Thursday, May 24, 2012

5/24/72 Strand Lyceum: "Sugar Magnolia," MLB, and the ESB

When: Wednesday, May 24, 1972
Where: Lyceum Theatre, London, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs, stream the show from here)
  1. Cold Rain & Snow, Beat It On Down The Line, Mr. Charlie, Deal, Me & My Uncle, Hurts Me Too^, Dire Wolf, Black-Throated Wind, Chinatown Shuffle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Playing In The Band, You Win Again^, Jack Straw, Casey Jones
  2. Rockin' Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu, Mexicali Blues, Black Peter, Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Sing Me Back Home > Sugar Magnolia > Turn On Your Lovelight > The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)  E: One More Saturday Night
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.
^ Appears on Europe '72; final version of "Hurts Me Too" and final Pigpen performance of "Lovelight"

Is that a fish-lens effect, or is it the Dead?
Stellar recordings of this blistering show have been in wide circulation for many years, making it a Europe favorite of many Deadheads.* The performance is above average from start to finish, reaching incredible heights at times. Truly a show for the ages! In the liner notes, we learn from attendee Chris Jones that in 1972 the Lyceum was a ballroom, not the theatre arrangement we see in the photo to the left. He also reminds me that the New Riders of the Purple Sage opened these shows

The "Cold Rain & Snow" (just the second on the tour) that opens the show as a rarity, is very well played, with stellar lead play and vocals from Jerry. We're clearly off to a special start tonight, folks!! A few songs later, "Me & My Uncle" scorches from start to finish, with great drums, bass, guitars, and piano. Yes, that's everyone. This is yet another fantastic version of "Playin'" that stretches a bit longer than most on the tour. The jamming is excellent and weird throughout, and you can tell we're in for a treat for set two!

And what a treat it is! The "Rockin' Pneumonia" that opens the second set is very good and a bit smoother than the one the previous night. It's great to hear the band having so much fun up there!! The "Black Peter that follows is the first for the tour (and first for the whole year, in fact), and it is incredible. This Jerry ballad that has really grown on me over the years for its lyrical strength, and I wish I could have featured it in Song of the Day. It's a story of a coal miner dying of black lung disease, and there is wisdom in the koan-like lines, "It seems like everything, leads up to this day / And it's just like every other day, that's ever been." Well, this version is a magnificent, stand-alone performance that really shakes the soul, another example of the Dead taking advantage of their Lyceum residency to explore some songs they haven't played much (if at all) on the tour so far.

The rest of the set is absolutely epic. "Truckin'" is a hot start, even with a flubbed lyric from Bobby, and the jam is as they all are on this tour - stellar!! We're then treated to one of Billy's best solos of the tour, which Phil caps off by ripping the roll into "The Other One." What this segue lacks in tone and delivery, it makes up for in volume!! The jam that follows is everything you want from "The Other One," pure energy and chaos!! The spacey section in the second half features one of the most remarkable guitar screams I've ever heard from Garcia, fanning away at the strings while toeing the wah to create a blood-curdling effect. Amazing!! I'm not going to get into too much detail, but this is one of the finest jams of the tour, and that's saying a lot!! They cap it off with another spectacular version of "Sing Me Back Home," making me wonder what ever happened to this song after 1972? It's moving and interesting, and it fits the death-ballad spot that tends to cap off these epic jams to complete the psychedelic life cycle.

The "Sugar Mags" is a great rockin' version, well worth a listen - and not just for bridging the gap to the Pigpen portion of the set. And what a healthy portion it is!! Diving right into a raging "Lovelight" gets it off to a great start, with Phil and Jerry dueling and Bobby doing a great job keeping up with the extremely rapid pace. Pigpen finds some new and interesting raps ("I know you got it, I've been in your door before," "You took your love, and you left my door," etc.) we're also treated to a very brief "Caution" tease with an ominous howl of "All you need...." It's just a tease, and Pig and the band all finish the song strongly, falling directly into a particularly measured version of "The Stranger." Pigpen provides some of his own accompaniment with a soulful whirring of the organ to go with his sorrowful vocal delivery. Jerry's solo is less angry screaming than pensive and sad on this night, but it nails the whole feel of the song. It's amazing how varied the delivery of this song was considering how few versions we have to enjoy. Pigpen gets all worked up into an angry, howling mess in the final vocals. What a fantastic song to close out a fantastic set!!

Worth mentioning:
  • "BIODTL" is a bit on the slow side, but very well played.
  • Another fantastic "Mr. Charlie," get it while you can. So sad that there are so few left....
  • "Deal" is a played in measured tempo, and you can tell from the vocals that Jerry is totally dialed in tonight!! According to Bobby, this rendition is "respectfully dedicated to the memory of Reverend Gary Davis," the legendary bluesman who died several weeks before. Davis was born in 1896 in South Carolina and lost his sight as an infant. Singing and playing ragtime, blues, and gospel songs, he developed a finger-picking guitar style that was hugely influential on American music, including the Grateful Dead. He died on May 5th in Hammonton, New Jersey at the age of 76.
  • Seeing as this is the "Hurts Me Too" from the record, it's a highlight. Same goes for "You Win Again."
  • I can't remember where, but I think there was a "White Rabbit" tease somewhere in the first set.
  • This is a very hot version of "Mexicali Blues," but again I don't want to highlight an entire set. Short straw, sorry.
  • Following "Black Peter" there is a well-formed "Beer Barrel Polka" tuning that Jerry tries to segue directly into "Truckin'." Unfortunately, the rest of the band doesn't jump on it with him.
  • Bobby dedicates the "Saturday Night" encore to "the key of C." What a showstopper, can't wait for tomorrow night!!

Song of the Day: "Sugar Magnolia"

This classic rock song became a show-stopper and Deadhead euphemism for "the woman of my dreams." It's a simple, adoring lyric is filled with blooming blossoms, color, sunlight, and a river. The opening chords are as characteristic as the opening notes of "Truckin'" (both appeared on American Beauty), but this one came to signal the last chance to really shake your tail feathers before the end of the night.

David Dodd points out in the annotations that this song is deeply rooted in American music, not surprisingly for a Hunter classic. The magnolia tree is native to the Americas (and Asia), showcasing fragrant white and purple/pink flowers signalling the beginning of spring. I first came to admire them while living in New Orleans (there was one in the lot behind my apartment), and here in Philly one of my favorite spring gardens features several magnificent trees. The opening verse, much like "Playin'" and other care-free songs of this era, celebrates the pleasures of a careless life:
Sugar Magnolia blossom's blooming
Head's all empty and I don't care
Saw my baby down by the river
Knew she'd have to come up soon for air
From there, the narrator takes us under the willow, where he begs his lover, "We can have high times if you'll abide." Ladies and gentlemen, that is how you "discover the wonders of nature." The annotations make comparison to the nymph-like creature Goldberry from J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy, particularly for the "rolling in the rushes" line at the end of the second verse.

The woman who is the subject of this song fills all the narrator's needs, desires and wishes, by driving when he's too blitzed to see straight, paying his speeding tickets,** diligently waiting backstage, and dancing the zydeco. But it's the sensory descriptors that paint an emotional sketch that is as much about the feeling behind the love as it is about the person so cherished.

In Phil Lesh's autobiography Searching for the Sound, he describes that Bobby adding the line "jumps like a Willys in four-wheel drive" was the last straw for Hunter's songwriting partnership with him. When i first heard the song, I was always puzzled by that line until my mom explained it's basically a Jeep.

The finale of the song is "Sunshine Daydream," little more than a refrain of supplication that the band played with over the years. At first, it was played straight, but by the mid-'70s each line was preceded by a single beat before jumping into the final rage. As Dodd explains in his published version of the annotations,
The space between these parts ["Sugar Mags" and "Sunshine Daydream"] could be as brief as the space of several beats; could frame a set, as in the closing of Winterland [on 12/31/78]; or could be as long as a week, the case of the performance occurring in the week of Bill Graham's death, on October 25, 1991, when "Sunshine Daydream" came during the Polo Field concert in Golden Gate Park a week after the band opened a show with  "Sugar Magnolia" (Graham's favorite Grateful Dead song) at the Oalkand Coliseum Arena.
However they were arranged, the two are clearly born of the same kernel of inspiration. Hearing them, while at times a bit wearisome, never fails to bring a smile to my face, even on the toughest of days.

*     *     *     *     *

One More Trip Around the Bases

I know I did a sports post yesterday, but I want to get one more baseball post in before the tour ends.
  • I was watching MLB network late on the night of 5/18, the night Justin Verlander got 25 outs without surrendering a hit. He had called into the broadcast earlier, and I caught the replay of his phenomenal interview. The retired players asked him to walk them through specific at-bats (including the one that resulted in a hit), and it was incredible to hear his thought process and his reflections on execution. He described how he got one slider to break at 50 feet ("a 50-footer"), and the next pitch - also a slider - was a 55-footer. What incredible control to be able to execute those similar but subtly distinct pitches, and what a nightmare to try to hit either of those pitches, let alone back-to-back. Doc Halladay - another master pitcher at the height of his powers - doesn't talk in such detail (though I'm sure he's thinking the same thing), and it goes to show what a special modern, professional athlete Verlander is. When asked when he started thinking he had a chance for another no-no, he interrupted the question to interject, "The third inning." WOW!! That dude's got brass... and brash! On top of all that, he said he had started to get a blister on his finger after his last start, so he changed his grib a bit. I guess it worked!! No one is supposed to mention the possibility of a no-no when it's working, but apparently Verlander can tell you all about it once it's through!!! Two more outs without a hit, and Verlander would have joined a very small club (of six) of pitchers to throw at least three no-hitters in a career. Hats off to you, JV! After watching those highlights and listening to his thoughts, I think he's got at least one left in that unbelievable right arm....
  • The Phillies were starting to put it together, winning six straight recently behind major contributions from Cole Hamels and surprisingly Joe Blanton. However, it turns out they were just playing the Padres, the Astros, and the Cubs. The Nationals have their number, taking six of their last eight games.
  • Long-suffering Cliff Lee has a jaw-dropping 0.76 WHIP and an 0-1 record to show for it. No worries, Cliff, we know you're killing it!
  • Phillies catcher Carlos "Chooch"* Ruiz has been raking, hitting right around .348, moving up from hitting seventh to sixth, arriving at fifth on 5/14. In his first four games in the five-hole, he was 10-for-15 with 7 RBI and 5 runs. Not bad for a defensive catcher. (Of course, he went hitless until they moved him to the 4-hole last night, when he went 3-for-4.)
  • When it became clear that Chase Utley was going to miss a chunk of time for the Phillies, the concern was whether Freddy Galvis could hit well enough to not sink the team. He's only hitting .235 overall, but in May he's hitting a serviceable .279 with2 HR, 12 RBI and slugging .810. Pretty good for a defensive rookie who's not quite ready for the bigs!!
  • The defending world-champion Cardinals were killing it for a stretch, but after slowing down a bit they're looking mortal. Good thing, because when you lose your best player to free agency and one of your top pitchers to injury you should really struggle a bit. Good team, though; keep an eye on them!
  • I see the NL Central coming down to a dogfight between the Reds and the Cardinals. Both teams are built to win now and playing solid baseball.
  • Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman is pitching phenomenally. He breaks the 100-MPH barrier regularly, but the really impressive thing is the movement he milks out of it. They're handling him with kid gloves, pitching once or twice a week, but he's got the goods, folks.
  • Speaking of coming down to earth, Matt Kemp slowed before heading to the DL for a bit, and the Dodgers slowed with him. That's why you build a big lead, especially in a winnable division. Don't freak out yet, Giants fans; it's early, yet.
  • The AL East looks upside-down, with the Orioles and Rays at the top and the Red Sox and Yankees at the bottom. Crazy....
  • Despite captain Derek Jeter hitting like a younger version of himself, the Yankees are struggling big time. They lost 6-0 to the Royals earlier this week. Ouch!
- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

Today's beer is the extra special bitter, or ESB, a stronger version of the typical London session ale, the bitter. In general it is a bit on the malty side with ample hops to balance the flavor, and because of it's strength (5-6% ABV or more), a bit of the alcohol flavor is commonly present. English versions will feature a toasty malt profile and an Anglo hop balance, often from Goldings or Fuggles hops. In geeky beerbars in the states, you will often find these ales served traditionally from casks that are hand-pumped or gravity poured from a "firkin" resting on the bar. Cask-conditioned ales are naturally carbonated by being sealed before fermentation is complete. As the yeast completes its charge, the carbon dioxide byproduct has nowhere to go but into solution as the pressure builds. This is an example of what English beer geeks call "real ale," as opposed to the commercial (or American) practice of forced-carbonating the beer with pressurized carbon dioxide gas. To experience a traditional English version, try one of these fantastic brews, either in the bottle or on cask: Fullers is the gold standard, Wells Bombardier and Hobgoblin are closely tied for second, and Young's Special London Ale is also quite special. Export versions you can find in the States are typically different from the traditional versions in England, which tend to be a bit stronger and more malty. When in England, be sure to sample a wide variety for comparison!!

American-brewed versions are about the same strength or stronger. The malt profile will commonly leave the toasty, English corner to venture towards the caramel end of the spectrum, and it's more common for these styles to utilize American hops like Cascade or the like, alone or in combination with English hops. Here are a few respectable examples produced in the U.S.: even though they are now owned by a mega-brewery, Redhook makes the version that first turned me onto the style***, but be sure to check out Sawtooth from Colorado's Left Hand Brewing Company and Boont from Anderson Valley Brewing in California. A big shout-out to southeast Pennsylvania's own Scarlet Lady from Stoudt's and the Extra Special Ale from Yards.

The ESB is today's pairing suggestion because it's one of London's typical styles, but it's also one of the fantastic brews that will be on tap for Saturday's party. I've conditioned the brew in the keg, but it'll be pushed through the tap and into your glass with carbon dioxide because I don't have a hand pump or a proper firkin. Pair this one withe BBQ baked beans we'll be serving at the party.


* Interestingly, this show is missing from the Deadhead's Taping Compendium, Vol. 1, which I can only guess was an inadvertent error. Ouch!!!
** This line ("pays my ticket when I speed") is one of the most commonly mis-heard in all of Dead-dom, mistakenly understood by some as, "bakes my chicken when I sleep."
*** It was after a crazy week on tour with SCI, and after the last show I was double-fisting a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine and a Redhook ESB. The combination was sublime!!

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