The Grateful Dead

Fans of the classic Dead live album Europe ‘72 (rumored for years to contain “slowed down” passages) have reason to rejoice with this four-CD set of mixed live performances from the band’s legendary tour of England in the spring of 1972. Long considered to be the beginning of peak performance years for the group (admittedly this reviewer’s favorite), these sparkling crisp versions of the classics feature the recent addition of the Godchaux clan (Keith on piano and wife Donna on vocals) as well as some last performances from legendary founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, a rough-edged blues vocalist and harp player who passed away from cirrhosis of the liver less than a year later.

Highlights include the rockin’ Pig original “Chinatown Shuffle,” cover “Hurts Me Too” and a rare emotional ballad, “The Stranger (2 Souls in Communion)” with classic harmony on the close. Other gems include sterling standbys “Black Peter” and “Wharf Rat"—two of the all-time great songs in the Dead repertoire—and rocking cover rarities “Hey Bo Diddley” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” But my favorite section may just be Disc 2’s sequence of a hyped-up “Ramble On Rose” and “Black Throated Wind” followed by “Sitting On Top of The World” and the poignant burner, “Comes a Time"—excellent performances all.

Of course, all five hours are mixed and digitally mastered from the original multitrack master tapes, resulting in crystal clear quality, though Godchaux’s piano is sometimes buried (perhaps a result of his being "the new guy"). Although the players may have been burned out from constant partying in Europe, these performances represent some of the finer moments.