Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead is four discs packed with previously unreleased material from the Dead’s European tour in the summer of 1972. The collection features tracks taken from a handful of performances given in the United Kingdom, and it is definitely worth adding to your collection.
The shows represented on Steppin’ Out include April 7th and 8th from the Wembley Empire Pool, April 11th from the City Hall Theatre in Newcastle, the Dead’s performance from the Bickershaw Festival May 7th, and four performances (April 23rd - April 26th) from London’s Lyceum Theatre. These shows are a vivid representation of the diverse settings and audiences that made that famous tour so special, from the 1,500-seat theater in Newcastle to the throng of 40,000 at the Bickershaw Festival. From the reserved, demanding London audiences to the friendly, rain-soaked Bickershaw masses, Steppin’ Out is an intimate peek into the world that surrounded the Grateful Dead for those two special months.
The liner notes provide a concise and enlightening account of the tour, affording the listener an appreciation for some of the more subtle intricacies included on the discs. Europe ’72 came less than a year after pianist Keith Godcheaux joined the band and was the first extended outing with back-up singer Donna Jean Godcheaux, Keith’s wife. It was also Pigpen’s last tour with the band. This was a European tour before the days when fans followed their favorite band across the Atlantic and throughout the continent, so the vast majority of the audiences in attendance were seeing the Dead for their first time. The band and crewmembers described the tour as a “working vacation,” exhibited clearly in the patience with which many of the tunes develop and in the informality exhibited from the stage.
The sound quality of these discs is phenomenal. Jerry’s lead guitar and vocals take center stage at the appropriate times and blend seamlessly into the mix when the band is rocking together. A barely audible “hiss” lends an air of authenticity to the recordings without distracting the listener from the music. Apparently, the 16-track recorder that was used to record these shows was basically an afterthought, dragged along for the ride to help defray the expenses associated with touring but you’d never guess it from the quality of the recordings.
Highlights from the first disc include a fantastic “Deal” featuring a patient and precise build-up to an emotional Jerry wailing “Don’t you let that deal go down!” A soft and smooth “Sugaree” and a classic textbook version of “China > Rider” also deserve recognition.
Disc Two begins with a couple cuts from the Bickershaw Festival including a rockin’ 20-minute “Good Lovin’.” The CD concludes with a powerful suite of “Lovelight > GDTRFB > Not Fade Away,” also from the Bickershaw Festival. These were the last few songs of a rain-soaked weekend and were performed for a collection of weary festival stalwarts and local townspeople who wandered onto the festival grounds for a taste of American rock and roll.
The highlight of the entire collection lies on Disc Three and includes the first half of the second set from the first Wembley show. The musicians’ excitement on this, the first night of the tour, shines through as they power through “Truckin’ > Drums > The Other One > El Paso > The Other One > Wharf Rat.” “The Other One” is 30 minutes long and moves from explorative and spacey to full scale raging, with Jerry’s guitar jumping back and forth from the lead back into the mix while Billy tears his drum-kit to pieces.
Disc Four begins with a couple of relatively uninspired tunes from the Lyceum Theatre in London, the last stop on this two month trek from which it’s obvious everybody is ready to return to the comforts of home. Next, the combination of “Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution” from Wembley rages before the compilation concludes with a beautifully soulful “Brokedown Palace.”
Steppin’ Out is an important piece in any Dead collection, painting a perfectly descriptive picture of a pivotal time in the development of the Dead’s mystique.
JamBase Portland Correspondent
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