Rockin' the Rhein
Rheinhalle - Duesseldorf, W. Germany
[April 24, 1972]
The Music Box's #2 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2004, Volume 11, #10
Written by John Metzger
Rockiní the Rhein is the fourth compilation of material to be plucked from the Grateful Deadís legendary tour of Europe in the Spring of 1972, however, none of the previous efforts have showcased one of the eraís mammoth concerts in its entirety. Although the outing is less likely to be of interest to casual fans for whom the concision of Hundred Year Hall probably suffices ó Rockiní the Rhein is nearly four hours in length, including its pair of bonus tracks taken from a show in May 1972 (Turn on Your Lovelight and The Stranger) ó the three-disc set features some extraordinarily powerful moments that are not to be missed. Of course, it also contains a few less than perfect tracks, too ó after all, this is a warts-and-all endeavor ó but thatís always been a part of the beauty and the charm of the Grateful Dead. Simply put, the group was never afraid, particularly in its early years, to stand on stage and wield its power in ways that sometimes utterly failed to coalesce and other times formed the most awesomely beautiful tapestry of sound that one could imagine. Fortunately, the latter was more often the rule than the exception to it, holding true not only in general terms but also at the concert in question, which took place on April 24 at the Rheinhalle in Dusseldorf, West Germany.
Perhaps, one of the most interesting aspects about Rockiní the Rhein is the manner in which it spotlights both of the Grateful Deadís keyboard players at the time: Ron "Pigpen" McKernan and Keith Godchaux. By early 1972, founding member Pigpen was suffering the ill-effects of his hard-living lifestyle, and although this trek across Europe was his last hurrah, he didnít allow his final efforts to go to waste. His swirling organ accompaniments consistently blew through all the right spaces, coloring everything from the clattering fury of Truckiní to the driving chug of Casey Jones to the gentle sway of Me & Bobby McGee. Yet, it was his unassailably uncanny knack for agilely delivering soulful blues tunes (Chinatown Shuffle and Next Time You See Me) and comically unadulterated rants (Good Loviní and Turn on Your Lovelight) where he truly had an opportunity to shine.
In contrast, Keith Godchaux had joined the Grateful Dead just a few months earlier, and whatís most notable about his contributions to Rockiní the Rhein is how seamlessly he already had assimilated himself into the ensemble. Later in his stint with the group, he often was barely a presence in its music, but in the beginning, he was a breath of fresh air, frequently adding a jazzy flair that seemingly carried the bandís exploratory music even further into the stratosphere. For example, he injected a saloon-like swing into the bucolic flight of Tennessee Jed, a zestful flourish into the kaleidoscopic splendor of Playing in the Band, and a subtly sorrowful sense of grace into a cover of Elmore Jamesí It Hurts Me Too.
Of course, the other factor weighing heavily upon Rockiní the Rhein is the blend of easy-going playfulness and unbridled urgency that the Grateful Dead lent to much of the music it performed on its 1972 tour of Europe. Thereís no question that the band was at the top of its game, delivering some of the most consistently superlative concerts of its career. Joining the sterling handiwork of its keyboard players were Bob Weirís angular riffs, the steadfast precision of Bill Kreutzmannís percussion, and the intertwined leads from Jerry Garciaís quicksilver guitar and Phil Leshís brawny bass. Together, the collective whipped Good Loviní into a delectably frothy concoction and gleefully rode upon the crested waves of the twisting, turning transformation of China Cat Sunflower into I Know You Rider.
Yet, this was merely the beginning. Shortly after embarking upon its second set, the Grateful Dead launched into an epic Dark Star that, within the span of 44 minutes, provided the soundtrack for a spiritual journey that managed to touch the far reaches of the cosmos. Interrupted only briefly by the strange insertion of Me & My Uncle, which erupted like a dream from within the center of the debris-filled maelstrom, the tune mutated from melodic beauty to frenzied chaos as the band fully explored every nook and cranny of the songís wide-open expanses, the eerie lysergic gleam of The Other One never far from view. The mournful gospel strains of Wharf Rat cushioned the landing, while the ebullient refrain of Sugar Magnolia brought a seamless hour of music to a rousing conclusion. Indeed, like a fine wine, many of the Grateful Deadís performances only have improved with age ó after all, there simply has never been another ensemble quite like it ó and kept in the vault for over 32 years, Rockiní the Rhein was ripened to absolute perfection.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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