By Dillon Neibel
“Once in a while you get shown the light/ In the strangest of places if you look at it right.” That quote is a lyrical line from the song Scarlet Begonias by the Grateful Dead, and it is a song, band and a sound that I have been thinking of a lot lately in these trying times.
Between all the vast uncertainty and fear from the Coronavirus, the amassed division that this country has been facing from all of the political tribalism and the trials and tribulations of my personal life, the Grateful Dead has been a saving grace for me as of late to say the least.
With that being said, this month’s album review will be of the Grateful Dead’s album, Europe ‘72.
This will be my first time reviewing a live album, but for the Dead this is only fitting as this band is most famous for their incredible live performances and have even been said to have changed the concert experience forever. The Grateful Dead is full of rich history, fun facts, and all around iconicism. They probably have the biggest cult fame following of any band, with their major followers known as Deadheads and hundreds or possibly even thousands of them touring along with the band for upwards of several decades, I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say they have a culture of their own.
The Grateful Dead play music in a way that can cross multiple genres at once and while some songs are more folk or country like and others are just real get down funky jams. So, in our first song of Europe’72 we get a real taste of that range in the track Cumberland Blues.
A bouncy little ditty that literally tells us “I gotta get down.” Cumberland Blues is a perfect example of the twanging guitar, refreshingly loose piano, and angelic falsetto vocals that one should anticipate kicking back and drifting into with this band’s timeless sound.
Just like in any Dead show the tempo is always pleasantly unpredictable, and in our second track He’s Gone, we get it dialed down to a genuinely laxed groove that contains one line in particular that will make many think of what is probably the band’s most recognised logo. The line is “Steal your face right off your head,” and the logo is known as the Stealy Face or just Stealy.
Track three is one of the more popular numbers from the Dead’s extensive library. One More Saturday Night is a song that plays out just about exactly how you would expect (depending on whether or not the band decides to turn it into a jam session) and is one I think you will surely find a place for on a playlist or two.
Jack Straw is another beautifully melodic tune that dials the tempo down again. For those who are familiar, the opening lyrics can take weight off your shoulders as the sound passes through your ears.
“We can share the women, we can share the wine/ We can share what we got of yours cause we done shared all of mine.”
You Win Again is actually a cover of a Hank Williams song and is basically a solid enforcer of the fearless easy-going sound that the band obtains.
China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider on the other hand flow together for another top notch jam that the Dead shared with us. I really don’t want to say much about this gem either, since I would hate to do it injustice. What i will say is that the main baseline is incredible and the jam session is nothing to scoff either. Also, the lyrics this song beholds are entirely Mad Hatter-esqe and sung accordingly.
“Krazy Kat peeking through a lace bandanna/ Like a one-eyed cheshire, like a diamond-eye jack/ A leaf of all colors plays a golden-string fiddle/ To a double-e waterfall over my back/ Comic book colors on a violin river crying leonardo/ Words from out a silk trombone.”
Brown Eyed Woman is the song that got me back on the Dead bus so to say. As it started this current audio therapy kick I have been on. This song just has everything you want and expect in a Grateful Dead song, from the Instrumentals, to the lyrics and how they are sung with true heart and soul. The timing is nothing short of perfection in this groove from first to last note and lyric. For the beginning stamps the pace.
“Gone are the days when the ox fall down/ Take up the yoke and plow the fields around.”
While Hurts Me Too, Mr. Charlie, and Tennessee Jed are all terrific songs, I will not be diving into them as much as we have a few songs left that I really want to talk about. And hey, if you have any wits about you you’ll listen to the album yourself anyway. Oh, and did i mention Europe ‘72 has a well formulated epilogue and prelude?
Ramble on Rose, another timeless Jam that’s guaranteed to put a smile on the face of anyone with soul. This bumping and swaying tune once again has the perfect music to lyric ratio that practically bounces right off each other. If this line doesn’t sell you when you give it a listen, then you might just be a grooveless cause.
“Just like Crazy Otto, just like Wolfman Jack/ Sittin’ plush with a royal flush, aces back to back/ Just like Mary Shelly, just like Frankenstein/ Clank your chains and count your change and try to walk the line.”
Sugar Magnolia, So much could be said of this one. It is without a doubt one of their most recognisable songs. A wild boogie that is purely through and through a Grateful Dead song in superior fashion. The lyrics of this one are probably in the Deadhead bible word for word, as it is such a great representation of the ideologies that embody their go-with-the-flow philosophy. The chorus just says it all.
“She’s got everything delightful. She’s got everything I need/ Takes the wheel when I’m seeing double. Pays my ticket when I speed.”
Truckin, is a song in which you can take everything I said about Sugar Magnolia and at least tri[ple it in significance and meaning. This might very well be the staple Grateful Dead song if there was one. One line alone should be distinguishable to all and is synonymous to this iconic band.. That line is..
“What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been.”
Finally I will end it with the concert’s finale song, Morning Dew. One More Saturday Night, Sugar Magnolia and Truckin might have brought people to a Grateful Dead show, but songs and performances like Morning Dew are the reason why the culture of Deadheads came to be and is. And that alone should entice you into listening.
You can see the remaining band members perform today under the name Dead and Company, with famed musician John Mayor filling in for the legendary Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia. You can also see some great local tribute bands that capture the Dead’s magic such as Jake’s Leg or the Schwag, the latter of which I have seen several times and has always been nothing short of an experience.