First the official description, then mine of the Show in Germantown Md
4th Annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up At The Movies – Beat Club 4/21/72
We’re brimmin’ with Bremen over at Dead.net! That’s right, the festivities surrounding the 4th Annual Meet-Up At The Movies: Beat Club 4/21/72 have started early for us. If you haven’t purchased your ticket for this one-night only event featuring the never-before-seen Beat Club studio performance in its entirety, restored from the original broadcast 2” quad video and audio mixed and mastered from the original analog tapes, let us set the scene with the official liner notes plucked from the sold out Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings boxed set.
All that most of the world knows about the city of Bremen in northern Germany is that once upon a time, long ago, there were these four old animals—a cat, a dog, a donkey and a rooster—who left their farms in the countryside and headed towards Bremen, where they hoped to live out their days as musicians. Oh, wait—that didn’t really happen. That’s the old Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Town Musicians of Bremen. Fast forward. When the Grateful Dead—which included a few cats, a bird and a pig—hit Bremen in the third week of April in ’72, the city was still a destination for traveling musicians, thanks to a popular television program that emanated from there, called Beat-Club.
Beat-Club was Germany’s first major rock ’n’ roll TV show, on the air monthly (or so) since September 1965 (through the end of 1972). Typically, each program would feature several acts, some shot live in the rather sterile Studio 3 of Radio Bremen, and others appearing on film or video supplied from elsewhere. Basically, everyone who was anyone in rock music in the late ’60s and early ’70s showed up on Beat-Club at one time or another—and so did a lot of acts no one in the U.S. has ever heard of! Typically, a band taping in Bremen for Beat-Club would have a song or two appear on the monthly program a few weeks later, and one suspects that most acts probably came to the studio with a good idea of what song(s) they wanted to highlight, and knocked it out quickly.
Ah, but things were a little different when the Grateful Dead rolled into town with their tie-dyed amps, their entourage of long-haired “family,” and their recording truck parked outside. Maybe the Dead knew that day that “One More Saturday Night” would be the song that would air on the May 27 edition of the Beat-Club program, but they sure didn’t act that way. Instead, after a sound check that included “Loser” and “Black-Throated Wind,” they played a remarkable 80-minute set that mixed short songs with big jamming tunes, including two charged versions of “Playing in the Band,” and a spectacular “Truckin’” > “Other One” sequence that is more than 30 minutes long. That the band could play this well in front of a bunch German TV technicians, rather than their usual sea of swaying and flailing hippies, is amazing. That it was all captured in crystal-clear close-up video is truly a gift from the Gods (and if there’s any justice in the universe, the Gods will someday allow that video to be released commercially).
But even studying the aural document is fascinating. For one thing, the sound is recording-studio-clear, with no venue ambience or crowd seeping into the mics. And it’s not just an ordinary show: Garcia only sings two numbers, Pigpen one, and Bob six. After Jerry casually says “we’re rolling,” Bobby shouts into the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Grrrrrateful Dead!” and the band kicks into “Bertha,” crisp and energetic, but marred by a couple of lyric flaws. Then comes “Playing in the Band,” which the group pulled out at every stop on the Europe tour, and was great every single night. Jerry is all over the wah-wah pedal during the middle jam, making it growl and cry and squeal. “Mr. Charlie” is just about letter-perfect.
That is followed by our first do-over of the day—a luxury afforded by the fact there is no audience and this isn’t a “concert” per se. About a minute into “Sugaree,” Jerry says, “Hold it, hold it. Somebody played the wrong changes in there” (cough-Pigpen-cough), so they start at the top again. A few tunes later, Bobby halts a second version of “Playing” after he blows the first line: “Some folks trust in treason,” he sings. (It’s not clear why they do “Playing” again, as the first version was excellent. But the one that comes after the flub is even better, with a more intense middle section and much mind-bending bass work from Phil. Maybe they were more warmed-up second time ’round.) The final song-stopping calamity comes on “Truckin’,” after Bob completely spaces his entrance to the first verse, leading to the band hilariously attempting a shutdown of the song that’s all discordant crashing and colliding instruments, like some catastrophic orchestra mishap in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Second time is the charm, though, and the group nails it and kicks off the long and exciting journey mentioned above.
“The Other One” that emerges from a short post-“Truckin’” drum solo by Billy is full of drive and fire, like snorting and snarling horses galloping through Germany’s mysterious Black Forest. But it’s the six minutes after the second verse of “The Other One” that I want to highlight. The band doesn’t seem to have any idea about what, if any, song they might play next (surely they were past their allotted taping time and the German sound and TV crew were wondering whether this jamathon was ever going to end), so the Dead just float from one musical notion to the next. Squealing feedback gives way to a brief lilting jam. At one point Billy clicks into a little groove and the others follow and it develops into one of those lovely passages that feels familiar but isn’t quite—are those hints of “Wharf Rat”? Is “Sugar Magnolia” around that bend? Instead they keep drifting about—Jerry gets into a hypnotic finger-picking pattern at one point—until it all just peters out. There’s a pause and then they suddenly build up one of their big, chaotic endings, which is a mess worthy of the laugh that follows it. And with that, the Town Musicians of Bremen were gone.
I never had a chance to see The Grateful Dead proper with Jerry so I was only familiar from the albums and you tube clips but this was like a fantastic concert done as a rehearsal complete with do overs, band banter and many real funny and touching moments that showed why the band is so beloved by their fans.
Just as I suspected there were very few Dead heads in the suburban Md. neighborhood near me the turnout was only about fifty but fun souls. They were all very nice and in the mood and “on the vibe.” Instead of doing that thing that everyone does nowadays, putting as much space as possible and as many empty seats as possible in between you and the people also in the same theater (so you don’t get stranger danger cooties) the local dead head annex chapter all piled into one section together. After bit of rough start, one of the unruly crowd ” and thank you ma’am” had to go tell the manager no tunes were playing during the intro trivia questions as intended which worked a charm and she took a well-deserved bow.
The crowd started getting revved up as the show began with a mini-studio interview with Bobby then it really took off! Every eye roll, little joke, stoned grinding of teeth was greeted with giggles and catcalls and after a while they really loosened up and beach balls started ringing around the theater just like a real gig. It didn’t last long though, because the music was so good that no one really enjoyed the distraction after the initial joke was played out. The show ended way too soon and rather abruptly but you heard no one complaining. After all, it was midweek in Germantown MD and everyone was probably happy to be out by nine, and there wasn’t a soul who could say they weren’t satisfied with what they got.
I saw The Dead without Jerry for the first time a few years ago right in the heart of Washing on DC stadium style at the Convention Center and paid more for average tickets than I’ve ever paid for a show in my life on a resale site. Jerry would have rolled over in his grave. While I got the benefit of the whole Dead experience, the travelers and vendors and notorious followers of every tour it was made even more bizarre by the fact the whole “deadhead “carnival was taking place in an empty concrete parking lot among the imposing stone federal buildings. It was everything I was told it would be and more, though I was incredulous all that would take place in the heart of “Our Nation’s Capital”
Those that traveled with every show were quite guarded and a bit self-conscious at being gawked at by your typical stuffy Dc crowd but were very lovely individually if you didn’t treat them like a freak show to point and laugh at, which is probably what they had become used to and expected, more so than ever here. I got a firsthand experience with their legendary loving, sharing vibe I never expected because I was limping that night from a poor shoe choice that gave me terrible blisters and a lovely young lady I bought a tie – dye tank top from chased me 10 blocks down the street and just handed me the loveliest pair of yellow hand dyed socks for free. She refused to take money and then disappeared as magically as she came and I was healed by her kindness and then I could enjoy the show pain- free. I treasure those socks to this day. And the Dead even Jerry-Less were pretty friggin amazing.
But nothing could compare to this film experience. Jerry and the band at their finest, at least for someone who had never seen him, only heard him, not just musically but as himself, in his element with the band, in the best of spirits and in their prime, sharing their personalities and love for what they do with us as intimately as if you were the only one there. By myself, in a crowd, but never for one moment, feeling alone.
After the show I popped across the street for a drink and I guess the hot new hair color I got for the Queen concert this weekend and new dress were working because not only did I get carded I got hit on four times in the half hour I was there ! GO ME! Lol
The night was a fine one I will never forget. And it wasn’t a long strange trip I had been on all along, like the rest. I was a hitchhiker. Only recently discovering someone like me I would fit in on the bus and how much I was like those who had always before seemed so different 30 years ago. But isn’t that the point? Everyone’s welcome to join in the band. Those aren’t just song lyrics. They are a philosophy and a way of life. And it lives on. And I, for one, am very grateful.