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Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration of Underground Tapes by Luis Rey (1991)


I cannot argue that Luis Rey has assembled a fantastic bootleg reference book, especially this third printing. When it comes to compiling song lists and tour dates he is second only to Howard Mylett, Dave Lewis, Richard Cole (like him or not he saw every show Led Zeppelin played for nine years in a row) and Chris Welch who, unlike Rey, are the world’s leading authorities on the band and personally acquainted with the group themselves, especially Cole.

Let me digress for a paragraph. Welch is guilty of writing one singularly dreadful puff piece book titled Power And Glory; avoid at all costs, but the rest of the books he’s authored about the band are quite good (which is another story altogether). Even Mylett’s Jimmy Page: Tangents Inside A Framework book is a similar sycophantic waste of verbiage, but buy it for nothing other than the rare pictures; and good luck finding it. Dave Lewis’ The Final Aclaim has a 1971 backstage photo of Page passing someone something that looks like a cigarette out of the frame—the cheeky caption: ‘Bringing the balance back.’ Rotsa ruck sourcing that book too! But I am reviewing Rey’s book, not one of Mylett’s, Welch’s or Lewis’.

As good as Luis Rey’s book is, it’s touring and performing reference material only. That’s all I really care about, Seattle mud sharks and Lori Maddox have nothing to do with Zeppelin’s musical talent! Rey also sorts out several date-unknown concerts here and links up a few other fragmented shows in admirable fashion. Rey’s song list compilations and rating of recording quality is impeccable, I cannot disagree with him. I own about 125 bootlegs of the five hundred and eighty something concerts the band performed while Bonzo was alive, half of them not listed in this book.

When Rey hazards an opinion about the band’s abilities is when his knowledge of the subject wears thinner than the seat of a long distance trucker’s pants. Rey makes the claim that the band’s March ’73 tour of Germany was Zep’s live performance pinnacle except that pinnacle would also have to have included the May and July ’73 American shows. The instrumentalists were indeed on fire then but it wasn’t like they ‘suddenly’ learned how to play; Zep’s reputation was long established prior to 1973. Plant’s top register shriek was at it’s finest from the band’s inception in September ’68 until June ’72; his vocals during this period were more the reason Zep was a worldwide phenomenon than Page, Jones and Bonham’s brilliant musicianship, although Page had always been recognized as a guitar hero. By the time of the German tour Percy’s voice had lost quite a few octaves. The February ’72 Australian tour was easily as incendiary as the one in March 1973. Australia was months before Plant had a node operation sometime between the superb June ’72 American run and the short Japanese October ’72 sojourn; where his voice was shot. His vocals were likewise painfully hoarse during the British shows in December ’72 and January ’73.

Where the author also falls woefully short of the mark is when he tries to talk like a musician and he is clearly not one. For instance, Rey cannot distinguish between a tempo change and a time signature. But he pretends to understand the basics of drums and guitars and his ‘pronouncements’ are laughable at best; I scoff at these. Another thing that irks me about him is he very obviously never saw Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham perform as a unit, but he acts like he has. Of the nearly 300 recordings listed herein not once does Rey claim: “I attended this show.”

Another area Rey is particularly lacking in is when reviewing performances, he makes some ridiculous judgment calls for someone who never saw the band in person. I went to five Zeppelin concerts in Texas between August 1969 and May 1977 and, now, have bootlegs of those shows. They sound absolutley nothing like the loud visceral live experience they were. Luis Rey especially rips on Zep’s ’77 tour. If Page played a bum note or two, Rey claims the whole show was a suckfest. One only had to watch the band in 1977 to figure out Page probably played the shows on coke and the encores on junk. There’s a little known but infamous story about an onstage monitor mixer who overheard Page ask Plant after he introduced a song in ’77: “How does that one go again?” and Plant hummed the riff to him. So what? If I could travel back in time and see one of those five shows again it would be the one in 1977, even though the two I saw in 1973 were the two best concerts I’ve ever seen. The only three bands I’ve ever wanted to see but didn’t were the Beatles, Cream and Zappa. I’ve seen the Doors, Hendrix, Dylan, the Airplane, Neil Young, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Who, Stones, Quicksilver, the Dead, Grand Funk, Rush and a hundred others all the way up through Soundgarden and Guns & Roses in the 90s when I stopped buying concert tickets.

To be fair, Rey’s reviews aren’t always wrong, sometimes he gets it right; a good bootleg will trample you underfoot and anyone can tell ‘that must’ve been a helluva show.’ Even Luis Rey.

April 19, 2013 - Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin Live An Illustrated Exploration Of Underground Tapes by Luis Rey | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Interesting and valid viewpoint in the above review. Namely, that in reviewing Led Zeppelin based upon bootlegs without ever hearing the band in concert one can never be sure of how the playing from a musical viewpoint really was better on one night from the next. Given the generally very poor quality portable tape recorders people had access to in the late 60s and 70s the resulting bootleg recordings do not give a very accurate idea of how Zeppelin really sounded to the audience. Many on the net have commented that the “thin” sound of the 77 USA tour bootlegs was not at all how the band sounded. But the thin sound adds to the listener’s belief that the band was playing at a lower standard that on other tours. Moreover, depending upon the position of the tape recorder at the venue certain tones would be more clearly heard than others, many frequencies would be completely lost or lack any clarity, hence why most bootlegs sound like crap and the live soundtrack The Song Remains The Same or the live How The West Was Won sound a 1000 times better. It is easy for “bum notes” to sound really woeful or on a different quality recording to sound really great for being a “bum note” because the rest of the instruments are more faithfully reproduced as is the instrument playing the “bum note”. But in a recording where the other instruments might sound weak sound wise or be barely perceptible (like the notes produced from a bass instrument) the “bum note” just sounds like adding more “mess” to a pretty horrid sound. You really have to use your imagination when listening to bootlegs. Another factor is that tape recorders then did not faithfully reproduce the volume levels of the band, when they played softly or loudly or in between. Many recorders had in built condenser microphones, which raise the volume of quiet passages of music and lessen the volume of loud passages of music so they sound more or less at a similar volume, no matter what volume differences there originally was. Although many of the bootlegs do not suffer from this factor many do. These flaws in bootleg recordings were a great disadvantage when Page’s soloing style developed into a looser, less rhythmic style in 77 than it previously was, with less use of precise, long rhythmic runs or phrases of notes played very quickly. Page’s precise rhythmic style suited the poor recording quality of bootlegs better than say in songs like Sick Again which has passages that are deliberately strange harmonically and sound out of key and out of time, deliberately reflecting the title, Sick Again, and the subject of the song, sounds unlistenable when you only have one poorly recorded melodic instrument, that has little presence and sounds very thin in the mix, Jones’s bass, providing the harmony upon which the solo is based upon. The solo in Sick Again, especially the one played in the coda of the song, sounds to the unfamiliar ear like it is out of key and Page is totally out of it on booze and drugs that has lead people to believe Page was not in a fit state to perform on the 77 USA tour, this is exaggerated by the fact that Page is also playing against the rhythmic pattern of the drums, not in unison with the drums, which is how the coda solo is also played on the studio recording, along with other overdubbed guitar parts – slide guitar parts and a rhythm guitar that plays in unison with the drums and provides a solid harmonic base to the coda for the “falling over drunk” solo to be played against. Obviously Page could not play 3 or more distinctly different guitar parts that form the coda to Sick Again in the studio recording in live performance. He could only approximate it. The result live is the solo that sounds like someone playing the guitar who does not know how to play the guitar properly. It is out of key, has “bum notes”, is out of time. I would argue that this was deliberate on Page’s behalf, not because he was so out of it on drugs. He wanted to sound like he was “way too out of it on drugs” to play properly on this particular song. Indeed, Eddie Van Halen made a disparaging comment in the 1980s when asked in an interview about Jimmy Page and he said in the studio Page was fabulous but live it sounded like he could not play properly. Eddie never saw Zeppelin live, he’d only based this opinion on bootleg recordings he had heard – or The Song Remains The Same film soundtrack, which does not make sense he had this opinion because on this recording Page does sound like he knows what he is doing, so l assume Van Halen’s opinion is based upon a bootleg he may have heard, he does not specify which recording he heard. So l am speculating. However, to highlight my point, listen to an official live recording of Black Dog, in the last verse of the song on the studio recording Page adds a second guitar playing the same guitar riff in previous verses in unison with the bass guitar but a 4th above. This creates a strange harmony. Live it sounds like an mistake untill you get used to it. But it is not a mistake. He plays the riff perfectly but a 4th above, just like on the studio recording. It has a jarring effect on the listener, like a mistake has been made. When this occurs it can sound like the overall sound of the band is “weak”, because the electric guitar and bass guitar are no longer in unison harmonically, although rhythmically they are the same. And why, when Page solos, and they are no longer rhythmically in unison, the band sound becomes weaker still. Add a change harmonically to Page’s solo and it sounds even weaker. This effect is exaggerated on poorly recorded bootlegs. Live, with a properly balanced sound mix, the huge drum sound and a really full and audible bass sound, a rhythm section that is playing very precisely, this would compensate for Page not playing the rhythm guitar parts when soloing and any other harmonic or rhythmic variations Page is introducing via the solo. The alternative to this is to play solos that are very rhythmic in construction, to play many notes per bar to maintain the forward intensity of the music, which is what Eddie Van Halen is so great at doing, which he learnt from Jimmy Page, who perfected this earlier in Led Zeppelin’s career live, not introduce notes that are outside the key the song is played in. Generally speaking, most of Page’s solos and the songs are played in an pentatonic mode, like most blues music is… the relative minor key with a few notes left out….however, Zeppelin being Zeppelin, they are the exception to the rule and tend to introduce notes not in the mode…. and at times play totally outside the norm…. nonetheless when Page plays outside the modal key of the music this sounds like it is wrong, until you get used to it. It is always worth remembering that there is a great deal of improvising in Zeppelin. Particularly in the solos, most of which are to do with Page’s guitar solos. In many cases the studio versions of the songs were just that…. studio versions, the bare bones of the song they would play live, the songs were a blueprint to play with and improvise within. Live, guitar parts could change, the guitar would sound very different to the studio guitar sound, vocal lines would be modified, bass and drums parts would change, sometimes becoming more complex than the studio parts. The solos in particular could very different to what Page played in the studio. This could be very disconcerting to a listener expecting the songs live to sound more like close replicas of the studio versions. Some songs could be very different both in the length of the solo sections and what was actually played in comparison to the studio versions. Initially, when l heard Zeppelin live for the first time, these changes to the studio recordings resulted in a disappointing listening experience. But very quickly l became used to their performance approach and usually l prefer the live versions of their studio songs – even if sonically that are not as perfectly recorded and the playing may not be quite as precise as you’d expect in a studio recording. Sometimes Zeppelin were even more precise and pulled off versions of songs that were amazing to hear because they were trying to play the songs at a far greater intensity than in the studio and adding musical details that were not even in the studio recording, paying at a far slower or much faster tempo, with greater attention to dynamics, volume, and interplay between the instrumentalists and the vocalist to create a more powerful sound and a more interesting variation in the development of the song. Dazed And Confused and No Quarter are only two great examples of this where they took it to a level few bands before or since could even perform close to, indeed, l have not heard any band be able to play at this level of improvisation which really is at a level that the very best jazz virtuosos are capable of. Even great metal bands that as musicians demonstrate a very high level of technical skill cannot be compared to Led Zeppelin because they generally play versions of their songs that do not allow any form of improvisation. They are the same every night. The solos, everything is the same. Albeit played extremely well. Zeppelin threw away the safety net of playing within known limits and as rehearsed. They introduced the element of chance and spontaneous composition, in other words, improvisation. Whereby the other musicians had to listen to what was being played by whoever was soloing, in most cases Page, and modify their playing accordingly. They had to anticipate how a solo was going to develop in a group setting and within the structure of a song or a long section that could be modified as to its length, or was an improvisation that also contained various distinct sections that would follow each other, but the playing within them allowed a lot of freedom for the soloist who also controlled when the section began and ended. Improvisation could also be done utilising other songs by other artists, quoting the entire song or a section of it around which to base a new improvisation, usually using rockabilly songs from the 50s or blues songs from the 50s around which a 20 minute improvisations could be created. At times, the band would improvise around riffs quoted from funk songs and introducing other instruments like the theremin played over a improvised funk rhythm section and incorporating a call and response improvisation with the vocalist. They had many ways of using the idea of improvisation in many different settings. I know of no rock band that has as many varied approaches to improvisation as Zeppelin or could pull it off to the standard Zeppelin did live. These are the many reasons why Led Zeppelin was and is considered that most exciting live rock band to ever hear live. Because of the risks they took, the element of surprise and how much more intense they were live in comparison to the studio. And they pulled it off so well…. they were great musicians who knew what they were doing and were prepared to go for it night after night. The bootlegs, for all their flaws in terms of recording quality, are a testimony to this. They are the documents that prove what audiences repeatedly say about them live. Luis Rey’s groundbreaking and exhaustive book for all its faults in its opinions – simply because he was not there – is irrelevant. Luis Rey’s contribution is that he by the 1990s when the first edition of Led Zeppelin Live was published had spent years, literally thousands of hours listening to every bootleg that was out there, documenting about half of Zeppelin’s concerts. That is an amazing achievement in itself. He then attempted to write about these concerts based upon the bootlegs only. Comparing them. To formulate his own opinion, ignoring what others has said that a certain concert was really great or whatever. He decided to start from the beginning, with a blank page and not listen to myths about certain concerts being the best they ever did. He was examining and evaluating Zeppelin’s playing skill and musicality live purely on the music he heard on these bootleg recordings, uninfluenced by the great light show, sound system and the “wow factor” of just being there. Rey was trying to be more objective than that. His opinion is his opinion, not necessarily the truth, but it is an extremely valuable perspective from a person who did the listening that others did not or have not done to the same degree, especially at the time. But he should be applauded for completing a mammoth task based upon acquiring bootleg recordings which were exceedingly difficult to come by, being illegal and pre-internet sharing, and very expensive to purchase (in the mid 90s a 3 CD live Zeppelin bootleg could cost you $90). Moreover, he was trying to establish a performance standard for a band that in 1969 was very different in what they played, how they approached live performance and what they wanted to sound like, than they were in 1977. How do you objectively compare two performances of the same song that sound wildly different to each other? Interesting problem to resolve, you cannot really compare them objectively, but it is great that someone has tried to do so and describe what those differences are and for what reasons he thought this concert might have been “better” than some other concert. Or describing different periods of the band and how they changed. Luis Rey tends to find the 1968-1973 years contain the most interesting live performances of Zeppelin and describes over and over why, what his criteria is for evaluating the performances. If you disagree with his criteria then you will disagree with his conclusion. There is nothing wrong in that. And it is of great benefit to people interested in Led Zeppelin in live performance that he has done his research – on his own – and come to the conclusions he has. His is the reference work anyone interested in evaluating Led Zeppelin in concert should read in conjunction with various bootlegs to understand where he is coming from. He may well be right. He might be wrong. But no-one else has attempted to compare every Zeppelin bootleg like Luis Rey has. He even created a rating system for the sound quality of of the bootleg he heard, then gave the various different titles of the bootlegs this particular concert has been released under so listeners could track down their own bootlegs that they would want for their collection. So his book was a great assistance to collectors in many ways. He also tried to avoid the hyperbole that many use in describing Zeppelin and just plain inaccurate use of language that many professional writers and fans use. Such as this reviewer claiming that Robert Plant’s voice “lost quite a few octaves” following a throat operation in late 72. If Plant lost quite a few octaves he would have not been able to sing at all, he would have had zero goal range. Secondly, l believe the operation occurred in late 1973 when they were recording Physical Graffiti, which is why the vocals sound raspier on that album. But l hear no diminishment in his vocal range by comparing it with earlier studio recordings. Moreover, listen to the bootleg from Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, June 2 1973. At the very last note played on Whole Lotta Love Plant delivers one note that is unbelievably high in falsetto, a note l have never heard him produce live on any other live recording. If his vocal range had been irreparably diminished then this note could note have been produced. What l believe occurred is this. Plant’s vocal style, singing at high volume in a screaming tone and largely in falsetto on the studio recordings is very damaging to the voice. Hence he got nodes on his vocal chords. The vocal acrobatics required to sing Zeppelin’s songs are extremely demanding to reproduce, even for Robert Plant. Try singing the opening vocal shrieks to the Immigrant Song in falsetto like Plant does and your voice will hurt. Most people will be hoarse in no time and unable to sing further. Now imagine singing like this for several hours a night, hundreds of times a year like Plant did between 1969 and 1973 and you will understand why he damaged his voice and had to have an operation. What you notice increasingly in bootlegs from late 72 onwards is that Plant started to sing less and less using his characteristic falsetto and creating those long wailing notes at the top of his vocal register. He still did it, but did it less. This was to protect his voice so it would not go completely fucked during a performance. This is probably why they never performed the Immigrant Song again after 1972. Not that his vocal range diminished. Moreoever, it has been reported that on various tours Plant caught the flu which made singing difficult. As did the big tours they did flying from one climate to the next. Changes in humidity, things like that, play havoc with the voice as does moving from air conditioned hotel rooms to cold or sweaty environments like the venues they played at with huge audiences. All this would take a toll on his singing ability. Listen to Listen To This Eddie, a really great bootleg from a sound recording viewpoint from the LA Forum in 1977 and you will hear Plant pulling off those high, wailing long notes of his early years, just less of them. This contradicts the opinion that Plant lost quite a few octaves way back in 1972 or 1973. Which is, if not a completely inaccurate statement, is an extremely gross exaggeration. It also contradicts the viewpoint that Jimmy Page was too out of it on “coke and junk” to play properly. Listen to the opening track The Song Remains The Same, which is played much faster than the studio original and you will be astounded by the band’s playing, especially Page’s. And this was the first song of the night. Listen to his playing on Since l’ve Been Loving You or No Quarter or any number of songs in the opening hours of this 3 hour concert and Page plays exceptionally well. As good as l have heard him on the same songs on other tours. But the versions here are different and there is the first time performances of songs like Nobody’s Fault But Mine and Sixty Years Gone and no Dazed And Confused, a song where traditionally Page pulled out all the stops as a guitar player and were in many ways the apex of a Zeppelin concert, featuring their most intense and impressive playing, other than the Whole Lotta Love medleys, neither of which they performed any more, except for about 3 minutes of Whole Lotta Love itself. There is some loose playing by Page but on the whole he is right on the money and when it is called for he plays impeccably. His rhythm guitar playing is faultless. If he was that out if it, these parts would have been noticeably sloppy, but they are not. Yep, he fluffs a about two harmonics in the 10 minutes guitar only Black Mountain Side. OK is was not perfectly executed, but it is still wonderfull to hear, it is an amazing merging of Bert Jansch and Davey Graham and Page’s early folk influences and an incredible moment when it leads you into the universe crushing Kashmir. It is the dramatic highlight of the whole concert musically speaking. Much of what would have been Dazed And Confused in former tours is now replaced by an acoustic set of 4 songs, plus the electric but subdued Black Mountian Side and Sixty Years Gone. There is no evidence here that Plant’s vocal range or Page’s guitar playing skills have diminished. The music does not call for virtuosic showing off. Then it is down to the last hour with Moby Dick, Page’s solo section with violin bow and theramin which sounds very interesting to my ears in an avant garde context, Heartbreaker, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love and Rock-n-Roll. It is all pretty faultless. And it would be great to have a multi-track track recording of these concerts released if one existed. l do NOT believe one does. So we only have the bootleg. And thank God we do. What is evident when listening to Listen To This Eddie is the unbelievably ecstatic reaction of the audience and that the band were taking their time between songs, they were not rushing from one song to the next and the band were playing very well and there was a great variety of material. These were long concerts taken at an even pace, with material covering their entire career to that time. Led Zeppelin where not trying to prove they were the Kings of Heavy Metal and focusing on that type of material or the great improvisational Zeppelin. They did not play some great songs in their catalog that you would expect, but you cannot play everything when you have released over 5 hours of great albums. Interestingly, Judas Priest supported them at the huge Oakland concerts (as did Lynyrd Skynyrd) and they said Zeppelin were amazing. Luis Rey said these concerts were pretty ordinary from his point of view. And that is the limitation of using bootlegs as your only resource. You would think Judas Priest’s opinion was closer to the truth. But then Priest did not see Zeppelin play in 72 or 73. So as amazing as Zeppelin was in 77 maybe they were even more amazing in 1972 or 1973. Who knows. The reviewer above said he saw 5 Zeppelin shows, two in 1973 which were astonishing and one in 1977, which is the one he would love to attend again if he had a time machine. So perhaps Luis Rey is wrong. Sometimes. The thing is, Luis Rey undertook an enormous project that had no precedent. More bootlegs have come out since, covering concerts that Rey had no bootleg recordings of. No doubt he could now make his book even more comprehensive than it was. But his book was a unique and an invaluable contribution to understanding Led Zeppelin live and should be revered as such.

    Comment by Rodney | May 12, 2013 | Reply

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