposed to collateral damage of work stoppages and PED scandals). Can you see them selling 50,000 regularly priced tickets per game in Oakland or Seattle?
  2. Over a quarter of MLB players are foreign-born (see the stats for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012)***, with even more in the minors. There is a clear consumer market for the game in Japan, as the country hosts their own major professional league that has given MLB Hideo Nomo (1995 RoY, two MLB no-hitters), Hideki Matsui (2009 World Series MVP), and of course the legendary Ichiro Suzuki (2001 RoY and MVP, first-ballot Hall of Famer in my eyes), all of whom left Japan at or before their peaks to play in MLB (granted for vast sums of money).
    • CAVEAT: There are far more players from Latin America than there are from Japan (or Asia overall). In much of Latin America, baseball is seen more as a job than a pastime. I would be strongly in favor of meaningful MLB games being played in Latin America, but can you see the league selling 50,000 regularly priced tickets in Santo Domingo or *gasp* Havana? (Maybe some day, Val.)
  3. They sold 50,000 regularly (and premium) priced tickets to each of the two games played at the Tokyo Dome.
  4. Ichiro deserves his own point - he's the Michael Jordan of Japan. The guy has been better than anyone at not getting out over the past decade. He holds the record for most hits in an MLB season (262 in 2004, breaking a record that stood for 84 years), and he ran off an incredible ten consecutive years of 200+ hits and .300+ batting average (for stats geeks, his WAR came in just under 59 in that span). He has also had one of the strongest arms in right field and has never stolen less than 50 bases in an MLB season. Considering his fall-off last season, just giving him a chance to start the season 4-for-5 with two infield hits in the Tokyo Dome is worth it for what he's done for the MLB and for the game as a whole. Realistically, he can't keep this up for much longer.
  5. The Mariners are owned by Nintendo of America, with deep roots in Japan. They tried playing the 2003 opener in Japan but were forced to change plans when the United States invaded Iraq.
  6. In case you forgot, Japan suffered an unimaginable triple disaster just over a year ago, reminding the nation of their dubious distinction of being the only people in history to be on the receiving end of a surprise nuclear bombing. Even if you don't believe we owe them anything for our role in that (all's fair in love and war, I guess), you can think back to September, 2001. For many (certainly not all) Americans, the return of baseball and the NFL provided a distraction and certain release from the horrible emotions following 9/11. MLB can't do much to ease the suffering of those in and around Fukushima, but if getting their national hero to play a freaking baseball game in Tokyo helps anyone in any way, I think it's worth it.
There may be perfectly good reasons for not wanting to play the first Opening Day game in Japan, but most of what I've heard in opposition has been troublingly jingoistic. Plus, when in the forseable future can we see the A's and the M's battle for the best record in baseball?

Now that my rant is done, who's excited for baseball season?!?!?! I am. Here are my predictions (written after the Japanese opener, but before the rest). As TMQ says, all predictions guaranteed to be wrong or your money back (because the blog is free, not because I'll back all bets against my predictions):
  • NL: 
    • Giants win the West with 87 wins (tight race with Arizona, goes to the final day)
    • Reds take the Central with 89 (right, Ben?)
    • Phillies win the East and the top seed with 93 wins (thanks, Terry, I like that number)
    • Wild Cards are the Marlins with 90 wins and the Cards with 87 (I didn't forget about you, Corey!)
  • AL: 
    • Rangers take the West with 99 wins
    • Tigers have the best record in baseball with 103 wins
    • The Rays take the East with 98 wins
    • The Yankees win 95 and the Angels win 97 and square off for the Wild Card round in Anaheim. (That's right folks, BoSox miss the playoffs again, even after they add an extra Wild Card.)
Hope Springs Eternal on Opening Day!!

- Morning Brewer (but my friends call me catacea)

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

In honor of baseball season, take in a ballgame at the park or at home (with the first Wembley show on in the background, of course!), and enjoy a hot smoked sausage with sauteed peppers/onions and spicy mustard. Beer? I'll take an American blonde ale, please!

Crisp, dry, and light, this is what beer geeks like myself affectionately call a "lawnmower beer," and (fitting for my first PS) it's a style that is more accessible than most for people who aren't into craft beers in their many forms. As with any beer style deemed "American," this one is hoppier than its Anglo and continental cousins, the paler pale ales and the German Kölsch.
  • Kenzinger will do until Summer Love is released here in Philly.
  • In DC, the Corruption goes with everything (even if it's not a blonde ale), just ask Dan and Sam!
  • In Chi-town, go with the Gossamer Golden Ale (can't vouch for it personally, but I like the brewery and this offering's been well received).
  • Out West, if you can't get your hands on some Happy Hops, ease yourself into the Ballast Point Pale Ale (they call it a Kölsch, so I'm counting it!) or dig up some Poleeko Gold.
  • In AK, go with the Alaskan Pale (ditto on the style).
  • In Tel Aviv, I have no idea if you can get a sausage let alone this brew, but there's an outside chance you can find the He'Brew Genesis Dry-Hopped Session Beer. If not, someone tell Noam to get his cousin on it!!
  • If I didn't hit your locale, please let me know where you are and I'll do my best to accommodate. (Unless you're Maddog or anyone in Portland, in which case you send me the suggestions!!)

* Mickey Hart gets a credit, too, as Hunter explains in Box of Rain that he wrote the lyrics to the rhythm of the water pump at Mickey's (in Los Trancos, I believe?), and Moses is also known as "Pumpman."
** While eventually six-foot-ten and inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Moses Malone was not yet 16 when this song debuted (along with Bertha, Johnny B. Goode, Loser, Playing in the Band, and that incredible jam leading into the first Wharf Rat) on 2/18/71 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY (also Mickey's last show before his hiatus).
*** From writer Tom Caple: "When baseball officially opened its 2012 season in Japan last week, there were players from five continents on the field: South America (Felix Hernandez and Jesus Montero), Europe (Alex Liddi), Australia (Grant Balfour), Asia (Ichiro, Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma) and North America (too many to mention)."

1 comment:

  1. thanks for sharing your experience of Europe 72