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Published: 2002/08/24
by Pat Buzby

Steppin’ Out With the Grateful Dead – Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Records 4084

Even with four CDs of Europe '72 out already, most Dead fans (and,
presumably, most folks visiting this site) would likely agree that a new
four-CD set from the tour is a can't-miss proposition. In fact, even if the
first three CDs consisted of applause and tuning, Steppin’ Out would
jump to the top of the list of Dead vault releases on the strength of the
"Dark Star" alone.

Let's take things one step at a time, though. Like 2000's Ladies &
Gentlemen set from 1971, Steppin’ Out constructs four CD-length
imaginary sets from multiple shows. The shortcomings here are exactly the
same as with the '71 release. First, the song selection is perhaps generous
to a fault – how much do we need two Europe '72 takes of "Ramble On Rose" on
CD, let alone three "Jack Straw"s? Also, a few of the performances early on
are surprisingly raw. On "Greatest Story Ever Told", Jerry Garcia battles a
squeaky wah pedal while Bob Weir's guitar tuning clearly suffers in the
Bickershaw weather, and the ensemble vocals on "I Know You Rider" are rather
far on the ragged side. However, by disc two the boys have got it together
fairly consistently — even the falsetto backups on "The Stranger (Two Souls
In Communion)" are respectable. And a couple Dead skeptics I know have
cited "Greatest Story" as a highlight, so your mileage may vary.

These four CDs provide much evidence that the Dead's ensemble work was at a
peak at this time. Not just a display of the work of five young but
seasoned and versatile players (plus a characterful bluesman singer and the
pianist's wife on, err, occasional backups), this set shows a band with true
chemistry. In this initial round of listens, my ears turn again and again
towards Phil Lesh's bass — he constantly snakes through the music,
inserting oddball ideas where one least expects them. The solo breaks in
"Mexicali Blues", to name one song, are remarkable miniature examples of
Garcia and Lesh's ability to present two simultaneous lead lines without the
music becoming cluttered or competitive.

As a song collection, this is also impressive: a bounty of originals, only
four of them more than three years old at this point, plus a set of covers
dipping into country, blues and rockabilly (including some rarities: "Hey Bo
Diddley", "Sitting On Top Of The World", "Rockin' Pneumonia"). We also get
a generous helping of Pigpen, including his two
previously-available-only-on-(larger)-boxsets originals, and offering some
of the most musically worthwhile takes of the likes of "Good Lovin'" and
"Caution" in the band's history.

As for the "Dark Star", this is the fourth top-notch version to make it to
CD, with the others, for this reporter's taste, being 2/27/69, 2/13/70 and
9/27/72. The Dead's early '72 sound combined the driving quality of the
early years with some of the refinement to come, and this "Star" goes the
farthest into harsh space of those four, but still has the innocent energy
of the '69 version. The pre-verse jam is most eventful, coming close to
outclassing the post-verse jam, which draws near to "the Tiger" before
ending up with a "Mind Left Body"-esque theme.

This music yields greater rewards the more deeply one listens. No one
attempting to work in this genre (or follow it) should resist checking into

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