Wednesday, May 16, 2012

5/16/72 Radio Luxembourg: "The Other One," Pigpen's Foil, and Bourbon

When: Tuesday, May 16, 1972
Where: La Grand Salle Du Grand Theatre, Luxemburg
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, listen to the show here)
  1. Big River^, Sugar Magnolia^, Bertha, Me & My Uncle, Mr. Charlie, Sugaree, Black-Throated Wind, Chinatown ShuffleChina Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Beat It On Down The Line, Hurts Me Too, Tennessee Jed, Playing In The Band, Promised Land
  2. Truckin' > Drums > The Other One, Sing Me Back Home,  Sugar Magnolia, Not Fade Away > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away  E: One More Saturday Night
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.
^ Sound check

Luxembourg's Grand Thatre: a modern, intimate
performance space with studio sound.
I can only imagine what a change of pace this show was for the band and the audience. Instead of one of the concert halls, both classic and modern, the band was performing to an intimate crowd of invitees at a glorified recording studio. In the liner notes, David Gans quotes friend-of-the-blog Philipe Sicard remembering the Dead's "tight and flawless" performance to  about 500 people in a small, superbly acoustical auditorium. It was a wet night, and the snugness of the space and the sound must have been something!

Listening to the sparkling recording of this exceptionally consistent show today gives you an appreciation for what Deadhead Britons must have suffered through listening to harsh, fading audio from a poor radio broadcast. But the broadcast facilities were state-of-the-art if you believe Dennis McNally in Long Strange Trip, featuring "three or four diesel locomotive engines... on standby in case of a power failure."

Signalling the beginning of the concert proper, we're treated to one of my favorite band introductions/tributes to this young and already legendary band and explains the broadcast specs:
Good morning in the theatre hall in the Villa Louvigni in Luxembourg. And for the second time in the history of Radio Luxembourg, a three-hour live broadcast. Tonight with one of the pioneer groups that have changed the whole course of contemporary music over their last 7 years in existence. Originally a jug band in 1964, they are today rated as America’s finest. To all you in the theatre hall, good morning, and to those listening on short wave around the world, on 3 FM stations in Germany, on the French long wave, and on the medium band in Britain, 208 meters. Radio Luxomburg, welcomes the GRATEFUL DEAD!!
The show gets off to a pretty good start with a version of "Bertha" that is flawlessly played, though not excellent. Bobby then dedicates "Me & My Uncle" to "the great state of Mexico" before a decent "Mr. Charlie." The next three songs - "Sugaree," "Black-Throated Wind," and "Chinatown Shuffle" - are like the opener, flawless but not superb. The mid-set "China" > "Rider" is the first the band really brings the heat, and all I can think is that, via Radio Luxembourg, the world is getting treated to some very high-quality Dead! Nothing against the rest of the set, but the set reaches new heights with "Playin'" that features Garcia's guitar whirring and whining towards the front of the jam. Overall, "Playin'" is excellent, showcased by an adventurous jam.

The second set gets another Kid Jensen intro, and they jump right in with an excellent "Truckin'" after we miss out on the first line (I can't tell if Bobby just spaced or if his mic wasn't on). As they leave the lyric for the jam, Pigpen's organ is there to escort us across the threshold (haunting, indeed). Towards the end of this energetic and driving jam we hear the unmistakable rhythm of "The Other One" begin to creep in, and then it's all drums. Billy's solo is nowhere near the version from Amsterdam, and Phil quickly joins him for a huge, rumbling intro into "The Other One." Before long, we're taken to a spacey jam that reeks of "Dark Star," but they jump back to the rhythm for a quick return before turning deeply to space. Jerry and Phil battle send chills and shrills across the hall, and then Jerry dials up that screeching tone and starts running his fingers across the fretboard. For a moment it sounds like we may get "Spanish Jam," the amazing combination of tones, rhythms, and chords reminiscent of various pieces of Miles Davis's Sketches from Spain. Alas, Jerry pulls Phil off the kick, heading back to "The Other One," which surprisingly comes to a cadence instead of venturing into something different.

Ok, ok, this is clearly NOT from Europe (Jerry's playing the Wolf), or even from 1972 (Phil's beard and fuzzy bass strap, plus the phase-cancelling double mics), but it's a cool picture. I wanted to use it, and here it is. So there!
(The camera crew indicates it's from the Winterland in October, 1974, filming the Grateful Dead Movie.)

They quickly remedy the pause with a soulful rendition of "Sing Me Back Home" that may as well have come straight out of "The Other One." This is one of the finer renditions of this song from the tour, in my opinion, and it seems like they may have come to a stop between the two songs just to recharge a bit. The initial pass through "NFA" is a bit subdued, but very well played and not at all noodly. As usual, "GDTRFB" shifts the jam into another gear, especially with he gospel bridge, and the "NFA" roars back with a heavy dose of Pigpen on the organ before closing the set with an explosion. Not the greatest rendition of the medley on the tour, but it's still great to hear!!
The scenic city-state of Luxembourg.

Overall this is a tight, well played show that is not remarkable but for "The Other One." But it's international broadcast in such an historic and picturesque location as Luxembourg seems fitting for a performance that impresses but doesn't overwhelm. I can only guess what you do in the wee hours of a rainy night in Luxembourg after a Dead show in 1972!!*

Worth mentioning:
  • The official release includes two songs from the soundcheck. "Big River" is very raw, and you can still hear they are working on their arrangement of this classic Johnny Cash tune, one of my personal favorite cowboy tunes in the Dead's repertoire. The pre-show "Sugar Mags" cuts short.
  • I've heard the song a thousand times, but I've never noticed the line from "Bertha" that goes, "Dressed myself in green." Weird.
  • What's this at the end of the second set? "Promised Land" replaces "Casey Jones," making a rare appearance on the tour. It's well played up until the end, when it sounds like Bobby ends it a bit ahead of Jerry.
  • In the middle of the second set we get your standard, run-of-the-mill 1972 version of "Sugar Magnolia." That is to say, it's energetic, tight, and superbly played from start to finish!
  • Same goes for the "Saturday Night" encore!!

Song of the Day: "The Other One"

In 1972, the Grateful Dead were played "The Other One" frequently, but it was only one section of the original four-part composition released in on Anthem Of The Sun in 1968, known in its entirety as "That's It For The Other One." The first section is the wondrously named folky lament "Cryptical Envelopment." This was followed by a drum break ("Quadlibet fo Tenderfeet" on the album) that rolled with thunderous fury from Phil Lesh's bass into "The Other One" played on the 1972 tour, originally known as "The Faster We Go, the Rounder We Get." The final section, composed by itinerant experimental keyboard player Tom Constanten, was called "We Leave the Castle." While "Cryptical" was played as bookends for "The Other One" for much of 1968-1971, and the rare appearance in later years was heralded by Deadheads for its rarity and heartfelt mourning.

"The Other One" is a rollicking tour de force built about a galloping rhythm. This rhythm is powerful and versatile, with the ability to morph into a subtle and quiet groove. But it keeps moving, irresistibly forward. This is the vehicle in which Jerry Garcia's greatness grew into its own, wrapped around spiraling explosions of guitar lines speeding across the soundscape. Phil Lesh and Garcia consistently push each other and the rest of the band around unknown corners and into the outer atmosphere and beyond.

The lyrics were primarily penned by Bob Weir and are steeped in the lore of the band's roots. They first conjure the image of the Spanish Lady, who "lays on me this rose," the first of many times the Dead employed the rose imagery in their history. From there the lyric mirrors the music: "It rainbow spirals round and round / It trembles and explodes." A bit later, "The head come round and busted me / For smiling on a cloudy day." We learn from a David Gans interview with Weir and Lesh that this refers to a day in the Haight when Bobby tossed a water balloon on a police officer. Apparently the cop didn't get the joke.

From there, we find ourselves at a bus stop. This bus, of course, is Furthur, the technicolor dream bus steered by the trusty Neal Casady, ferrying Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters across the country on their LSD adventures. You can read a bit more in a previous post.
The bus came by and I got on
That's when it all began
There was cowboy Neal
At the wheel
Of a bus to never-ever land
Ken Kesey explained (via Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) the significance of being on the bus:
There are going to be times when we can't wait for somebody. now you're either on the bus of off the bus. If you're on the bus, and you get left behind, then you'll find it again. If you're off the bus in the first place - then it won't make a damn.... You're either on the bus or off the bus."
Weir also tells us that the reference to Casady came to him in a dream, the night that Casady died in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Weir had spend several sleepless nights listening to the mad ravings of Casady when he stayed with the band at 710 Ashbury in San Francisco. Once that line came together, explained Weir, the song was complete.

"The Other One" was a cornerstone of the Dead's repertoire for nearly their entire history due mostly to the song's powerful rhythm and the intense jams it spawned. It is also an oral history of sorts, chronicling the band's roots that blossomed out of the Acid Tests.

*     *     *     *     *

Pigpen's Foil: The Soul Queen of New Orleans

Irma Thomas, the legendary Soul Queen of New Orleans
In addition to these great Dead shows from Europe, I've also been listening to a fair amount of Irma Thomas lately. Later known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, she began performing at the age of 13, and by 19 she had been twice married and had four children. She was bound by her marriages and by recording/performance contracts for most of her life, and her music tells the story of a strong woman trapped in situations beyond her immediate control. A contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James, she never reached their level of national fame and acclaim, though she is beloved in New Orleans.

In listening to her album The Two Phases of Irma Thomas, I hear the life story of her loves, told with heart-rending emotion and painful triumph, as with the masterpiece "In Between Tears." This story is told in two phases, the first tending closer to straight blues and the other a more modern R&B (even funky) interpretation of the same songs.** As I've listened to the album, I continue to think of the women figures in Pigpen's raps throughout this tour, and I've come to see Irma Thomas's persona on this album as the foil to Pigpen's persona in Europe.*** In a way, I can imagine Pigpen singing about Irma as his "old lady," and - in following from the thrust of an earlier post - attempting to grasp the real-life consequences of the philandering lifestyle Pigpen glorified in his magnificent raps from this tour. To make it interesting, I'm going to pair several of the songs off Irma Thomas's album with classic Pigpen songs, where I could imagine the personas singing their own perspectives of similar situations.

Irma Thomas at the New Orleans Jazz and
Heritage Festival in the late-1970s

  • I'm going to start with Irma Thomas's song "These Four Walls," an entirely sympathetic tale of a woman who makes the most of the little her partner is able to provide. She starts by explaining, "My man breaks his back working every day / Working in all kinds of weather," but he tortures himself because he cannot provide the palace his true love deserves, especially considering that he is married with children to another woman. She, however, is happy to make due with what they have because "These four walls are my palace" and "There's love within these walls." In the refrain she proclaims that she is "happy here with you, babe."

    To me, this song fits with Pigpen's "Easy Wind," a song about a working man, "chippin' them rocks from dawn till doom." While it's never said that he is married, he has a woman who hides his liquor. Wary of women dressed in red, he is searching for a woman who will be good to him. In the end, he hopes to find that woman and show her, "I'm a stone jack baller and my heart is true / And I give everything that I got to you."
  • A similar but different take on the story of the woman in love with a married man is "What's So Wrong With You Loving Me." In this story, both lovers are married to another, but she asks her lover, "If I'm not afraid to love you, and I 'm not free / What's so wrong with you loving me?" Ultimately, the crux of her pain is that society cannot accept their love, causing her to wonder more generally, "What's so wrong when two happy, married people / Fall in love?" In the end, however, she comes painfully resigned to their love in the shadows, her lament from the title.

    I have to pair this song with Pigpen's rendition of the classic Wilson Picket blues song "Turn On Your Lovelight," a passionate song of a man and a woman reveling in one another's love. Told from the man's perspective, the song extols the physical pleasures of the love while ignoring the consequences. For a rare duet with Janis Joplin, listen to the "Lovelight" from this show.
  • One of the common threads in Irma Thomas's songs on the album is of a woman trapped in a man who wants to be with another woman, but she won't release him from their marriage because it is the only security that she (and their children) have. In "She'll Never be Your Wife," she captures the anger of the spurned wife whose husband is begging her for:"She can have you, whenever she wants you, but she'll never, never be your wife." She unleashes all her furor in raging finale:
You've made me such a joke to your friends
Now you and this woman are trying to blow my future up in smoke
Well, after all the years you made me suffer
I'm going to hold onto you for dear life
Tell her: 
I'm not signing any papers, and I don't want ya
And I know how much money you make
So you better bring it on home
And take care of these kids. 
Here, Irma Thomas provides a perspective that we never get from Pigpen: the wife and mother dependent on her husband in a society where she realistically cannot hope for the same luxuries enjoyed by a man in her same class. At the end of the day, she is responsible for their children regardless of what he does, and with limited access to work her fate (and that of their children) is tied to his life.
I will draw a connection to Pigpen's song "Caution" (annotations but no lyrics here). Pigpen's persona knows there is "something wrong with me and my baby," so he goes down to the  fortune-telling Gypsy woman for her advice. After telling his story, of course, she tells him what he wants to hear, "All you need, is just a touch of Mojo hand." Salvation is to be found in magic (or in drugs, if you take the alternate definition). Unfortunately, Pigpen's persona is oblivious to the reality of his lady's life, seeking answers from anywhere else.
  • The most heart-rending song on Irma Thomas's album (and the one that gave me the idea for this post) is "Won't Be In Your Way Anymore," her side of a collect call to her husband. To summarize, she tells him, "Sorry, but I'm leaving your ass and taking the kids. We're going to be all right, so you can go on with your life." The chorus is delivered with soul-wrenching emotion. She even adds an extra syllable to the end of each line for emphasis.
    Me and the kids are gonna be all right-ah
    We'll get a hotel room for the night-ah
    And we'll get a meal at the local drug store
    And we won't be in your way, anymore, no we won't-ah
    The most powerful lyric in the song comes towards the end and provides her undeniable justification for leaving the man:

    The things you hit me for
    When you came home late at night
    In front of our kids
    Don't you know that was not right
    I don't want to make any notion that Pigpen abused women, and I am not aware that he had any children. Therefore, I'm going to match this song with "Operator" (annotations but no lyrics here) and suggest it as a snapshot of an earlier, more joyous point in the relationship. It may seem like a cop-out, but it is what it is.

  • Finally, Irma Thomas has a magnificent medley of her monologue (or rap) "Coming from Behind" and the song "Wish Someone Would Care." In this monologue, she goes on about the common struggles of women, including the assumption that they are subservient: "He thinks anything she does, she has to do it / But it just doesn't go like that, baby.... She gives love, but she expects love in return." She was raised to live by the Golden Rule, "But men don't care / All he think a woman is for / Is whatever he need her, when he needs her, and how he needs her." She flips the script on his philandering, saying that if men go out three-timing, women will do six, "And our back won't be hurting when we're through!" She further insists that women are "born with the most precious jewel in the world," but that doesn't make them angels. "We weren't meant to be angels / We were meant to bring forth angels." In the end, she says she's in love, but it hurts because she "gave him what he wanted / I loved him but he walked out." She finds solace in a smile, explaining, "When you smile, nothing's ever so bad." The song "Wish Someone Would Care" echoes "The Stranger" in tone and message, and she even asks for someone to "come see about me."

    This medley reminds me of Pigpen's rant in "Good Lovin'" from 4/14/72 for its length and its substance. Both are extensive, telling the tale of their respective personas in great detail, following eddies in their stream of consciousness, but always with a point. Pigpen chases women on a four-day creep, is chased by a girl's father, the police, and his wife, and comes home to rest, only to find that his partner has her own needs and desires. From Irma's perspective, "All he thinks a woman is for / Is whatever he need her," and in the end she "loved him, but he walked out." The lifestyle that he glorifies in his opus has real-life consequence that go untold (at least in the Dead's music). Irma Thomas 

Irma Thomas performing at Jazz Fest in 2009.

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

Exploring Irma Thomas so deeply has left me sad and a little bit angry, so our pairing suggestion for today's post is bourbon. I recommend the Bulleit, the Woodford Reserve, or (if you're looking for something inexpensive) Heaven Hill. If necessary pair with water, frozen or liquid. Or pair with another glass of bourbon.


* In reality, you probably head back to from where you came, but it's nice to ponder!
** I like both phases, each stressing a different emotional thread in the stories told in the songs. However, I prefer the bluesier Phase One, personally.
*** Let me clarify that I am talking about the persona each vocalist assumes in their art. While I believe that each singer channeled their own lives to a certain extent, I don't know enough about either one personally to make a claim of what they either was/is like as a person.

1 comment:

  1. "I've heard the song a thousand times, but I've never noticed the line from "Bertha" that goes, "Dressed myself in green." Weird."

    He sings the lines in reverse order here, which is probably why you noticed it...