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Bootleg Country: Grateful Dead – 11/22/72

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And here we are, the Goddamn Grateful Dead.

Without the Dead we would have no bootlegs. Without the Dead there would be no Bootleg Country. Without the Dead my musical life would be much, much different, and a lot more boring.

Talking about why I love the Grateful Dead always leaves me twisted and tongue-tied. There are all kinds of reasons why I love the Dead, but in the end I always sound like a yelping dog, howling at the moon.

The old quote goes that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, writing about the Grateful Dead is like doing the hokey pokey for Helen Keller. The Dead’s music is often just something you have to get. Jerry Garcia has been quoted to say:

Grateful Dead Fans are like people who like licorice. Not everyone likes licorice, but the people who like licorice REALLY like licorice.

I don’t like licorice, but I freakin’ love the Dead.

Reasons I love the Dead

The Grateful Dead wrote some sacrilegiously great songs. Jerry Garcia and his lyricist partner, Robert Hunter, are on par with Lennon/McCartney in terms of song craft. And I’d give the upper hand to Hunter for writing insightful, poetic lyrics.

Add to that a dozen or so heart palpitatingly brilliant songs by the rest of the band and you’ve got a collection of songs that rivals just about anything in rock.

Let’s go ahead and admit it, the biggest chunk of the Grateful Dead’s studio albums suck. They are either too experimental or too over-produced, but they almost always are too awful to listen to more than once. But as any Deadhead will tell you, the beauty of the Dead don’t lie in their studio work; it’s the live stuff that counts, man.

Live, the Dead were the kings of experimentation, lords of improvisation. They constantly reinvented themselves and their music. Some nights they failed. Some nights they flew into the outmost reaches of the stratosphere. Every night they laid it on the line unscripted and always interesting.

Truly, there was nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.

Listening to a crispy soundboard recording of the Dead in concert is like Nirvana (and we’re talking about the spiritual state here, not the grunge band). Lives have been changed by less.

It is as if each member is the lead performer, playing music from the heavens. Yet somehow, on some cosmic connective level they weave in and out of each other creating music that is alive and fitted together perfectly.


Grateful Dead
11/22/72
Austin, TX
Source: Soundboard
Stream this show at Archive.org

The first several songs of the first set are marred by interesting sound problems. During “Sugaree,” Phil Lesh’s bass is over-miked, and overshadows the rest of the instruments and vocals. This allows for a very clear understanding of how Phil used his bass as a lead instrument. He truly plays like no other bass player I’ve ever heard. He drives the rhythm and yet steps outside to move the song in different directions. His playing is immediately recognizable and often outstanding.

In the next few songs both Keith Godchaux’s keyboards and Bob Weir’s rhythm guitar get the same miking situation. Again it is completely fascinating to fully hear how the musicians play their instruments in the context of the song.

1972 is one of the peak years for the Dead. They’d been playing as a band for 7 years and have by now fine-tuned their particular brand of improvisational psychedelia. They had left behind their early days of Acid Test house band and that absolute craziness in favor of strengthened song writing and craftsmanship.

With the release of their two classic albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, the Dead perfect the craft of storytelling in song and shed some of the cosmic dead persona they built during their early years. This is not to say they stopped stretching the limits of what we know as music, for, as indicated here, they still extend their songs into the stratospheric surf. But the songs they use to launch this manic weirdness are better crafted, more finely tuned than what they used before.

They, by this time, have also settled into a two-set pattern. As typical of the time (and ultimately the remainder of their 30 year career) the first set is exemplified by shorter, mostly straightforward songs.

Here they don’t get close to anything out there until the sixth song of the set, "China Cat Sunflower," and even then its coupling with "I Know You Rider" is still just over 11 minutes in length. Hardly the half hour plus treatment that grouping has received in the past.

Some of my favorite moments in Deadland come from the interchanges between songs. The Dead often would squish two or more songs together without stopping for a beat between them. These transitional sequences often created some of the most beautiful, amazing music my ears have ever listened to.

Many's the time I’ve sat with my ear phones on, trying to pinpoint exactly when one song would end and the other begin. The subtle change of melody, one movement at a time, can be a moving experience.

The transition here between "China Cat" and "Rider" is less than brilliant, but it’s still early in the first set, and as all good heads know, the best is saved for the second set.

The first set climaxes with a splendid 16 minute “Playing in the Band.” They leave all comprehension of the song and enter a magic field of improvisation. Garcia spirals into another dimension while Weir prowls and chases Garcia’s lead. Lesh keeps the backbeat moving with thunderous applause from his bass and we are transported to a forgotten time and space.

The second set of a Grateful Dead concert is where the band really takes off. Typically they quickly launch into interstellar overdrive and stay there the rest of the night. Sometimes as few as five songs would be played over 2 hours of music.

On this night, they play more songs with less chaotic madness. The highlights of the set are a beautifully mournful “He’s Gone” punctuated with an ending musical coda that is as touching as it is surprising.

This leads into a version of “Truckin’” that actually makes me rethink the song and maybe even like it. From there we move into a short Drums followed by the apocalyptic “Other One.”

Phil’s bass must have set off seismographs in other counties, it’s so bombastic. It is usually a song reminiscent of God’s thunder, and here it is nothing short of cataclysmic. Playing like that is not of this world.

From there the rest of the set is a bit of a let down. The show is not one of the Dead’s best, it’s not even a highlight of their 1972 run, yet I would still highly recommend it. It’s a great show that stands just below brilliant, a height the Dead reached so often; it’s hard not to feel the twinge of disappointment when they don’t create it again.

But even a less than perfect Dead show is light years beyond what most bands, those mere mortals, ever achieve. Even with its flaws, this is an amazing couple of hours of bootlegged music.

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About Mat Brewster

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    woa! i did not know that sir brewster was of the Dead family. nice. i definitely agree that their live stuff is the place to listen, though i do think that a few of their studio recordings are worth several passes: American Beauty, Workingman’s Dead, Terrapin Station, and (my favorite) Blues For Allah.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Terrific column, Sir Brewster. Maybe it’s because I admittedly don’t ‘get’ the Dead but there are a lot of artists I do ‘get’ that I couldn’t put ahead of Lennon/McCartney. That’s kwazy talk there, Sir.

    Seriously, I do love the bootleg culture they are almost entirely responsible for starting and “Hell in a Bucket” is a song I’ve always liked. I’m really only part heathen. OK- mostly heathen.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i dunno…brewster not so kwazy. Hunter wrote some great lyrics that were overlooked by people outside of the Dead community because, c’mon those hippies just couldn’t be that good!

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    It’s not so much that I am dismissing The Dead because in fairness, like I said, I am not in their camp. It’s more that I put Lennon/McCartney on a pretty high plane. Aw, hell. What do I know? I won’t even listen to the Dixie Chicks. Right, Mark?

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    yes, mr. chip-on-your-shoulder.

  • Kevin Davis

    Thanks for the article, Mat. I’m a casual Grateful Dead fan, a breed of which I’ve not met many, but here are a few thoughts on your article:

    1. While they are undoubtedly responsible for its boom and perpetuation, the idea that there would be no bootlegs without the Grateful Dead is incorrect. Generally, the first recognized bootleg by a major artist is Bob Dylan’s ‘Great White Wonder.’ If someone knows different, I’m glad to stand corrected.

    2. I think my inability to become a full-fledged Dead fan stems from the fact that, while I find Jerry Garcia to be pretty invariably brilliant as a songwriter and instrumentalist, I find the rest of the band to be among the most irritating musical personalities of all-time. I was really excited when I discovered the Jerry Garcia Band simply because there’s no reason someone like Garcia should ever have to split mike time with a singer as mediocre as Bob Weir, never mind Phil Lesh.

    3. I’m the only person I’ve ever met who prefers the Dead’s studio records to their live recordings. During the live performances, the idea of placing extended solos between the verses to a song like “Eyes of the World” or “Franklin’s Tower” seemed a way to break up the continuity of songs that were best heard as cohesive units. And while I admire the Dead’s skills as improv players, I’m far more interested in the songs themselves, and the studio records do more to spotlight them.

    4. I’ve been absorbing bootleg Dead recordings since high school (I’m a ripe old 22 now), and while I’ve tried as hard as I know how, I can’t bring myself to acknowledge the “Drums/Space” thing, as well as any number of improvisational moments that descend into sonic madness, as anything other than instrumental masturbation designed to warp the minds of the acid-trippers. It doesn’t sound like Coltrane’s “Ascenscion,” or other “free” ramblings in which the music is chaotic and turbulent but still with a definitive purpose, but rather like the self-indulgent explorations of amateurs. Garcia was the only musician in the group whose musical tangents were worthwhile (and even they were only so to a point). Phil Lesh plunking incoherently at the high notes on his “G” string while ambient noise buzzes about for ten minutes? No thanks. Give me the studio recording of a great song like “Ripple” or “Ship of Fools” any day of the week.

  • zingzing

    hippies.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    ha! the only the better than drum/space is a whole cd od Dark Star…i’m speaking of Greyfolded.

    hey, you either “get it”, or you don’t.

    as far as bootlegs go, the Dead encouraged taping, so that had a lot to do with it.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    I would also suggest “In the Dark” has a very good album of theirs as well. A great album that showcases their songwriting is “Deadicated”, featuring the likes of Elvis Costello, Dwight Yoakam, Burning Spear and Dr. John. Everyone makes the song their own. Two persoanl favorites are Friend Of The Devil – Lyle Lovett and Ripple – Jane’s Addiction.

    There might have been other bootlegs before, but the Dead were the first ones to permit it, no make that encourage it, on such a wide scale.

  • Dave

    Mark: My Grateful Dead CD collection consists of Greyfolded and Infrared Roses.

    Kevin: You can’t seriously be comparing Garcia favorably to Weir as a singer?

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    Infrafred Roses!! dammit, i just couldn’t come with that title…and i own a copy!

  • http://WillieOneBlood Willie Lively

    Great article!Thanks for the access to an old Austin show.I didn’t get “on the bus”until the Dead were playing Manor Downs right outside of Austin in the early 80’s.72 was Phil’s major year to shine.Thanks to the heavens Phil is shining on today. Willie

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com/ Mat Brewster

    Thanks for the comments fellas. Sir Saleski I am most assuredly in the Dead camp. I’ve got more Dead bootlegs than any other band, and more than I’ll ever be able to listen to. Not that this will stop me from downloading more.

    And you’re right, they have some very good albums. American Beuaty and Workingmans are classic. Terrapin is way over produced, but the suite is brilliant. Theres a few others with good stuff on it, but mostly the albums just don’t do it for me.

    The Dead come with so much cultural baggage that people are often put off by them before they hear a note. Get a copy of American Beauty Sir DJ and you’ll hear some of the magic behind their songs that I’m talking about.

    I’ll grant you, Kevin, that I overstated the existence of bootlegs in the post. There were boots before the Dead and there would be boots without the dead. But they would be regulated to a much smaller subculture were it not for the Deads acceptance of bootleggers.

    Greyfolded is an amazing couple of disks. Someone else did the same format to “The Other One” that floats around in torrent sites from time to time.

    Willie, browse around archive.org abit. They have tons of downloadable/streaming concerts, including a ton of Dead.

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com/ Mat Brewster

    Bicho, I can’t stand most of In the Dark, though its the production that drives me crazy not the songs. And Deadicated has some very nice covers. David Gans produced another covers disk a few years back that was pretty intersting. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of it now.

    Garcia was assuredly the best musician of the bunch but I’d rate the rest of the band, and Lesh in particular quite highly. But yeah, if you’re looking for great singers, the Dead aint your band.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Mat, my pals and I got into the Dead late ’80s and hit every stand they played in LA and the OC. Then made the road “trip” to Vegas every year when they stopped cming around.

    “Dark” was the first new material after we became fans. We had heard most of it live before the album came out, so I am admittedly biased. I wouldn’t hold it in the same league as AB/WD, which I use to have as a double tape which Warner Bros used to release, but there was a perverse pleasure in seeing “Touch of Gray” making it’s way up the charts and on MTV.

    Considering the Dead set up an area in front of the soundboard and even allowed some people to patch in, they did more than just accept tapers.

    On David Gans’ blog, he has an interview from last year with some tapers.

  • Kevin Davis

    Garcia owned Weir as a singer. Garcia had a charismatic voice and sang with a great deal of passion, while Weir sounds a displaced bar-band singer. In my opinion, Weir doesn’t even rate.

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com/ Mat Brewster

    Bicho, I can certainly understand the sentimental love for Dark. Again there are some great songs there too. Heck, I love all but two of the songs on the album, live anyway. It’s just the cheesy studio production that irritates. Like the crazy demonic sounds at the end of Hell in a Bucket.

    Live though, that song rocked.

  • Joey

    Too bad Garcia drained a lot of his life chasing the dragon.

    Great band, great stamina, anyone who has witnessed a concert or several has a story. I saw them 7 or 8 times, all by accident, all spur of the moment, half of them were free tickets (don’t ask me how). My favorite Dead moment in time… a show with the Allman Brother’s in 72 or 73 at RFK in DC. The encore was a jam on “One Way Out” and it flat out ripped the place apart. Truely a great moment for me.

    Favorite all around show… Baltimore Civic in the fall of 72 or 73… I can’t really remember, Dick’s Picks has a release on it. I streamed it once and it sounded pretty rough… but the night inside that Civic Center was golden.

    Now. I break out a CD occasionally, and I still enjoy them rattling away in the background. About Phil’s bass playing. I always found unique. McCartney was unique, Prestia, Clinton, Clarke, Wooten, all of them are unique… but Phil is as unmistakable as the rest of the heavy hitters. It works.

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    Too bad Garcia drained a lot of his life chasing the dragon.

    Indeed. It’s interesting to me that in the early days drugs helped shape the band into greatness, and in the end completely destroyed them.

    The other day I was listening to some local radio station and a version of “Franklin’s Tower” came on. It was obviously not the Dead playing and I couldn’t recognize the singer’s voice, but I immediately recognized Phils bass. It is very distinct.

  • MOON BABY

    MAT I LOVE YOUR WRITING…
    I love the sort of romantic, wistful sort of feeling you have for the classic films, that more …oh i can’t eXactly call it an ‘innocent’ time, yet it feels so far removed from this fast paced, throw-away world…..I’m there…..if only in my dreamzzzz…..I love to read you…you evoke…..yes…..that’s it

  • Deadhead

    Cool article. Long live the goddamn Grateful Dead and thank god we have boots to get us through the void.

    Don’t see this being reported here, so here’s a link to some sad news: Vince Welnick Dead.

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    Moon Baby, what can I say? Thanks. Thanks a lot.

    Deadhead, I hadn’t heard that news, and now I’m deeply saddened. I was no Vincehead, but geez, that’s really awful.

  • Joey

    The release that everyone regards as “American Beauty” is probably attributed to the Rose on the cover… i.e. an American Beauty. But if you give the script a second look you can also see it as an anagram which reads “American Reality.”

  • noselice

    not there to witness the genius of acid testing? when space / drums played you watched peaked minds open up to near freakouts caused by dark chords only to be calmed by happier rythems . Captain Trips with his band would watch the audience and guide them through their opened doors of perception. MIT now teaches a class on how sound reacts in parts of your mind .Bear and Scully soaked the new neo heads with the Steal Your Face and the Dead kept newcomers in tune .The music would grow on you like a fungus. for most it was secondary .the party was first and after the trips are no longer taken then it becomes about the music and then they can blame the next wave of newcomers for letting the secret out and screwing it up. Dea, secret warrants ,interstate drug trafficking ,10 to 15 year sentences and the biggets bust was a secret lab ran by a vegaetarian marathon running berkley professor of “how money travels through russia’s mafia” in a missle silo in the desert at about the same time that Phish broke up .Never did like Phish sounds like the dead in every riff . love the Dead but most of the Dead’s core music is classic americana. taking lines from all sorts of classic folk bluegrass blues jazz songs.if i continued to follow the acid wagons after Jerry’s death onto the Phish Jam band era maybe they would have grown on me like a fungus of rye erogot too but trips are for kids as the old bootleg parking lot vendor shirts said.most don’t want to be an acid casualty so they stop trippin after a short time .that,s why in my opinion some people prefer the short studio songs that sound more like classic american tunes and some prefer the long acid jazz jams that send you to the moon on a flshback . i can touch every sense in my mind when i put a copy of a dead show that i had been to . how hot or cold it was how smelly or sweet smelling who i was with .how i got there .what i bought what i sold . how shakedown street worked .diffrences of east coast shows and west coast shows . politicians kids. cops .mailorder.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    I googled “grateful dead acceptance of bootlegs” looking for info and lookee what pooped up number #1

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    Cool. You must be having a good thanksgiving if you are looking for grateful dead boots!