A Superlative 1972 Grateful Dead Concert Album from London Resurfaces: Review

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Grateful Dead Lyceum Theatre 1972 album cover

If you’re a Grateful Dead fan, you may already own recordings of at least part of their 1972 European tour’s last concert, which happened at London’s Lyceum Theatre on May 26th of that year. The group’s Europe ’72 album includes four of the show’s songs, and you can find two more on Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead: England ’72 and Europe ’72 Volume 2.

In addition, the whole concert has been previously issued individually and on 2011’s Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings, but the former release has been out of print for some time and you’ve got to be a really big fan to own the latter, which comprises 73 CDs and recently showed up on eBay with a $4,500 price tag.

Now, however, the full show is again available, in one affordable four-CD set called Lyceum Theatre London, England 5/26/72. And if affordability isn’t an issue for you, there’s also a new limited-edition 24-LP set that embraces the group’s entire four-night stand at Lyceum.

Related: A 1976 interview with Jerry Garcia

Though a sticker on the album notes that it contains the penultimate performance by organist, harmonica player and original frontman Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died in 1973, the accompanying booklet concedes that the set “lacks a showpiece” for him. However, he does make notable contributions to the performance and the absence of a spotlight role for him is about the only unfortunate fact regarding this glorious concert, which, in addition to Pigpen, features all the Dead’s other founding members: lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir. Also on hand are pianist Keith Godchaux and his vocalist wife, Donna, both of whom started playing with the band less than a year before this show, which capped the Dead’s first tour outside North America.

Like Bruce Springsteen in the ’70s and ’80s, this band seemed to want to play forever: the two-set Lyceum show from May 26 includes 31 tracks, many of which incorporate lengthy jams. The three-part “The Other One,” culled from 1968’s Anthem of the Sun, fills nearly half an hour on disc three. “Playing in the Band” and “Truckin’,” meanwhile, each run more than 18 minutes and serve as springboards for guitar pyrotechnics that take the music quite a distance from its opening verses.

Related: Our review of the expanded 1971 Skull & Roses live set

The program samples all aspects of the group’s repertoire. In addition to the psychedelia of “The Other One,” the band offers folk-flavored gems like Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “Sugaree” and Tim Rose and Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew.” There are also nods to the Dead’s country influences, including Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.” In addition, you’ll find more than a few rock ’n’ roll jams, among them the group’s stupendous wedding of the traditional “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Band” and Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Other fan favorites that make the cut include Garcia and Hunter’s “Casey Jones,” Weir and Hunter’s “Sugar Magnolia,” John Phillips’ “Me and My Uncle” and Weir’s “One More Saturday Night.”

Listen to the Dead’s rare cover of “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” from the Lyceum shows

There’s not exactly a shortage of live Dead albums to choose from at this point, but if you wanted to introduce someone to the group for the first time, this concert would be as good a place to start as any. It features well-restored and remastered audio, and it hits most of the important bases in the Dead’s catalog up to this point (though you’ll have to look elsewhere for “Dark Star,” perhaps the newly released Dave’s Picks, Vol. 43: San Francisco, 11/2/69 & Dallas, 12/26/69, which includes two early versions). It also finds the band consistently fired up and at the top of its form. Garcia’s contributions throughout are particularly breathtaking. On song after song, his soaring, frequently jazz-influenced guitar lines will make you want to stand up and cheer.

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