July 21, 2014

4/21/72 Beat Club

During a week-long break between shows in their Europe ’72 tour, the Grateful Dead made a stop at a TV studio in Bremen to tape a performance for the German TV show Beat Club.
For background on the Beat Club appearance, there’s no better place to turn than Blair Jackson’s CD liner notes:

At their last show, April 17 at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, part of the show had been filmed for broadcast by Danish TV and a dozen songs were eventually shown on the air. The Beat Club appearance would be different, since there was no live audience and time was limited – they would only get a small slot on the show. But instead of playing just a couple songs suitable for airtime, the Dead were raring to play and went through a 90-minute set representative of their range, apparently leaving it up to the producers to decide what would get aired. As it turned out, only one song (One More Saturday Night) was shown on the May 27 broadcast of Beat Club. The rest of the performance would remain unseen for decades, and the whole set wasn’t heard until its release in the Europe ’72 “Complete Recordings” box set.

Last week the full show was shown in theaters, a revelatory experience rivaling the Copenhagen and Veneta shows as the best filmed representation of ’72 Dead. The TV cameras captured the band up-close, so you feel like you’re onstage with them – unlike the Tivoli broadcast, you can watch a long spacy jam unfold, focusing entirely on the band playing without all the audience shots & animations of the “Sunshine Daydream” film. As one of the few lengthy, good-quality films of the Dead in the early ‘70s, the Beat Club show is a joy to watch.

Sadly, David Lemieux says there are no plans to release it on DVD: "Because we don't own it, it's owned by German TV, it's a big amount of work. I'm not saying it's insurmountable, because hopefully some day we will [release it], but certainly not for the next long while, really no plans for at least years to do this as a home video, if ever. So really…this is the one shot for people, it's a one-night only screening."

This being the case, I thought I’d write about the film and how it compares to the CD release. Oddly, both the film and the CD are incomplete, missing different parts of the show; and neither of them include the soundcheck that has long circulated.

The soundcheck recording runs 25 minutes, then the show went for almost 90 minutes before stopping; so evidently the Dead had about two hours to play in the studio after setting up.
The older tape of this show in circulation only included the soundcheck, the first two songs, and the Truckin’>Other One – you can see on deadlists (which hasn’t been updated) that the middle of the show remained a mystery until its official release. 
The soundcheck, since it has not been released, is still available on the Archive:

It’s understandable that the soundcheck (if it was even captured on multitrack) was left out, since it’s not very engaging, and the two songs played (Loser & Black-Throated Wind) are not notable -- a lot of it is just “dead air” and setting sound levels.
At the start, a tepid Loser is stopped by feedback, and the band asks, “What the fuck’s going on? Why is that happening? Somebody’s fucking up!”
After some adjustment, they continue with an uneventful Black-Throated Wind. The next 10-11 minutes are spent checking the sound, with some off-mike chatter and little song teases. Phil jokes around on the mike now & then: “It sounds like crunchy granola!”
Some dialogue from the last few minutes –
Weir: “Now that there’s all these people around here, you can crank up the monitors a little bit. Healy, turn them up a little bit, see if we can get by without a ring, ‘cause there’s a lot of people standing around.”
Lesh: “Sure ain’t ringing too much.”
Weir: “It sure ain’t ringing. We can get a little more louder.”
Lesh: “Protect yourselves, gentlemen!”
Weir: “OK, turn it down just a hair. OK, that’s much better than it’s been, leave it.”
Lesh: “You might even run my microphone down a little since I’m well-known for shouting.”
Weir: “This fellow over here hollers…”
Lesh hoots into his mike: “That’s 220 cycles a second – closer to 200. Take out two more.”
Garcia: “Don’t take too many out, man, that’s my range. Don’t try and make it perfect, man, don’t try and cut all the ringing out of it, just turn it down a little bit overall.”
Weir: “Actually, it’s OK, let’s just play…”
Garcia: “Wait a minute, we gotta fix the organ. Will you turn on my microphone?”
Lesh: “If anybody back there ever feels like boogieing, now is the time… Keith’s gonna bring the piano, and it’s a really nice piano…”
Weir: “Turn up the monitors a little, they’re not ringing at all.”

The cameras weren’t rolling during most of the soundcheck – only the last 4:30 before Bertha was videotaped, of which two minutes were included in the film. The film starts with Phil checking his microphone.
Finally they’re all ready – Garcia says “OK, we’re rolling,” and Weir excitedly announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Grrrrateful Dead!” And they launch into Bertha. 

                                                           (OK, the picture's actually from Playin' in the Band...)

The cameras stayed in close to the band through the show, capturing the playing very well. The camerawork was a bit flighty sometimes as it switched randomly between bandmembers during songs, but the editing settles down in the jams. There are lots of extreme closeups in the film, which can be disconcerting as someone’s face fills the screen. Occasionally there’s a shot from above (a ceiling view of the drums or piano). Due to the video source, the picture's a little blurry & wobbly (probably more noticeable on the big screen). I think the film uses the same audio mix as the CD (which has Keith low in the mix).

The band played in front of a blue screen, and 'psychedelic' background visuals were added later. In the new film, it is tie-dye patterns floating around (echoing the tie-dye amp covers) - however, the original broadcast used the trippy Anthem & Aoxomoxoa album covers as the background:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu2Z4IhLdIE (Saturday Night, from broadcast)
Beat It On Down the Line was shown years later on German TV – in this case, no visuals were added and they changed the blue to a black background:
In contrast, here’s the Saturday Night from the Tivoli, showing the Dead in a live setting a few days earlier – talking to the audience, and Rosie McGee dancing behind Garcia:  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spXC01l5FAQ (4/17/72)

The band was in a good mood despite the studio setting, clowning around. There's some nice horseplay in between takes – at one point, Garcia & Pigpen throw a towel back & forth at each other. The false starts were also funny – Garcia makes fun of Weir after he forgets the words in Truckin'. Phil gets some goofy close-ups as well - there were lots of laughs in the theater showing.
When he’s playing, Garcia looks serious & focused throughout – he seems to be intent on getting it right for the TV show. (He’s the one who calls for a second take of Playin’.)
It’s striking how happy Donna looks to be onstage with them – she seems positively giddy with excitement. (This was only her second month singing live with the band.) Even dour Keith cracks a smile at one point; and there are quite a few shots of him, compared to the Veneta film where he all but disappeared. Pigpen remains pretty subdued through the show, staying behind his keyboard. (He has a plastic alligator on top of his organ.)

There’s no Rosie McGee dancing with them onstage here, though, as she did in other Europe ’72 shows. In fact, the Dead’s touring family is nowhere to be seen – the film just shows the mostly empty TV studio, with only a few TV cameramen & a roadie appearing.
Nonetheless, there was a small audience of the Dead family there – you can hear some faint cheers after the songs. Phil invites them to boogie at the start, and evidently they did dance off-camera during the show. For instance, it’s written in the Europe ’72 CD booklet, "Robert Hunter noticed that the room felt stiff and cold. 'I realized what they needed was people dancing, but there was only me,' he says, 'so I piled onto the studio floor and danced my proverbial ass off. The music picked right up.'" (He was not alone, though.)

I presume the Dead picked the songs they thought would be best for showing on TV – the set is Weir-heavy, with Garcia only singing two songs. They take advantage of the studio setting to stop for mistakes and start songs over – this happens three times. As usual for the tour, the playing is very tight and they clearly enjoy nailing these songs. (I get a sense of pride from them – Phil looks exuberant sometimes.) It looks like they had no trouble warming up even in the bare TV-studio environment. For the second song, they’re already diving into a jam in Playin’ in the Band.

After Bertha, we start noticing that most of the downtime between songs has been left off the CD – a couple minutes before Playin’ starts were edited out. Weir calls, "Donna, you want to sing on this one;” then there’s a couple minutes of noodling as she comes up; Garcia teases the Playin’ intro and plays a little melody for a while. Phil adjusts the knobs on his bass and tells the camera crew, "I don't sing on this one; that lovely lady does."
Playin’ is fun to watch – Garcia steps on his Colorsound wah pedal in the jam and goes for a piercing climax. Donna steps off to the side when the jam starts, hanging out by Pigpen and watching the band – when they hit the reprise riff, she thrusts her arm in the air. Pigpen doesn’t play the organ in Playin’, but scrapes a guiro throughout.

Pigpen gets one song, Mr. Charlie, which is as crisp as always; Kreutzmann's pleased at the end.
Sugaree is halted when Pigpen gets a chord wrong and Garcia says, “Hold it, somebody played the wrong changes in there... One more time!” He’s proud of the song and it’s well-done (though the guitar breaks are still far too brief at this point).
Weir introduces Saturday Night to the cameras: “It’s a rock & roll song. You’ll recognize it by the beat.” It’s an exciting performance, with very active camera editing, and was picked for the broadcast. (This song, in contrast, did not really improve in later years.)
Afterwards, Garcia calls out, "Donna! Where's Donna? We're gonna do Playin’ in the Band again. Maybe we'll get it decent." (This was left off the CD.) Before starting Playin’ again, Weir mysteriously says, “This is the 600,000-watt clear-channel voice of treason;” then sings the first line as “Some folks trust in treason.” But soon afterwards, the song is stopped by feedback: “Let’s do it again, one more time.” Garcia shows Donna where to stand in front of the mike so she won’t get feedback. The second Playin’ is a bit sharper than the first, featuring great keening guitarwork (though neither of them would be broadcast anyway!).
Afterwards, Garcia plays a snatch of the Teddy Bear’s Picnic (which isn’t on the CD). Beat It On Down the Line may not have been planned; checking their time, Weir says, “Let’s do one short one; and here we go,” and they quickly rock through it. Phil looks tickled by the performance.
Before Truckin’, Phil warns the camera crew, “Time to change tapes, folks. We’re gonna do a long one now.” Garcia, Pigpen & Kreutzmann toss a towel around in a bit of slapstick, and there's a minute of anticipatory Truckin' noodling. But Weir forgets the first verse of Truckin’ and the band plays a comic collapse, Garcia wagging his finger at Weir.

The Dead seem to have kept TV time limits in mind (or at least hoped that a longer jam might be aired), since the Truckin’ jam is somewhat abbreviated and the drum solo is kept short before they dive into the Other One. (During Bill’s solo, Garcia & Weir stand back by their amps and watch him.)
The Other One is relatively short & straightforward for the tour, staying mostly on theme without delving into a long, deep space. After 9 minutes they venture into spooky wah sounds, but before long are pulled back into the Other One orbit. The camera stays concentrated on Garcia’s guitar through much of the Other One jam, as he plays a steady stream of notes – it’s remarkable to watch the torrents of sound forming before your eyes, as the performance keeps building in intensity. The players are all intently focused, facing in different directions – there doesn’t seem to be much if any visual signaling, though Garcia does keep an eye on Phil sometimes. Pigpen also looks involved in his playing during the jam.
After the Other One, the guitarists all face their amps to go into the brief feedback segue at the end. Weir breaks a string at the end of the Other One and changes it during the post-song jam, kneeling in front of his amp, so he mostly drops out and doesn't play much for a couple minutes. This may explain why that little final jam took shape the way it did, sort of drifting without locking onto a theme – maybe they would've gone into Sugar Magnolia or Wharf Rat otherwise. On the other hand, they may not have had time left to go into anything.

The film abruptly cuts about 19 minutes into the Other One, so it’s missing the last couple minutes of the jam. Blair Jackson notes that "surely they were past their allotted taping time" by the time the Other One ends, so it's likely the camera crews just switched off in the final jam, ready to quit. The band probably noticed (or were signaled to stop), so they soon wrap it up with a final overemphatic flourish and laughter.  
(In the theatrical showing, the film just stopped dead in the middle of the improv and cut to the credits, which was a huge disappointment – ideally at least the audio could have run to the end.)

The film makes it clear that the CD was heavily edited to fit within 80 minutes, missing not only the soundcheck but also quite a bit of between-song noodling, song-teasing & chatter by Garcia & the others.
On the CD we miss, for instance, Garcia playing little melodies between songs, or calling for another take of Playin'. And the lead-in to Truckin’ had quite a bit more anticipatory noodling in the film.
However, the CD also has some bits between songs that weren't in the film. For instance, the film cuts directly from Playin' to Mr. Charlie, and then straight from Mr. Charlie to Sugaree, so the CD's more intact between those songs.

The Historic Films music-footage archive has reels of the Beat Club video in its collection, helpfully timed and described on its site:
http://www.historicfilms.com/search/?type=music&q=grateful+dead&artist=grateful+dead&music=1#p1&year=1972 (item #’s BC-119 & BC-120, with footage from different cameras)

Comparing the actual video times to the CD runtimes, it’s evident how much was cut from the CD. Here are the times on the video versus the CD:

[soundcheck – video 4:33]
Bertha – video 8:05 / CD 6:06 -- (missing 2 minutes)
Playin’ – video 10:02 / CD 9:58
Charlie – video 4:33 / CD 4:05 – (missing 20 seconds)
Sugaree – video 9:10 / CD 7:53 – (missing 1:17)
Sat Night – video 6:55 / CD 4:51 – (missing 2 minutes)
Playin’ – video 12:47 / CD 10:56 – (missing 1:50)
BIODTL – video 4:14 / CD 3:03 – (missing 1:10)
Truckin’ – video 10:47 / CD 10:49 – [time includes drum solo]
Other One – video 19:48 / CD 21:47 – (video cut)

In total, not including the soundcheck, about 8:40 has been cut from the CD. All of this was just from the breaks after the songs, no actual songs are shortened; but still, a lot of in-between playing and banter was left off the “Complete Recordings” release.

Not all of this was included in the film, which of course had its own different edits. These are the approximate timings in the film:

[soundcheck – video 4:33 / film 1:46]
Bertha – video 8:05 / film 7:12
Playin’ – video 10:02 / film 9:37
Charlie – video 4:33 / film 3:51  
Sugaree – video 9:10 / film 7:56  
Sat Night – video 6:55 / film 5:14  
Playin’ – video 12:47 / film 11:09  
BIODTL – video 4:14 / film 4:11  
Truckin’ – video 10:47 / film 10:47 – [time includes drum solo]
Other One – video 19:48 / film 19:27 --[cut]
The original video was 91 minutes long, and the film about 81 minutes. Leaving aside almost 3 minutes of unused soundcheck footage, there's about 6:20 cut out of the show - presumably mostly just the Dead standing around between songs. In any case, this makes the show we have faster-paced than the show that was played!

The descriptions of the video reels on the Historic Films site can be interesting reading – for instance:
“Pigpen sits behind his Hammond organ during sound check… Organ is draped with Grateful Dead flag. Closeup – Pigpen tests his organ.”
“Wide shot of band on stage…between songs, chat and prepare to play next tune.”
“Grateful Dead waiting around to perform another song. Jerry Garcia plays ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ on his guitar.”
The Other One: “starts with drum solo and into intense space jam. The original jam band cuts loose. Mainly closeups of Garcia playing. Closeup of Jerry Garcia’s fingers as he plays ‘The Other One.’ Closeup of Pigpen as he plays during the jam.”

It’s obvious there were alternate camera shots on video that are not in the film – particularly during Truckin’. I don’t recall any of this in the film, though it would have been nice to see:
“Wide shot of Grateful Dead friends and family at studio watching the band play. Hippies, groupies, crew and friends hanging out while the band tunes up… Grateful Dead play Truckin’ but camera is on their friends and followers and groupies who are dancing and partying backstage. Performance breaks down with band playfully departing from the song. Closeup of crewmember or friend hanging out and dancing to them playing Truckin’. Extended footage of friends and extended family backstage.”

By the way, there's a photo of Garcia wearing a tie-dye t-shirt (possibly during the soundcheck), but in the film he keeps his leather jacket on...

Thankfully, the film is now available on youtube: