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.
Got mixed feelings about the film, so some random thoughts ...
Felt like the fella's were playing in our living room.
The background was beautiful but distracting
I always prefer more hand shots than face shots
Sound was good except couldn't hear Pigpen & Kieth 'til near the end
Seemed like the camera was avoiding Pigpen-would have liked to see more of him
How could they leave us hangin' at the end like that??? the screen went grey & we all thought the '2nd set' was on it's way. I was sure they were headed into The Wheel.
We love our Bellingham WA movie nite tradition-drive down from Vancouver, find a funky g-f restaurant, then head to the theatre. Let it grow.
First off, thanks to everyone involved in making this happen! It looked and sounded simply amazing and, as we know, this is one of the few video or film recordings of the Dead that has NOT made the rounds on the internet. In any form (with the exception of One More Saturday Night, which was the only song actually broadcast at the time). I am so thankful for the opportunity to see this. The theater in downtown Los Angeles was three-quarters empty. But the handful of us in attendance were pretty damned happy to be there! The theater had some technical snafus early on that resulted in the film starting 20 minutes late. Free passes were given out afterwards. Unnecessary, as we did get to see the film in its entirely, but a welcome and generous gesture nonetheless.
I'd love to know why the film fades out where it does. Though the band did not play another song, there was an "ending" to the music and, since you were showing the warts-and-all version anyway, it would have been great to see the conclusion. Perhaps the cameras stopped rolling and that footage does not exist. However, if the footage DOES exists and this was a creative choice, I would suggest altering that for any potential future screenings. It left myself and most of the audience members I spoke with afterwards feeling like the plug had been pulled on both our and the film's groove. Seeing the boys peter out would have been preferable to the fade, which really felt abrupt to me. I was ready to go with the music and wanted to see and hear it come to its own conclusion (as it does on the Europe '72 Box Set CD). Even if the footage doesn't exist, I wish the audio were allowed to make its way to the full conclusion, even if still images or simply the credits were used as the visual.
As for those who did not get to see it or are avid collectors of all things Grateful Dead film and video (like myself), an official Blu-ray release of this would be like 10 Christmases in one. Rhino and the GDP may not own the rights, but I'd love to know if permission to release a limited Blu-ray/DVD is an option. Or is someone else already planning to do this? To put this much time and energy into cleaning this up for one night only seems a shame. Especially given that we cannot access it anywhere else in any format. I have always been a big believer that there is a large and willing-to-pay audience out there for such releases. Companies like Twilight Time option the rights to movies from studios to release limited edition Blu-rays (limited to 3,000 copies). Is it possible Rhino or some other like-minded company could do that for this Beat Club release? Or is that option simply not available? Would love to know.
None of this is meant in any way to diminish the level of thanks and appreciation I have for what I got to see and hear last night. I will always remember it and cherish the opportunity to have been a part of it. I would also love to see it live on for those who missed it and those (like myself) who desire to relive and share it.
Glad to hear that there was a good showing in E'ville, I figured there would be when I saw it wasn't showing at theater on Shattuck. I live in Vallejo and only six people showed up here. Made it pretty easy to use my vape pen the entire show though!
There was a theater full of very angry/unhappy people in Phoenix last night - manager started the show a half an hour early! They gave everyone two free passes to any event, but still, never going to get another chance to see this awesome show. BUMMED I missed the Sugaree!
Just received an email to confirm my address for the Dave's Picks Vol.11 and it included the date and venue...Century II Convention Hall, Wichita, KS 11/17/72
What a funny, and really cool show. I enjoyed the band chemistry, as well as seeing Keith wail on the piano. Now I have a new appreciation for One More Saturday Night! What was up will Bill? He looked really pissed for the first half.
Good crowd in Emeryville, as always.
I think I'm liking this new tradition...
the fast changing head shots were a hinderance rather than an asset