Monday, May 7, 2012

5/7/72 Bickershaw Festival: "Good Lovin'," Troublemakers Unite, & Imperial Stout

Sorry for the late post, everyone, it was a wild weekend that ended in me travelling today, Without further ado, the GRATEFUL DEAD!!!

When: Sunday, May 7, 1972
Where: Bickershaw Festival, Wigan, England
Setlist: (In order of the released CDs)
  1. Truckin', SugareeMr. Charlie, Beat It On Down The Line, He's Gone, Chinatown Shuffle, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Black-Throated Wind, Next Time You See Me, Happy Birthday to Billy, Playing In The Band, Tennessee Jed, Good Lovin', Casey Jones
  2. Greatest Story Ever Told, Big Boss Man, Ramble On Rose, Jack StrawDark Star > Drums > The Other One > Sing Me Back Home, Sugar Magnolia, Turn On Your Lovelight > Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away  E: One More Saturday Night
As always, my personal highlights are bolded.

Pigpen, Bobby, and Jerry in front of their largest crowd of the tour at Bickershaw,  5/7/72. Lauren Goldberg.

The Dead’s show at the Bickershaw Festival capped off a rain-soaked, muddy weekend in Wigan, England. Before listening to this show, the context reminded me of Woodstock, infamously one of the band’s worst performances of their early years. Rain, wind, mud, a huge crowd at an outdoor festival – I had pretty low expectations. Upon first listening to the recording, however, I am tempted to say this is likely one of the best shows of the tour. The playing in the first set is stellar from start to finish, with concise and energetic versions of all the classic songs, and a lot of humorous stage banter.

The Dead performing for the masses.
Jack Frost’s review in the Deadhead’s Taping Compendium, Vol. 1 (p 384) notes that the weekend’s first few rays of sunshine broke through the clouds during this performance. Reading his review reminded me that for many European rock fans, this was their first chance to experience the musical/social/psychic event of Grateful Dead concert firsthand. Frost says he was familiar with much of their repertoire from records, though there were many yet-to-be-released songs played on this tour.* I agree with him, it’s only upon listening to the show over and over that was able to pick out any flaws, a credit to the band’s incredible performance. Furthermore, Simon Robinson covers some of the other performances of the weekend including the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Dr. John’s gris gris stylings as the Night Tripper, and a mind-bending set by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. At some point during the Dead’s performance, the walls on the perimeter of the site ceased to exist, and coal miners and their families in their Sunday best came to see what the commotion was all about. The image of working-class townies and mud-splattered hippies navigating the wasteland of black filth that the festival grounds had become makes me smile! It was certainly a lasting memory for those in attendance, and a film of the festival was released on DVD, including performances by the Kinks and Donovan, but I have never seen it. If you have, please let me know about it!

Jerry holding court  backstage.
The “Truckin’” opener is a treat, smoking from start to finish. Quite an adventurous start with lots of energy and extremely tight playing, you can tell this is not going to be just your average show. Before jumping into “Sugaree,” Bobby suggests the crowd huddle for warmth, but the heat is coming from the stage. To me, the “BIODTL” is the best of the tour so far. Billy sets the tempo ant the rest of the band rises to the occasion, a nod to their jug band days with the perspective of anther eight years of maturity under their belt. Bobby relays the message that the Parliament voted down an anti-festival bill, allowing gatherings such as this one to continue unabated.

On that note, the band launches into a full-on version of “He’s Gone” with a fully developed jam. Jerry delivers the vocals with a hint of anger. This song is certainly coming into its own! A bit later, Pigpen delivers again with an energetic, compact version of “Next Time You See Me.” As the crew sorts out some technical issues, the band decides it’s time to commemorate the 26th birthday of Bill Kreutzman with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Once the crew has the bugs worked out, Bobby introduces Donna, and the band launches into the obligatory, compact version of “Playin’,” the first deep exploration of the show. The jam is a harbinger of the explorations to come, and it doesn’t disappoint. The “Good Lovin’” is good, but not excellent. I’ll be exploring it more in the Song of the Day.

The second set starts with ample banter from the stage. First off, several of the audience members, seeking a better view, climbed the speaker towers, and the festival organizers call on them to return to the ground. Bobby sums it up as only he can: “You don’t want to cause a blooming catastrophe, so get the fuck down.” Then someone lets off some fireworks that must have exploded a bit too close to the crowd, and again Bobby makes the gentle suggestion, “In the future we want to aim those a little higher, whoever’s doing that. Mighty pretty and mighty lethal.” The second set opener is one of the hottest versions of “Greatest” of the entire tour. Jerry’s guitar is like a scintillating spinner, with Bobby and Donna belting the vocals with appropriately high energy and volume. Donna helps Jerry wrap up his solo, and she and Bobby bang out the final lyrics. A bit alter, Bobby asks the crowd about the burning stench coming from the audience, suggesting they’re burning their socks. Their reply to his inquiry as to whether they’re cold is unequivocal: “NO!!”

For the rest of the second set, the Dead construct a musical time machine. From the first notes of “Dark Star” they invoke the spirits of Live/Dead. The entire jam is pure Primal Dead, treating the English crowd of 90,000 soaked and muddy souls to a flashback to the musical accompaniment of an historical context that can never be recreated. Listen carefully to the quiet, dark jam starting about 10 minutes into the track, paying careful attention to Jerry’s guitar tone (especially around 12:00), Phil’s ominous bass rumblings, and the re-emergence of the main theme as Jerry eases into the verse. You will swear this recording is from 1969!! The spacey segment after the verse soon devolves into a drum solo, and even before the familiar rumble of Phil’s bass, Billy clearly signals the coming of “The Other One,” another throwback to the Primal Dead days. The only part that reminds us it’s not 1969 is the missing “Cryptical Envelopment” introduction, but we’re way past that now. “The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began.” The jam has every ounce of energy you would expect, with Pigpen’s organ playing a prominent role in a couple section. The jam slows down, at times getting a bit muddled, but as it picks up we realize we’re in it for the long haul: this version of “The Other One” tops 30 minutes!! A significant portion of the song consists of a lengthy, broad space section. An energetic, melodic jam emerges from space that is sparkling and beautiful, eventually giving way to the final vocals. The band moves on to a slow, stunning version of “Sing Me Back Home” that starts and ends like a sing-along. Jerry’s solo in the middle screams with longing and anger, and Donna sends this one over the top with her wails.

Almost to riff off their Primal Dead combination of “Dark Star” and “The Other One,” the band jumps right into a lively, well-played version of “Lovelight.” Jerry dominates this one, and Pigpen throws down the standard verses and a couple brief raps. At the end of the jam, Jerry launches into the introduction to “Caution,” but that they quickly veer off into “GDTRFB” makes me think Pigpen may not have been up for an encore. Too bad for us, as that would certainly have capped off a highly unusual setlist. The “GDTRFB” is stellar, however, and by the time Donna jumps in with Jerry’s solo. The jam builds to a huge crescendo, and they top out at the chorus before a slow, steady interpretation of the “And We Bid You Goodnight” theme before the familiar strains of “NFA” emerge. Pigpen makes some fine organ contributions at the beginning and responds to Bobby’s calls of “Not fade awaaaaaaaaay!” at the end.

Worth mentioning:
  • The first set includes an excellent performance of “Chinatown Shuffle.” It’s very up tempo, and Pig spits the lyrics with determination.
  • Another excellent version of “China” > “Rider,” but to me it’s not smoothest handoff in transition from Bobby lead to Jerry solo. In the Compendium, however, Frost sings the praises of the transition.
  • “Brown-Eyed Women” is slow and soulful, and I’m sure the reference to “a storm I’d rather forget” resonates with the drenched crowd.
  • They sure sound like they’re having fun singing “Tennessee Jed,” even Phil is prominent in the chorus!!“Jack Straw” and “Ramble on Rose” are both clean, crisp renditions. Classic!!
  • Bobby humorously introduces Jerry’s solo in the middle of the encore by telling the crowd, “Mr.Garcia, everybody!”

Song of the Day: "Good Lovin'"

Today’s Song of the Day feature is going to diverge a bit from the established format. Pretty much everyone – even the non-Deadhead readers out there – is familiar with this classic song. The lyrics don’t contain a lot of riddles, allusions, or deeply significant messages. This song is about good lovin’, plain and simple, and thus it was a classic vehicle for Pigpen’s raunchy vocal stylings. So instead of exploring the lyrics, I will be dissecting this song as a microcosm of the Dead’s musical maturation from the “dance party” roots of the early days of the Acid Tests and the Haight-Ashbury, to the sophisticated rock-orchestra that unapologetically barreled its way through Europe in 1972.**

From the band’s early days, the bounding R&B groove of “Good Lovin’” provided plenty of room for instrumental exploration behind their front man. These early performances [1967-8?] were driven by the two drummers, following Pigpen’s lead through his explorations of the song’s sensuous themes. The versions from Europe, however, feature only one drummer and are driven more by the guitars. Billy leaves nothing to be desired on the traps, however, and in fact the single-drummer versions may be a bit more maneuverable and agile. Personally, I think several of the versions from this tour are among the band’s best. As I’ve already discussed in previous posts, Pigpen’s raps in Europe were unparalleled, and the version from Bickershaw may not stand up to some of the others, but it shows Pigpen’s traditional position as band-leader and showman. It’s Jerry’s lead guitar that stands out, directing traffic through this jam.

From the opening strains of the classic intro from the [Rascals?] version, the band’s Primal Dead roots are obvious. The rhythmic thumping of bass and drums accent the chord changes of the main theme, and the song is off to the races. I have no idea what it looked like in person, but I always image Pigpen singing this song while hunched over the microphone stand, grasping the mic with both hands while tapping out the beat with the heel of his leather boot and occasionally glancing back at the band to direct traffic. For most of a decade, this was what the fans identified as the Grateful Dead. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Jerry Garcia became commonly viewed as the leader of the band by the fans.

I imagine they do it in part out of deference to their increasingly frail front-man, but the band gladly takes Pigpen’s direction, even if it seems at times like reigning in a thoroughbred on an open track. In song, he calls on his bandmates to slow it down: “Baby, you don’t have to come home like Elliot Ness.*** You got all the time you need. Just start out easy now, just take a stroll.” The band abides, slowing the pace down for a somewhat un-focused rap, which Pigpen quickly aborts, offering, “Shift gears any time you please. Shift on up again now. Fittin to do a little slippin’ and slidin’.” And they’re off to the races again! In 1968, the band was looking to Pigpen for direction, acting like a big band awaiting instructions from their band leader. By 1972, however, Pigpen’s direction almost seems out of place, as if the big band leader is trying to direct a bop jazz combo.

Before long, the song structure re-emerges with in stages, and you’ve almost forgotten where the vocal and instrumental jam had come from. The band eases into it, allowing the listeners to re-focus their perspective, and then – POP! – we’re back in the bass-and-drum driven theme. In all their splendor and glory, the band milks the closing theme for all it’s worth, as the crowd erupts in frantic applause. Pigpen caps it all off with his own commentary: “And it tasted mighty good.”

What makes the versions of “Good Lovin’” from Europe so fantastic to my ears is the musical sophistication combined with Pigpen’s vocal prowess. While Pigpen’s direction may seem unnecessary or even counter-productive at times, the song was never as good when Bobby sang it in later years. Pigpen always had a feel for the R&B roots that came from total immersion in his youth, and his mere presence on the stage provided legitimacy to what may have otherwise been an unfitting context, like the Dead playing “I Fought the Law,” or “Hey Pockey Way.” In 1972, the Dead were on the cusp of venturing into new musical realms, but they were still able to conjure the Primal spirits that first put them onto the map and launched them into orbit.

* * * * * 

Troublemaker’s Unite: Labor Notes Conference

I attended the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago over the weekend, where the left of the labor movement come to exchange ideas, share strategies, and build solidarity for our struggles. It was my first such conference, but they said it was notable because it was one of Labor Notes’ largest gatherings and the first outside of the Detroit area. Workshops ranged from nuts-and-bolts union-building to bargaining strategies and issue education to broader movement discussions about the Arab Spring, Occupy, etc. There were also meetings of workers and union staff around particular industries (i.e., healthcare) or unions (i.e., Teamsters), with actions to support local struggles sprinkled in the mix. In all I had an outstanding time and gained a deeper appreciation for the dedicated labor activists from around the country and around the world.

One of the more interesting workshops I attended was delivered by a panel of unionists about their use of strategic, corporate campaigning strategies as a tool to bolster the power of the workers when faced with increasingly powerful companies. We learned about the struggles of T-Mobile retailers in Connecticut, pork plant workers in North Carolina, sub-contracted housekeepers working at Hyatt in Indianapolis and around the world, and hospital workers in Massachusetts. While coming up somewhat short on specific research and actions that have gone into their campaigns, the stories of these worker struggles were heart-breaking and inspiring. The high point for me was that the panel clearly connected the pressure strategies to the power build by traditional person-to-person organizing in the workplace. Outside of the labor movement, there is as much or more talent and creativity in driving these corporate campaigns, but at times they fall short to me because they aren’t always very well connected to a popular flesh-and-blood base. It’s critical to restrain the unbridled greed and wantonness of corporate behavior in any way possible, but if we have any hope in changing the institution, it will take a mass movement of real, flesh-and-blood people to deliver the kind of power necessary to be successful.

Overall, the participants – not the programs – are what made this conference so remarkable to me. The wisdom of veterans in the struggle and the exuberance of young, dedicated activists provided lessons and inspiration for one another, and the international guests reminded us that workers are engaged in a global struggle for their rights. Leaving, I could only say it was a shame that the conference is only held every two years, but that’s part of what makes it so special.

- Morning Brewer

PS (Pairing Suggestion): 

In honor of the Primal Dead nature of the deep second set and the thick black mud of Bickersaw, we're venturing to the depths for our pairing: the stout. The world-wide classic Guinness defines the style of dry stout, and I don't need to review that one for you (though you should try them in other countries, for variation!). There are several other variations, like the slightly stronger foreign extra stout the sweet or milk stout (often brewed with un-fermentable lactose), the oatmeal stout, and the American stout (typically hoppier and stronger, of course).

Today, I want to focus on the style the Russian imperial stout.**** The history section of the style profile describes it succinctly: "Brewed to high gravity [lots of sugars] and hopping level in England for export to the Baltic States and Russia. Said to be popular with the Russian Imperial Court. Today is even more popular with American craft brewers, who have extended the style with unique American characteristics." The story goes, Catherine the Great had a taste for Irish export stouts, typically stronger and fuller-bodied than their domestic cousins. Eventually, she sent Russian brewers to Dublin to learn how to make them, then instructed them to make them bigger and stronger.

The style is darkest of the dark, the thickest of the thick, the sweetest of the sweet, and the most alcoholic of the alcoholic! It is aggressively hopped, providing more balance to the roast and other strong flavors than contributing overall bitterness. Like this concert, it ages extremely well, so don't be afraid to lay a bottle (or a case) down for several years to taste how its flavors evolve.

This one is a sipping beer, best enjoyed with friends. It pairs wonderfully with desserts, though in moderation to avoid cloying sweetness lingering on the palate. I'll recommend it as a foil to the delicate sweetness of strawberry shortcake, but start with a small glass or else it will over-power the dessert. A large bottle can be sipped on over the course of the entire second set, winding through "Dark Star" and "The Other One," hitting you hard during "Sing Me Back Home," and finally capping it all off with the final refrain of "Not Fade Away."

Here are a few regional suggestions:
  • Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout - I have to start with an English example for history's sake. Not as strong and aggressive as the American versions, but you have to know your roots!!
  • Old Rasputin - Named for Catherine the Great's infamous courtier, this beer from North Coast in California tastes even bigger than its 9% ABV. They also release special anniversary versions of this one.
  • Black Chocolate Stout - Don't miss this offering from Brooklyn! Rich and roasty, it's even stronger than the Rasputin.
  • Imperial Russian Stout - As you can expect from Stone Brewing Company, this one is on the aggressive side. It's miraculous that the hops can shine through such a stiff roast, but they sure do, which helps this beer age particularly well.
  • Ten FIDY - Another canned offering from Oskar Blues in Colorado, and this one doesn't miss!! Be prepared for a banger, though, cause it'll knock your socks off.
  • Yeti - Another Colorado product, this time from Great Divide, may not be as nuanced as the others, but they widely distribute versions of this brew with chocolate, coffee/espresso, vanilla, or combinations thereof. They also age some in oak. Check those out for variations, if you're curious.
  • Dark Lord - A Midwest offering from Three Floyds that you won't forget. Or at 15% ABV, you may not remember!
  • World Wide Stout - You think that's strong?!? Dogfish Head tinkers with the recipe, so they've been released between 15% and 20%. Lately, however, they've been pretty consistent at around 18% ABV. It'll blow your doors off! This beer will only mellow with age, as the bitterness fades and the alcohol flavors blend with the malt and roast. I'd guess it would continue to improve for at least five years, and they often have aged bottles at the brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Let's stop this arms race before it gets too crazy!! Next thing you know, they'll be serving beers inside roadkill.


* I seem to remember reading somewhere (though I can’t recall where now) that Elvis Costello’s first Dead show was at a rainy festival in England. If my memory serves, it seems reasonable to assume this was the show.
** For me, the quintessential example of this transition is the “Good Lovin’” from Frankfurt, but the Bickershaw performance exhibits many of the same juxtapositions of old and new.
*** Elliot Ness headed the Prohibition Bureau in Chicago in the 1930s (the Untouchables), so he was clearly a busy man and probably had just enough time for a quick in-and-out, if that.

***** This is the beer style that forever complicated the classification of extreme beers. There is an historical reason this style is dubbed "imperial," but should I call my huge IPA an imperial IPA or a double IPA? I prefer imperial because you don't necessarily just double the recipe for a double IPA. Just remember, the two are interchangeable in other styles.

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