Rolling Stone writer David Fricke reported last week that the official site of the Grateful Dead, Dead.net, is offering an ambitious project recognizing the band's first European tour in 1972 available exclusively from the site. Ambitious is an understatement!
Europe '72: The Complete Recordings is a 60 plus CD box set scheduled for a September 2011 release that captures every note from the band's 22 date European tour that culminated in a triple live album release titled Europe '72. Yes, you read that right -- 60 plus CD's! An entire tour in one package with over 70 hours of music! That's like being a fly on the wall for arguably one of the best live periods of the Grateful Dead. You're treated like a groupie hanging out on the side of the stage every night except without the packing, travel, debauchery, headaches and drama.
The Grateful Dead signed a ten-year deal with Rhino Entertainment in 2006 to have the label manage the band's business interests. This arrangement includes the release of musical recordings, marketing and merchandising. Subsequently, the band's tape vault moved from Northern California to the Warner Bros. Vault in 2006 and this box set is the most adventuresome undertaken by the label to date.
These recordings document a significant point in time of the band at a turning point in its career. Drummer Mickey Hart had left the prior year and Bill Kruetzeman continued behind the drums alone. The 1972 European tour, their first full tour of the continent, marks the end of era for the Grateful Dead as it was the last for founding member, Ronald "Pigpen" McKernan. Suffering from symptoms of cirrosis related to heavy drinking since 1970, McKernan ignored his doctor's pleas not to tour. The European swing put him over the edge and he eventually played his last show with the band in June 1972 and died the following March. Six months before the tour pianist Keith Godchaux began playing with the band, and his wife Donna Godchaux joined in as vocalist during this European tour.
The original Europe '72 release contained 17 songs compiled from various tourstops along the way, but that album featured significant overdubs recorded after the tour specifically to clean up vocal flubs and enhance harmonies. However, those tracks are included in this collection without overdubs, where possible. Fans of the band may also remember that the Hundred Year Hall release from 1995 is a truncated version of the set list from the European tour stop at Jahrhundert Halle, Frankfurt, Germany on April 26, 1972. That release contains 15 songs including a 36 minute plus version of "Cryptical Envelopment", yet the original set played that evening contained 29 songs!
This set goes farther than any Deadhead or record collector could have imagined. The packaging mimics a replica steamer trunk used to carry cargo overseas. The trunk concept contains 22 soft pack CD cases documenting the set for each night of the tour. The press release states:
Along with the music, a vast majority of which is previously unreleased, the travel chest contains tour memorabilia, a coffee-table book with never-before-seen photos, and a comprehensive essay by noted Dead author Blair Jackson. Each performance will also be accompanied by an essay specific to the show written by top Dead scholars including David Gans, Gary Lambert, Nicholas Meriwether, and Steve Silberman.