This post is in response to someone who said he skipped all 1972 shows that didn't have a Dark Star or Other One....so I thought I'd talk a bit about the shows that didn't have an obvious Big Jam in the second sets.
1972 found the Dead, as always, in development - Keith had moved in, Pigpen was heading out - and a whole bunch of new songs had been added. But in general, they were 'little' songs, so that the set-II jams tended to revolve around Dark Star or Other One just as they had back in '68 - more extended jam-songs wouldn't get added until the Wake of the Flood debuts in '73.
As a result, most shows from '72 (especially after Pigpen leaves) have pretty similar setlists, with just a few things rearranged here and there. I'll concede that fall '71 shows without any big jams are pretty disappointing (something like two-hour first-sets), and I avoid those myself.
However, there was much more jamming in '72 than there had been in '71 shows, as the Dead found new places to build jams in.
First was Playing in the Band, which had been rather flat and stodgy in '71, with just a few moments of syncopated spaciness in the solo before returning quickly to the theme - but we find right away in March '72, they'd rethought the song and put a blazing jam in the middle, which got longer and longer through the year until Playing became a half-hour monster.
Not Fade Away also benefited sometimes from longer jams - once Goin' Down the Road had been added in late '70, NFA shrunk down to a brief four-minute bookend - but in the fall of '71 the Dead started jamming their NFAs again, and this trend continued into '72 (not always, but on many nights).
Bird Song also saw a triumphant revival in summer '72 - the Dead had dropped it for some reason when Keith joined (even though they'd rehearsed it with him in October '71) - and this became a first-set highlight of many shows. (But sadly, they dropped it yet again in September '73, not to be heard again until 1980.)
Truckin' had just a short little outro jam in early '71, but once they found that they could segue it into the Other One (usually via a drum solo), the Truckin' jam got longer and longer, and by '72 they usually dropped the chorus reprise as well in the fervor of the jams. (The Truckin' jam would become even more extended and unpredictable in the next two years, of course.)
Also, He's Gone was introduced in the Europe tour as a peppy little song, but by the fall it started slowing down, and the outro jam became its own thing of beauty, which as often as not could also lead into the Other One.
In short, even though the unique jam themes of '73 and '74 hadn't arrived yet, there were still plenty of jams going on - and if you were to overlook all the shows in which they took a break from Dark Star and the Other One, these would be some of the things you'd miss....
1/2/72 - a unique Good Lovin'>China Cat>Good Lovin', very well-done.
3/5/72 - another big Good Lovin' with an early Mind Left Body jam. Deadlists notes, "Garcia is particularly rippin'."
3/22/72 - the return of Caution, not heard since 3/18/71. The Caution itself is not as notable as the sweet melodic jam that ends it.
(This show isn't circulating in sbd, but the Caution was released on a bonus disc.)
3/25/72 - the Good Lovin' and Lovelight are missing from this night (perhaps they're in the Vault?), but we do have the last Smokestack Lightning, a couple one-time-only songs, plus the Bo Diddley set which is pretty neat.
(Highlights on Dicks Picks 30, or an AUD for masochists -
3/26, 3/27/72 - the Good Lovin' from each of these nights is on the Taper's Section over at dead.net - otherwise there's not much reason to check out the available AUDs, which are horrible.
3-26-72, by the way, is the only Other One from the year that's still completely uncirculated; the AUD only has the first set.
http://www.dead.net/features/tapers-section/march-24-march-30-2008 (Good Lovin' and Playing from 3/26)
http://www.dead.net/features/february-4-february-10-2008 (Good Lovin' from 3/27, and several other Academy of Music selections)
7/22/72 - I admit, you wouldn't miss much from this night, though there are a few highlights (the newly introduced Bird Song, a youthful Playing, and a rare standalone Morning Dew; which were all released as bonus tracks to 7/21/72). I don't recall the odd set-II medley of Truckin>He's Gone>Sugar Magnolia as being too special.
(No longer on the Archive.)
10/2/72 - a great freeform Truckin' jam that goes from one theme to another (including Nobody's Fault and Feelin' Groovy) on its way to Morning Dew. The first set also has a Bird Song and Playing in their full fall-'72 glory.
10/17/72 - once again, a fine Bird Song and Playing. The second set is strangely truncated, and other than the NFA seems more like another first set.
10/30/72 - a good-sounding AUD with a giant Truckin' jam which, surprisingly, just ends after 15 minutes. The first-set Playing and Bird Song are both sadly cut. Bear recorded this, so it's one of the best AUDs of the year. The second set is full of rockers....perhaps because they were in Detroit?
11/12/72 - the first show in which Playing in the Band was the second-set centerpiece. (The first set had a Bird Song and another long standalone Truckin'.) This show is notorious for its poor mix, in which you can basically only hear the guitars - so it's interesting for those who want to study the guitar interplay.
11/15, 11/18/72 - the twin monster Playing in the Bands are more than enough reason to check out these shows.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1972-11-15.sbd.set2.miller.91760.sbeok.flac16 - used to be incomplete, but Miller has recently given us the whole set.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd72-11-18.set2-sbd.cotsman.9002.sbeok.shnf - often said to be the best-ever Playing in the Band.
11/24/72 - aside from another phenomenal Playing and a hot Truckin', this show has perhaps the best Not Fade Away of '72. This show is notable for being one of the most rocked-out of the year, with hardly a slow song in sight.