Wednesday, May 23, 2012

5/23/72 Strand Lyceum: "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA," NBA Playoffs, & Dubbel

When: Tuesday, May 23, 1972
Where: Lyceum Theatre, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, check out the stream on here)
  1. Promised Land, Sugaree, Mr. CharlieBlack-Throated Wind, Next Time You See Me, Jack Straw, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Me & My Uncle, Chinatown Shuffle, Big Railroad Blues, The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion), Playing In The Band, Sitting On Top Of The World, Rockin' Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu^, Mexicali Blues, Good Lovin', Casey Jones
  2. Ramble On Rose, Dark Star > Morning Dew, He's Gone, Sugar Magnolia > Comes A Time, Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away > Hey Bo Diddley > Not Fade Away  E: Uncle John's Band
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.
^ First time played.

It wasn't exactly the Lion King that came through the Lyceum in late-May, 1972.
As I noted in the tour opener, the Dead's initial venue to start the show - the Sunshine Theatre - closed its doors for financial reasons a few short weeks before they arrived in England. The Wembley shows were a poor replacement in a giant, partially filled, boomy room that once housed a swimming pool. The Lyceum shows were the real make-up for London, and what a treat it turned out to be. First of all, the historic theatre built in the heart of London during the 19th century was an intimate gem, much like many other venues that saw the Dead perform some of their best shows of the tour. Elegant inside and out, the current building is only the latest iteration of a London institution that was burned and rebuilt, housing such treasures as a Mozart performance, a chapel, Madame Toussade's first exhibition of waxworks, and even a circus.* Its central location just off London's famous Strand was also fitting, allowing the band to channel the energy of a bustling metropolis (and the hall's historic forebears) and filter it through their own lens.
Imagine these seats filled with English heads in 1972. Crazy, man... crazy.

Sam Cutler in the liner notes:
The Lyceum was exactly the right venue [for the Dead's "swan song for Europe"], and we had the perfect pleasure of doing four dates in a row, which would allow everyone in the band to settle in and produce some of their hottest music. The place was all gold leaf and crumbling wallpaper, and a somewhat shabby reflection of its glory days as a London theatre. The staff were in bow ties and maroon jackets, and it was run with British stiff-upper-lip military precision. It was just the kind of venue the Grateful Dead loved to descend upon, grinning from ear to ear, and reduce to a more relaxed form of chaos where everyone could have a California version of anarchic fun.
Dennis McNally, in the band's official band history Long Strange Trip, describes the entire entourage's awareness of the final run of shows as inspiring everyone to break out the Visine bottles and turn up the psychedelic energy for a mini-residency in London. In Living With the Dead, Rock Scully tells the (likely embellished) story of the red-coat-wearing ushers being dosed into oblivion each night, causing a new batch to be brought in for each show. Colorful and dubious in detail, we can get the picture of how electric the atmosphere must have been inside the 2500-seat theatre in the heart of London proper.

Now this version of "Promised Land" is more like it!! Fast and hot from start to finish, it starts the show off on a different foot from any other show on the tour and sets the tone for an out-of-the-ordinary setlist. As you'll see, there were many unusual songs performed at this show, evidenced by the fact that "Greatest" and "Bertha" are both absent. "Black-Throated Wind" holds a special place in my heart and memory, and I haven't drawn attention to the stellar versions played throughout this tour. Listen to this one for another stellar and succinct version of this great Bobby tune. "Me & My Uncle" is likely the hottest stand-alone version of this song performed on the tour, with scorching guitar leads from Jerry, swingin' drumming from Billy, and bouncing bass runs from Phil. Outstanding!! As always, "The Stranger" tugs at your heartstrings, and Pigpen really reels off the final vocals. The whole band really nails this version. Another fantastic version of "Playin'" follows (what more can you say at this point?), and then we're back into unfamiliar waters with "Sittin' on Top of the World." Like "Promised Land," this version is greatly improved over its tour debut, and with the entire band ripping through it with energy, speed, and precision. Next up is the band's debut performance of "Rockin' Pneumonia," which is exciting and fun but needs some work. Phil drops some classic polka bass on a fantastic version of "Mexicali Blues." Listening to this version the other day got me thinking about the meaning of the lines:
She took me up into her room, and whispered in my ear
"Go on, my friend, do anything you choose"
Now I'm paying for those happy hours I spent there in her arms
With a lifetime's worth of the Mexicali blues
This verse, along with "thinkin' and drinkin' are all I have today" made me think "Mexicali blues" may refer gonorrhea or some other STD. The idea doesn't necessarily hold for the final verses, when "He made me trade the gallows for the Mexicali blues," but it's an interesting thought nonetheless.

The "Dark Star" is everything you want from the song in 1972. The initial jam is melodic and fast, as the band finds new grooves and permutations of the theme to explore with fervor. They descend into a quick spacey jam that is cut short with a brief drum interlude. Phil joins Billy for quick, melodic drum-and-bass duet, and then it's off into deep space. Jerry plays wandering lines with that harsh yet clean tone, as Bobby, Keith, and Billy strive to find weirder and weirder ways to play the rhythm, ultimately settling on dissonance and chaos. Jerry finds some semblance of form coming out of the chaos, and Keith peppers his meandering notes with crashing piano chords. Billy swings like the rhythmic beast he is, and Phil helps steer the groove back to the light. Jerry takes some coaxing, but eventually they find release and re-emerge with the "Dark Star" theme, crisp and clear. However, it's clear this one traveled a long, arduous road to get back to the song. It must all seem trivial to Jerry, and he signals the dawn with the opening chord of "Morning Dew." What an epic way to end this sequence, with the gently building guitar lines eventually exploding into the crescendo and the nuclear ashes settling on the soundsphere. Ladies and gentlemen, we're not yet halfway through the first set!!

After a remarkably mature rendition of "He's Gone" (see below), we're treated to a wonderful version of "Sugar Magnolia." As if making up for a slow start, Grateful Dead monster rears its magnificent head at the end of the song; Jerry's chords scream with joy, Billy pounds out the groove, Keith chops it up on the piano, Phil unloads power-bombs, and of course Bobby must have shattered his vocal chords with his spine-tingling shrieks. But my favorite part of the set follows, with one of the most soulful renditions of "Comes A Time" I've ever heard. In the opening verse, Jerry's voice nearly cracks with emotion, and his guitar solo drips with painful emotion. Pigpen's subtle organ captures the solemnity of the song, adding an ambient shadow of misery. You can tell Jerry is trying to convince us all of something he doesn't quite believe himself when he sings, "Gotta make it somehow / On the dreams you still believe." Phil steps in with big bass that pushes the door open for Jerry's angry guitar to step through, as Pig's organ continues to whir in the background. The ending is almost hopeless. Incredible!

From there, the Dead waste no time jumping right into "GDTRFB" featuring excellent playing throughout, particularly during the gospel bridge and the energetic finale. The familiar rhythm of "NFA" emerges, and the band plays a nice introductory exploration. Before long, however, Jerry steers the melody towards the rare and exciting "Hey Bo Diddly," which he sings with gusto, and then it's back to "NFA." Bobby again rakes his vocal chords during the finale, and Jerry tries (with limited success) to get fancy with some of the final flourishes. For the encore they bounce into a singalong version of "Uncle John's Band" that, despite its noticeable flaws, leaves the crowd primed for not one, not two, but three more nights of this amazing band of psychedelic rangers!!

Worth mentioning:
  •  It's a shame I didn't get to use "Promised Land" for a Song of the Day, but maybe someday. When I was about to move to Albuquerque, I remember finding new meaning in the line "I woke up high over Albuquerque on a trip to the promised land."
  • This is probably my favorite version of "Mr. Charlie," as the whole band seems to bring the boogie-woogie rhythm to new heights. Pig's clearly feeling good for the extra rest before this show!
  • This is the first time the Dead played "Rockin' Pneumonia," and you can tell they're having fun with it. Like many other FTPs on the tour, it's a bit rough and definitely unrefined. It's loose and exciting (and noteworthy) to be sure, but the performance is not a highlight for me.
  • This is yet another scorching version of "Good Lovin'" in which Pigpen does a fine job on vocals (and organ in the beginning), but he lets Jerry and Phil steer the song through an incredibly nimble jam. I love the way Phil signals the end of the instrumental section with his fat bass chords, bringing it back to the familiar theme. Keith really caps it off with stellar rhythm work on the ivories.
  • This version of "Casey Jones" cooks!! The closing rhythmic rampage leaves nothing to the imagination.
  • "He's Gone" sure has grown up over the course of this tour! This version features energetic grooves  while still attaining an emotional stillness. It still has some growing to do, but the overall arc of the song is in place. Bobby, seemingly mocking the English reputation for propriety, explains the pause before the next song by saying, "We're being ever so careful to make sure that the intonation is painstakingly proper."

Song of the Day: "NFA" > "GDTRFB" > "NFA"

The version played for this show, like several on the tour, jumps in with the meandering theme from "GDTRFB," but the full combination was long a staple for the Dead that showcased their rhythmic facility, instrumental brilliance, and keen awareness of the need for soulful release within what would otherwise be an energetic free-for-all. The classic "Not Fade Away," of course, is a Buddy Holly original written with the help of his producer-manager Norman Petty in 1957. The genesis of this song had it played in that rockin', rhythmic style that made Buddy Holly so famous, and the lyrics seem sweet and almost innocent. It was transformed by the Rolling Stones into a fast, raunchy tour-de-sex with a grinding rhythm, catapulting them onto the American rock scene for their first of many appearances on the charts in 1964. The lyrics themselves are a simple love song, steeped in bravado ("I wanna tell you how it's gonna be / You're gonna give you love to me") and Americana ("My love is bigger than a Cadillac").

Particularly from 1967-1971 (and after 1974, the Dead's version was driven by the two drummers, pounding out a thick, heavy beat with the rest of the band surfing the melody over the wave of rhythmic energy. Garcia scorches on the lead guitar, and you can always count on Bobby to sing the lyrics with verve and volume. In the end, though, it's the drums that set the tone for the song, taking the inspiration of the most popular renditions to new heights. Even in 1972, with only Billy Kreutzman on the kit, the Dead managed to bring a depth to the rhythm that is missing in even the Stones' version, with stellar contributions from rhythm guitar, piano, and organ chugging away. I love Pigpen's organ whining emphasis behind Bobby's over-the-top vocals. And with all due respect to the immortal Keith Richards, Garcia cannot be matched on lead guitar. His tone, precision, and energy takes the melody to new and amazing places, with Phil Lesh's bass contributing mind-bending counterpoint unmatched in the world of rock 'n' roll.

Before the final verse, however, Jerry will typically veer off into the lead melody of the folk classic "Going Down the Road Felling Bad." This is a traditional song with deep roots. As we learn from Blair Jackson (via The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics):
This is one of those songs that have been popular in both black and white musical traditions for many decades, and with a number of titles. According to noted folk ad blues authority Dave Evans of Memphis State, the tune is of Negro origin, but it surfaced as an Appalachian Mountain tune in the twenties. It became a popular song among Okies during the Dust Bowl era (for obvious reasons), and as impoverished famers fled the Southwest, they took t he song with them to California's blossoming fruit orchards, the best farms of Michigan, Oregon's cherry orchards, and a hundred other points scattered around the land. As the song traveled, the verses changed frequently, so the Dead's ersion is most likely a hodgepodge of lyric ideas from all over.
They launch almost immediately into the vocals, with Jerry on the lead and Donna providing apt and soulful melody with her Nashville sound. Bobby highlights some of the vocal flourishes, but it's again Jerry's guitar that lifts the song to new and amazing heights. By the time he is fully into his solo, the rhythm has built beyond anything in the opening "NFA" segment, with Billy's rolls popping in emphasis at the end of Jerry's phrases. Just like that, they settle back to a mellow groove for the next verse, only to build it back up again with the power of Donna's pipes. This time, Jerry's solo brings the business, shredding his way through impossible runs and challenging the rhythm section to up their game. They don't disappoint, especially Keith on the ivories, but Jerry pulls up shy of liftoff for another round of vocals.
Going down the road feeling bad
Going down the road feeling bad
Going down the road feeling bad
Don't want to be treated this-a way
With every turn through the chorus, the musical monster gains stature and power, ultimately exploding into a a screaming crescendo that falls into the amazing instrumental groove from the gospel classic, "And We Bid You Goodnight." Jerry coaxes every big of emotion through a relatively brief release, and the band soon drops back into a redoubled "NFA" beat with screaming, teasing chords from Jerry helping to rebuild the tension. The song re-emerges with a giant wave of organ behind it for the final verse, and the "Love is love and not fade away" refrain from Bobby is pushed higher and harder as the Grateful Dead dragon takes fiery flight before exploding in a giant ball of sonic energy. The fallout is immense, and as a listener you are left marveling at the adventure on which these six men and one woman were able to take you.

*     *     *     *     *

(One of the) Most Exciting Month(s) in Sports

Excuse me for following another sports tangent outside of baseball, but the NBA playoffs are heating up (no pun intended). It's one of the most exciting months of sports for me because there are literally multiple games pretty much every night, played with utmost intensity and skill. NBA athletes are freaks of stature, conditioning, and skill, and watching them play in fear of elimination and hopes of glory. The conference semifinals are wrapping up, and the eight teams involved each feature compelling storylines. Even though a couple teams are already eliminated, I'm going to review the storylines of each of the eight teams.

First, the eliminated teams from Los Angeles:

  • Los Angeles Clippers: This is possibly sports' most snakebitten franchise, and if you agree with Phil Jackson it's karmically warranted for owner and infamous slumlord Donald Sterling. They turned the corner this year when NBA Commissioner David Stern nixed the Lakers' trade for superstar point guard Chris Paul, paving the way for a trade that brought Paul to the Staples Center to play for the other LA basketball team (and I'm not talking about UCLA). With young, athletic big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordon, the no-luck Clippers were transformed into "Lob City," making the highlight reel almost every night with poster-worthy dunks. They won their first playoff series since the dinosaurs were around this year, but were stopped short by the hot and experienced Spurs. However, this is a team to keep your eye on over the next couple years, as they could easily become perennial contenders.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: The exact opposite of the Clippers, the Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in all of sports with a tradition of championships that leaves anything shy of that a failure. The current dynasty is built around superstar scorer and accused rapist Kobe Bryant, with a major assist from legendary coaching guru Phil Jackson. Jackson had the ability to balance the egos on the team and the pressure of the purple and gold with a proven system and championship pedigree. His retirement after last year's playoff loss cast major doubt on their fortunes this season, and his replacement, Mike Brown, has struggled to get buy-in on his offensive scheme and to balance his superstar players. With two dominant seven-footers (Spaniard Pau Gasol and hothead Andrew Bynum) to go along with his aging superstar, their method should be to wear out their opponents by pounding the boards and grinding out points in the post. However, the team's wildcard is Metta World Peace (neé Ron Artest), who can always be counted on for fireworks on the court and colorful interviews.** They survived his suspension for the bulk of the first round after he caught Thunder guard RJames Harden in the head with an elbow. Kobe Bryant - rejuvenated in an experimental German fountain of youth and focused on his legacy by matching Michael Jordan's six career championships and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387 career points - wouldn't let anyone else shoot the ball at the end of the game, cursing them to failure. He scored 42 of their 90 points to earn the Lakers elimination a couple nights ago. So it goes....
Next up are the teams I expect to be eliminated in the next couple nights:
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Under the guidance of journeyman coach (and former Sixers draft pick) Doug Collins, this young team has exceeded all expectations this year with team defense and unselfish play. The new owners (including Philly native Will Smith) are trying - successfully so far - to inspire the city that adored Philly's own Wilt Chamberlain, cultural icon Dr. J, legendary board-crashers Moses Malone and Charles Barkely, and the incomparable Allen Iverson. Despite inheriting crippling contracts of aging big man Elton Brand and offensively mediocre (though defensively talented) Andre Iguadala, they managed to beat the top-seeded Chicago Bulls with a little help from injuries to their two best players. So far, they've been able to hang with the Celtics, but overall Boston looks like the better team. The Sixers are in dire need of an elite scorer who can close out games late, and it's never been more obvious than in this series. They could still pull off a conference finals berth by winning the final two games, but I would be surprise. However, if they are able to deal with one (or both) of those contracts and find an elite scorer, this is a team that could rise to the second tier of the eastern conference.
  • Indiana Pacers: What can I say? They're from Indiana! This franchise has been struggling since Ron Artest decided to go into the stands, killing three-point assassin Reggie Miller's best chance of a championship. However, Indiana legend and Pacers General Manager Larry Bird won Executive of the Year (to go along with his MVPs and Coach of the Year awards) this year in building a team that surprised the basketball world with their talent and success. However, they're still from Indiana, and despite winning the first two games of this series, they're going to lose to the Heat. Oh, well.
My prospective winners who should face off in to represent the east in the Finals:
  • Boston Celtics: Their core Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen) has seen it all, from a championship to injuries to heartbreak at the hands of the Lakers a couple years ago. Their young talent (like Brandon Bass who went off for 27 points a couple nights ago, 18 of which came in the third quarter) has filled a lot of holes that have opened as the core has aged, but it's point guard Rajon Rondo who makes this team eminently dangerous to go all the way.*** Garnett has played like a younger man in the playoffs so far, dominating the boards and draining 17-footers like he did in Minnesota. This may be the Big Three's last chance to win a second championship, without which much of their rabid fan base will think they fell short of expectations. Last year, the team traded defensive center and Ubuntu (togetherness) brother Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, and if they meet in the Finals, this will be as compelling as any of the possible match-ups.
  • Miami Heat: Last night, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade brought the business to the Pacers, getting one step closer to another conference final. After the theatrics of building the core of this larger-than-life team, anything short of a championship is an utter failure that could likely spell the breakup of the three superstars. The third, Chris Bosh, has proven his value in absence due to injury, but if James and Wade can play the way they have the past couple games they'll survive long enough for him to get healthy. Many fans of the NBA can't stand James, criticizing his perceived inability to close big games. He just won his third MVP award in four years in what may have been his best season, but without a championship, nothing else matters for his legacy.
Finally, here are the teams that will face off in the conference championship out west:
  • San Antonio Spurs: This dynasty has won four championships, the first coming 13 years ago in Virgin Islander Tim Duncan's rookie season, but it's been five years since their last one. They always fly under the radar, even when marching ever onward towards another championship as they did in the mid-aughts. Like Garnett, "The Big Fundamental" (Duncan) has played like a younger version of himself down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he also benefitted from many DNPs (did not play), with the listed reason being "Old." Frenchman and guard Tony Parker had an MVP-caliber season, carrying the team when third star, Argentine Manu Ginobili, went down with a torn meniscus. The fourth major figure on the team is coach Gregg Popovich, who is making his seventh appearance with the Spurs in the conference finals. They've also benefitted from talented, young role-players, much as the Celtics have. Watching Dunkin and the others play without any wasted movements, turning it on at the end to seal the game in crunch time makes me think they may have enough to close out their season with another improbable championship. But the amazing thing is that this team hasn't lost a basketball game in almost a month!! Perfect in the playoffs is a good way to come into the conference finals.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: In 2008, new owner Clay Bennett knifed one of America's best basketball cities into moved his SuperSonics out of Seattle when lawmakers decline to pay for a new arena. Today, they have brought professional sports fever to the southwestern burg of Oklahoma City. This team has as much young talent as any team in the league. MVP candidate and three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant (at 6'10 with a wingspan of 7'5" "The Durantula" is an apt nickname) is just 23, as is scoring point guard Russell Westbrook. Twenty-four-year-old shooting guard James Harden**** is called the "Old Man" by his teammates, obviously for his beard and on-court wisdom. So far in the playoffs, the three have combined for just shy of 70 points per game, playing at a breakneck pace. In addition they get solid contributions from Perkins and always-hustling Nick Collison. They are exciting and flashy, but the question is how they'll match up against the veteran Spurs who are hotter than anyone. One thing we do know is that they will be a dominant force in the west for years to come.

That's where it stands right now, so enjoy the conference finals on TNT with that hilarious and astute studio crew. And Shaq.

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

Today's show is paired with the Belgian Trappist/Abbey dubbel, similar to the quadrupel described in a previous post, but with less body, sweetness, and alcohol. When done right, this style is fantastic, with sweet, bitter, and spicy/fruity flavors blending into a complex and unique taste experience that masks the moderately high alcohol content (6-8% ABV) and leaves no cloying sweetness on the tongue. Trappist monastaries of the Cistercian order are the only producers of authentic Trappist ales (and cheeses). However, similar styles are produced elsewhere in Belgium, and since they cannot use the name, they are called Abbey beers. Historically, this beer was made for the enjoyment and spiritual health of the monks, occasionally sold to the community. But the brewing tradition of the monks is an institution in itself, and one that has made this world a better place (at least for beer drinkers!).

But why pair this show with a dubbel? Well, because I'll be serving my homebrewed version at the end-of-blog party on Saturday, of course!! Hope to see you then.


* In addition to performances from such legendary groups as Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Clash, Queen, and more, Bob Marley & The Wailers would release a live album from recordings of concerts performed at the Lyceum on July 18-19, 1975.
** After Saturday's game, Craig Sager from TNT interviewed MWP at his locker in front of a gaggle of other reporters. One of the others got tired of waiting and asked him a question. MWP responded somewhere along the lines of, "What do you think you're doing? Don't know know Craig Sager is asking the questions? You know, Craig Sager with the funny jackets. From TNT. Sorry, Craig, what were you saying?"
*** What was GM Danny Ainge thinking when he considered trading him?!?! If the Celtics have an immediate future, it's with the ball in the hands of #0.
**** Harden not only exacted revenge on Metta World Peace for the elbow to the head when the Thunder vanquished the Lakers, but he also beat Kobe, his high school hero.


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