Now Spinning: Grateful Dead – Olympia Theatre, Paris, France (5/3/72)

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, as George Harrison might say, with months of chilly gray skies finally giving way to warm spring temperatures about a month later than usual, which means the Grateful Dead are starting to pop into my listening rotation with an inevitable regularity (much like The Band do in the fall). In particular, the lineup from 1972-1974, led by Bill Kreutzmann’s single drummer approach, a dedicated focus on vocal harmonies, and, of course, Jerry Garcia’s lysergic explorations, performed with a certain sunshine-y slimmed-down bounce that seems to suit this weather, so it seems like a good day to revisit this all-time great spring show from the Europe ’72 tour. It’s not summer until you can listen to Bob Weir shred his vocal cords on ‘Sunshine Daydream’ with the windows open, after all.

Europe ’72 the album needs no introduction, with its standing as one of the band’s strongest official reference points beyond well-deserved. With the Grateful Dead having transitioned from the wild psychedelia of the Acid Test days towards the rootsy Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, Europe ’72 captured this new direction live, with the band firing on all cylinders while exploring a wealth of new material. The official Europe ’72 release was designed to mimic a Grateful Dead show in structure and length, as a mammoth 3 LP set, and eventually went double platinum as one of their best-selling releases. In reality, the tracks were compiled from a range of shows on the tour, and further enhanced with overdubbing to smooth out the edges. As much as we love as we all fervently love Europe ’72, deadheads have long pined for a complete, unedited show from the tour on vinyl (more of the tour has been released on CD and digitally) and finally get our wish here.

Now there is some overlap. You may recognize the scorching hot ‘China Cat Sunflower’ into ‘I Know You Rider’ from Europe ’72, which also draws ‘Tennessee Jed’ and ‘Jack Straw’ from this Paris show. Around 70% of the songs included on Europe ’72 are also performed here, and there is additional overlap with the Europe ’72 Vol. 2 release. Setlists were fairly consistent on the tour, and despite the Dead’s famed improvisation-heavy approach, many of the shorter rockers weren’t changing night to night. Having said that, the band was simply performing at the top of their game – even the typically forgettable ‘Beat It On Down The Line’ crackles with a near off-the-rails energy here – and the entire show is a thrill.

The show throughout is extremely well played, with a near-jubilant pacing and energy (led by the aforementioned China > Rider) and a first set ‘Playing In The Band’ that kicks off Side 4, hinting at what’s to come. ‘Playing In The Band’ had started to transform over the course of the Europe ’72 tour, morphing from a straight forward five-minute rocker into to a vehicle for some of the band’s deepest explorations by the tour’s end. This is one of the earlier efforts at stretching things out and features some otherworldly playing from Garcia that had me immediately replaying the side a second time. In this listener’s humble opinion, Garcia was scaling new heights nearly nightly at this point, inspired by the arrival of his finest musical foil, Keith Godchaux on keys. While most songs are delivered in fairly concise form by Grateful Dead standards, even the five-minute ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ finds Garcia and Godchaux chasing each other to a dizzying peak.

As the band moves deeper into the second set, their trademark lengthier jamming style emerges with a trip into atonal rhythmic weirdness out of a fiery ‘Truckin”, that soon slams into an expedition through ‘The Other One’, which ranges the entirety of Sides 8 and 9. As the music constantly changes direction while taking shape, the creativity and turn-on-the-dime telepathic reactions of Kreutzmann simply awe. With all due respect to Mickey Hart, the one drummer approach allowed for an increased improvisational looseness, and sides 8 and 9 feature the Grateful Dead’s group listening and jamming mindset displayed at its very best. With Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh leading the way, the band dances in and out of ‘The Other One’ for some forty-odd minutes, the clear highlight of the show.

As is the case for the professionally-recorded Europe ’72 tour, the sound quality on this release is exquisite, with the lead vocals and Lesh’s bass hovering centered between speakers as Garcia’s leads weave in and out. The pressing, unfortunately, is not up to par. I am aware that deadheads can be a touch particular and demanding, so I took the three pages of complaints on Discogs about scuffs from the paper sleeves with a grain of salt. Until opening my copy to find a deep gouge through side 3 (see photo below) that plays with a continuous pop, and a few other minor scuffs throughout. I hate to add my voice to the chorus of boos, but this looks like someone tried to carve their initials in the wax with an X-Acto knife – I would hesitate to pay $5 for a used LP with a scratch this deep, and for a release that costs nearly $150 – it’s beyond unacceptable.

I blame a lack of basic quality control more than a lack of poly-lined sleeves myself, but enough is enough and it’s a problem that needs to be fixed. These are already being pressed at Optimal, a top-of-the-line pressing plant and very much a definite step up from the more common GZ Media, and when undamaged, sounds incredible – but somewhere between basic quality control and packaging, there is a severe failure in process, and according to Discogs reviews on recent sets, has not improved. Despite the quality of the recording, mastering, and of course, the playing (even with setlist duplicates), given the price and significant risk in pressing quality, it’s hard to recommend these releases until Rhino addresses the quality control.

Turntable: Dual 1225
Cartridge/Stylus: Empire 2000E w/ Aftermarket Elliptical
Amplifier: Realistic STA-90
Speakers: Polk Monitor 5B

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: