Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Berkeley First Night (Berkeley, September 1971)


Community Theater, Berkeley, CA – September 13th, 1971

Disc 1 (64:03): Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day

Disc 2 (71:35): That’s The Way, Going To California, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love (incl. Boogie Chillun’, Hello Mary Lou, Mess O’ Blues, You Shook Me), Communication Breakdown (incl. Gallows Pole)

Led Zeppelin’s seminal seventh tour of the US began in LA, traveled around the country and ended with two dates in Berkeley and two in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both of the Berkeley shows were recorded from the audience and have been issued many times before. The more famous it the September 14th show because of the well known vinyl release Going To California and that it’s the best sounding recording to surface from that tour.

The September 13th Berkeley show is less known and much rarer. It has been released before as Back On the West Coast (Mad Dogs-031/32), Going To California II (Tarantura T2CD-17), California Stampede (Magnificent Disc MD-7102 A/B) and part of the four disc set on Tarantura Going To California (TMQ 0501001 1, 2 / 0501002 1, 2) paired with the second show issued in 2005.

These releases were, in one way or another, problematic with speed problems, scarcity and over zealous mastering. The 2005 Tarantura effort was the best sounding version, running at the correct speed and having a crisp sound to it. But Berkeley First Night is a substantial improvement over the Tarantura. Coming from the master tape, it has much more clarity, depth, and presence than any previous version.

Unfortunately the master tape is still incomplete. A review in the Oakland Tribune stated “when called back for an encore, they went into ‘Been a Long Time,’ also from their upcoming album and again blasted the audience out of the auditorium, ears ringing with the tunes of Led Zeppelin, probably the loudest group to come out of England.” The encores are missing “Rock And Roll,” stopping with “Communication Breakdown.”

All Led Zeppelin concerts from 1971 are intense, semi-violent affairs worth hearing and the first night in Berkeley is no exception. After they are introduced they walk onstage and deliver an excellent performance. The Tribune review states the band “proved itself only to be loud, boisterous and very deafening at their first Bay Area appearance in over a year last week. Filling the Berkeley Community Theater with some 40 amplifiers and speakers, the English group apparently mis-judged its sound projection because its effect was almost unbelievable, and often unbearable…. The concert, which started 20 minutes late, began with the barely recognizable ‘Immigrant Song,’ with Page improvising to the hilt throughout the number and Plant dancing around onstage spastically to the tune.”

“Good evening” Plant says afterwards. “It’s been quite a while. This is something a little lighter, more restrained” he calls “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” There is a short delay because of “a little problem in the tuner. The difference in temperature between an early start and an early finish on the instruments being torn about, bit by bit.”

The first new song of the night is “Black Dog” and as Plant explains, “We got a new album coming out in about three weeks time. There’s been so much messing around trying to get a cover.”

“Dazed And Confused” is about twenty minutes and is described in the review as being “mystic and haunting.” Jimmy Page includes Bach’s bouree in the violin bow segment as well as the loud zeppelin crash common in these 1971 performances. During the improvisation Page plays a country hoedown passage right before the call and response section which he abandons in later tours.

An unknown, very catchy and heavy riff sounding similar to “Out On The Tiles” starts off “Whole Lotta Love.” The medley stretches to twenty minutes long and includes “Boogie Chillun’,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Mess O’ Blues” and a very long “You Shook Me.” Before the first encore “Communication Breakdown” Plant says: “we’ve come here for three years. Thirty six months in which we’ve grown hair, and we sweat. Tonight, you ain’t sweatin. Sweat!” Plant throws in some lines from “Gallows Pole” during the guitar solo.

Berkeley First Night is a very good release meant to give this show serious consideration for collectors. It has always been overshadowed by the more famous second night in Berkeley. And while the sound quality is nowhere near as good, it is very good in this edition and reveals an excellent performance. It is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with excellent use of period photographs and is worth having.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Berkeley First Night | , | Leave a comment

Elton John Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)


When I first reviewed Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, it caught me off guard. I hadn’t actually listened to it prior to reviewing it, and I was utterly shocked by how quickly I fell head-over-heels in love with it.

I liked it so much that it was immediately thrust right into my Top 10. I praised it endlessly as being a complete masterpiece from beginning to end as well as being one of the grandest pop statements ever recorded. Sometimes the danger of making such broad generalizations of an album I’m new to is overrating it. Sure, after cooling down a bit, I could learn I was just caught in the heat of the moment. But almost five years had gone by, and my high opinion of it hadn’t even once been called into question. This is still my favorite Elton John album!

Truth be told, my extremely high opinion of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is one that isn’t shared by any other reviewer that I know of. So, the chances that you, o unsuspecting reader, will think as highly of it as I do are pretty slim. And I’ll even go right out and say that I can understand why some critics don’t have such a high opinion of it. This is clearly part of the uber-polished era of his career, and it’s lacking that raw, earthy feel exhibited in his earlier works. And critics who judge music based on the radio hits were also let down by this album. The only well-known song on here is “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” a ballad that is still not as famous as plenty of his others. Most critics respect this album, but I still hold a bit of a deviant opinion here.

To answer the concerns of the first set of critics, since they raise the most valid points, I agree that Captain Fantastic is a heavily processed album ……… but, then again, so was Abbey Road. The production values are one of the reasons I like this album so much. It doesn’t get any better than those crunchy drums melding with bass guitar as clear as a bell along with nicely strummed acoustic guitar and Elton John’s classy piano chords. Oh man!!! This album is slick and perfectly refined. It’s like a very good table varnish, or something. (OK, that’s a terrible metaphor. I don’t feel like changing it.)

Since you already think I’m overrating this album, I’d might as well rant and rave about some of these excellent songs without restraint. (I don’t have much room left to talk about them individually in this review body, so I’ll have to direct you to my detailed track reviews.) Most of these songs squeezed A+’s out of me. The ones that didn’t probably could have, but I was trying my best to not go too “overboard.” The enormously endearing title track begins the album on a remarkably sweet note. It’s not a flashy song, but more of a subtle, gorgeous one that’s a bit like snuggling in a warm blanket. And even though it’s fairly reserved, it has those pangs of excitement interspersed throughout. Really, this is a splendid way to open the album!

And then there’s “Bitter Fingers,” which goes back-and-forth between a twinkly ballad and one of the most infectious dance pieces that Elton ever created. “(Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket” is also an infectious dance-pop number, and when you get a load of that crunchy bass groove, you’ll really begin to appreciate the album’s ultra-sleek production standards. “Tell Me When the Whistle Blows” has such an excellent use of a string section that I’m sure Barry White had a hard time restraining his intense pangs of jealousy! “We All Fall in Love Sometime” is one of his sweetest ballads… It’s not anything like that showy “Candle in the Wind;” there’s a real subtle class to it, and it gets me every time. The bold “Curtains” ends the album with a bang. The ultra repetitive chorus at the end rings of “Hey Jude,” and it’s surprising how close that song is in terms of quality. This is quite a special album! Perhaps one of the best ever created. That’s just my opinion.

Should I talk about the bonus tracks? I guess I should! Elton seemed to be into a sort of Beatles craze. He covers “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the solo-Lennon song “One Day At a Time.” Both of these renditions keep what was great about the originals, but he treats them as though they were his own babies. I’m not very familiar with “One Day,” but he does things with “Lucy,” like ending it with a joyous chorus, that I would never have thought possible after hearing the original. Geez, this guy knew what he wanted to do! As fantastic as those were, the biggest gem in the bonus tracks is undoubtedly “Philadelphia Freedom.” It’s a song with real spirit, an incredibly infectious melody, and that string section is heaven.

Oh man. This album is just too good. If you don’t think this is the greatest thing in the world, then you should rethink your position. If you thought about it, and you still don’t agree with me, then please just humour me and pretend that you do. I can’t believe I’m the only person in the world who likes Captain Fantastic this much.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy | | Leave a comment

Elton John Rock Of The Westies (1975)


As you probably could have gathered from the title, Rock of the Westies is full of rock songs, and if you read further into the title, you can gather that they apparently came from a place called “Westies.”

That’s right; you won’t find many ballads here. There is only one of them, as a matter of fact, and it’s called “I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford).” It’s a strapping fine song with a nice melody and solid instrumentation, but you’ll probably notice immediately that it isn’t nearly as engaging as his other ballads. But we can forgive that (Right?) because the primary purpose of this album is to rock.

And ROCK, it does just fine. The nice thing about rock ‘n’ roll Elton John is that he’s pretty much always fun at it. Even in the 1980s when his career became stale, his rock ‘n’ roll songs were still enjoyable. They might not have been memorable, but he had a naturally good vocal chops and he generally attracted good musicians to keep them sounding punchy. The exact same thing can be said for Rock of the Westies.

That’s not a good thing, though. Comparing anything to Elton John’s 1980s career is not a compliment! In the 1980s, Elton John existed merely as a zombified shell of his old self where he lost his uncanny sense of melody and harmony, and making it worse, he didn’t seem nearly as keyed-up as he used to. By a large account Rock of the Westies was where that cancerous process had started. You can really begin to suspect something was up by the end of the album when the dull rocker “Hard Luck Story” and the 1970s elevator muzak “Feed Me” comes in. Man, those are flat and lifeless songs.

In fact, you could probably sense that in the other songs, but those were kept alive by a raucous vocal performance, great back-up musicians, and/or unusual “gimmicks.” “Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)” has a nice tune, but what ends up holding my attention the most are those cartoony guitar and synthesizer tones. So, it makes a good listen, but even then, it isn’t as captivating in that Elton-John-y kind of way. You know what I’m talking about! “Grow Some Funk on Your Own” and “Street Kids” both have cool, gruffy guitar tones, a solid driving beat, and an energetic vocal performance. Songs as spirited as those are impossible to hate — you might even start to love them after awhile — but it’s difficult to deny that they lacks the inspired, infectious quality of his classic stuff.

Even the album’s big hit, “Island Girl,” is a surefire sign that he was declining. Commercially he was doing just fine, though; it hit the No. 1 spot in the charts. I feel great and happy when I’m listening to it, but there really isn’t anything that special about it. Of all his hits, that’s among his least. (I’m saying this even though I gave it an A- … well, it’s still a good song!) Also a good song is the medley that opens the album. It has a fun beat and a nice melody.

But what pushed that over the edge is how he layered the “Yell Help” and “Wednesday Night” sections together toward the end. You wouldn’t think they would go well together, but they did! Nice touch! And the end where the band plays a funky beat as fast as they could is nutty, and that’s another point in its favor. I also enjoyed the ending track “Billy Bones and the White Bird” with that thundering drum beat and that unexpected and beautiful chorus section he worked in. That was the best ending I could have hoped for.

Even though I said constantly that this album was the beginning of the end for Elton John, it was a gradual process for him. There’s still enough about Rock of the Westies that is good and holy, and it would be a good album to possess if you really like his earlier stuff. Just make sure and don’t listen to the bonus tracks. They are the worst bonus tracks of all time! One of them is something similar to the title track from Captain Fantastic except it’s stale and entirely forgettable. The second one is a piano ballad ………….. and it’s by far the worst, most tedious piano ballad I ever heard him do.

This all points to Blue Moves, the tedious double-album monster.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Rock Of The Westies | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin No Quarter (Earl’s Court, May 1975)


Disc 1: Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir, No Quarter

Disc 2: Tangerine, Going To California, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 3: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog

At least three audience recordings are extant for Led Zeppelin’s May 18th concert at Earl’s Court Arena. A forty-minute source surfaced on vinyl and was released on No Quarter (Red Devil), whose title and label name has been recycled several times in its publishing history. The second, excellent quality source surfaced on the excellent Complete Earl’s Court Arena (IM-012/014). The third was used for older releases on Tarantura (Argenteum Astrum, (NQ 1 ~ 4)), Antrabata (the underrated Arabesque & Baroque – The Second Night (ARM 180575)), and The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin (Red Devil (TDOLZ Vol. 76) in a gorgeous package).

No Quarter, the latest version released by Tarantura in November, is a three source mix like Empress Valley’s version from their Demand Unprecedented box set, but the editing is not improvident but well thought out and Tarantura presents what is arguably the definitive version of this show. The majority of Tarantura consists of the second tape source with the other two filling in the gaps which are generally very small and consists for the most part with Robert Plant’s introductions before various songs. For the main source used, it is longer than previous editions with the end of “Moby Dick” finally surfacing. Overall this is a very good to excellent, three-dimensional recording with good dynamics capturing the event beautifully.

The acoustics of the venue lend a heavy echo which only adds to Zeppelin’s already powerful set list. The audience recordings from this set of shows provide a detailed glimpse into the spectacle. After Radio 1 DJ Johnny Walker says, “you’ve waited a long time” someone by the taper replies “you’re fucking right!” The set list is the same as from the American tour but with “Tangerine” and an acoustic set thrown in offering an even more comprehensive statement of their life’s work.

And this concert also received favourable reviews in the British music press with Sounds printing the review “This Gig Is Scarred On My Brain For Life” by Pete Makowski where he calls this the “ultimate in rock” and Melody Maker reviewing this as the “definitive rock performance”. The first of the Earl’s Court concerts has some problems and the band sound nervous, but the second is in general a much better performance with a more confident delivery.

The opening songs “Rock And Roll” and “Sick Again” sound a bit sluggish but “Over The Hills And Far Away” sounds amazing in this recording. The cavernous acoustics bring out the power in the old “You’re A Better Man Than I” guitar solo. This show has rightly singled out “No Quarter” as the title track. Some versions from the previous US tour sounded meandering but this version is confidant and a masterpiece of construction lasting twenty minutes.

“Tangerine” is introduced as the first time Zeppelin attempted four-part harmony. The virtue of the audience recordings is that one can actually hear the harmony which is absent from the better-known soundboard tapes. Like many audience tapes the acoustic set sounds crystal clear and is a nice added touch by the band in the middle of their electric crunch. “Dazed & Confused,” sounds great in this recording as does the finale “Stairway To Heaven”.

Aftwards an audience member can be heard gushing about the laser show and comparing it to Pink Floyd. Zeppelin follows with the standard encores, “Whole Lotta Love” followed by the theremin battle and funk exercises segueing perfectly into “Black Dog”. Tarantura use the cover of the Red Devil vinyl release on front of a four-fold cardboard gatefold sleeve. Inside is a collage of famous photographs from the Earl’s Court concerts with the set list printed on the inside.

No Quarter is another great release by this label who have been releasing excellent versions of well known tapes and this is the best version yet of the second night of Zeppelin’s massive concerts in Earl’s Court. Tarantura is set to release another version of No Quarter with two additional discs bringing the total up to five discs. The content of the two discs isn’t known and will be reviewed when they are finally heard.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin No Quarter | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin How Many More Years: The Legendary Fillmore Series-West Vol. 5 (San Francisco, January & April 1969)


Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA – January 11th, 1969
Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA – January 9th, 1969
Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA – April 25th, 1969

I Can’t Quit You, Dazed & Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times (includes Smokestack Lightening), Communication Breakdown. Bonus tracks, Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA – January 9th, 1969: Train Kept A Rollin’. Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA – April 25th, 1969: Train Kept A Rollin’, You Shook Me, Communication Breakdown, As Long As I Have You

How Many More Years is the fifth instalment of Empress Valley’s Legendary Fillmore Series begun several years ago. The main focus of this release is the well-documented January 11th soundboard recording from Bill Graham’s archives. First to surface was “I Can’t Quit You Babe” and cutting out in the middle of “How Many More Times”. The very first release of this was on the Japanese release Birth of the Gods (Balboa BP-0001) followed by Hampton Kicks on House Of Elrond (MG6741/2). “You Shook Me” appears on Fillmore East (007) on Mud Dogs (incorrectly attributed to Copenhagen, Denmark on September 14th, 1969). Three tracks, “I Can’t Quit You”, “Dazed & Confused”, and “You Shook Me”, appear as bonus tracks on Whole Lotta For Your Love (Pirate Records).

A more complete version of the soundboard with a complete “How Many More Times” and the encore “Communication Breakdown” surfaced on Syonen Zep Zokango (Akashic AKA-Millenium-3) followed by Pb+ (1/69-3/70) on Wild Card, Psycho A Gogo! (Led Note LCD 1504), Streets of San Francisco (no label) and finally Anybody Got a Les Paul? (Equinox EX-00-020). The sound quality of the Empress Valley is comparable to these. It is nice and clear but a bit dull. There is also noticeable tape bleed at the beginning where another band’s music is clearly audible (this isn’t a problem with the Equinox release however). This is earliest soundboard recording in Zeppelin’s career. Two tracks, ”Dazed & Confused” and “You Shook Me”, appear on Wolfgang’s Vault radio but attributed to the preceding evening, January 10th which is probably an error.

The sound quality of those tracks is far superior to any bootleg release and there is strong hope that the complete audio (and rumored video) will someday surface. The tape begins during the technical difficulties following the opening track “Train Kept A-Rollin’” (which isn’t present). After Plant asks for a Les Paul for Jimmy.

That comment has always puzzled me since Page was using the Telecaster at this time. He didn’t employ the Les Paul until April. To kill more time Plant speaks about the National Trust before the band launch into a great version of “I Can’t Quit You”. The tape cuts out during the guitar solo in “How Many More Times” and picks up again at the final verse (“I wanna give you lovin’”). Plant goes into a discussion about whether they can do an encore and then nervously leads the band into “Communication Breakdown”.

The bonus tracks begin with the January 9th fragment of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” from the first night at the Fillmore West. It appeared previously as filler on Twinight (IM-002~3) on Immigrant and Whole Lotta For Your Love on Pirate Records. The problem is that Empress Valley didn’t use the real fragment but a higher generation of ”Train Kept A-Rollin’” from the April 25th tape that follows in this collection. This can easily be determined by Plant’s early entrance at the beginning of the song among other marks. It would have been nice to hear the legitimate version, but honestly nobody will seek out this title for this filler anyway so who really cares? This sounds fair to good with upper end distortion and goes by very quickly anyway.

The April 25th fragment is the least known and most obscure of the four legendary nights in San Francisco on the second tour. Most attention is focused upon the second night at Winterland on the 26th and the almost complete soundboard for the 27th, but this twenty-five minute tape has appeared only twice before on silver releases, on California ’69 (Lemon Song LS-7206, LS-7207) and Grande Ball on Missing Link (ML-010) where it is attributed to Chicago May 16th, 1969. It is a good to very good audience source which sounds better than the April 26th tape. It captures the dynamics of the performance and is very powerful.

It’s a shame it has only selections from the first set because this performance is absolutely ferocious. “I Can’t Quit You”, “Dazed & Confused” and “How Many More Times” are missing as well as half of “As Long As I Have You.” The version of “You Shook Me” on this night is perhaps the best version ever performed by the band. If the whole show were to surface this, and not the following two, would be the “legendary” show that is essential to own. Overall for this title the January 11th tape has no big improvement over previous releases and the January 9th tape isn’t really here. But the real focus of this should be the April 25th tape. Not only has it rarely circulated but also is one of the most enjoyable tapes from Zeppelin’s second tour to surface and something that really should be in your collection.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How Many More Years The Legendary Fillmore Series-West Vol 5 | , | Leave a comment

Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)


This album saw Elton and his crack band at the peak of their popularity, and often at the peak of their collective powers.

By now entrenched as one of the 70’s dominant performers, at this point a supremely confident Elton was willing to try nearly anything, which was both a blessing and a curse. The album is his best known due to its classic hit singles, including four A+ efforts in a row to start the album, but it also includes a fair amount of filler and is one of those “good double albums that could’ve been a great single album.”

Indeed, had Elton taken the best 9 or 10 songs here this would’ve easily been his best album, but his judgement here isn’t always to be trusted, as witnessed by the inclusion of misogynist, mean-spirited rockers such as “Dirty Little Girl” and “All The Girls Love Alice.” Other songs revisit previous styles a tad too closely and not as well (“The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-1934)” and “Roy Rogers” veer unimpressively into Tumbleweed Connection territory, while “Your Sister Can’t Twist” is a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roller a la “Crocodile Rock” only not nearly as good), or are too short (“This Song Has No Title”) or too long (“I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” which is also quite reminiscent of “Have Mercy On The Criminal” come to think of it).

Fortunately, much of the rest of the album is outstanding, and yes I’m including songs that I know I’m not supposed to like such as “Jamaica Jerkoff,” a silly but fun reggae throwaway, and “Social Disease,” which oddly enough combines bluesgrass with Dixieland jazz, but again in a fun way. Still, these are undoubtedly minor efforts on an album that is most definitely about its major efforts. Of those, the mournful 11-minute (!) epic (“Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)”) that begins the proceedings is arguably the best thing Elton ever did.

The first 6-minutes or so, the all-instrumental “Funeral For A Friend” part, is moody and funereal; it’s also almost prog-like in its multi-sectioned ambition, and it’s spectacularly successful in every way. Then the vocals kick in on the “Love Lies Bleeding” part, which is simply one of Elton’s very best rockers, with vocal hooks galore and his band in peak form, especially Johnstone. Though not a hit per se, this is a well-worn album track that subsequently became a radio favourite. The second song, “Candle In The Wind,” a lovingly rendered tribute to Marilyn Monroe, was a U.K. hit in 1974, a top 10 hit when released from a 1987 live album, and of course was revised and sung at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997; the single released of that version became a worldwide #1 hit.

Now that’s an enduring ballad, and in addition to its excellent melody and moving lyrics I really like Olsson’s drum performance on this original version, as well as the airy backing vocals and Johnstone’s riffs. Next up is another classic single in the campy #1 hit, “Bennie and the Jets,” which is mostly notable for its canned applause, piano hooks, and of course Elton’s fabulous falsetto vocals, which also grace the musically lush, deeply affecting title track, one of Elton’s best ballads and another major hit single. Other impressive album cuts are the previously mentioned (in my Elton John review) “Grey Seal,” and “Sweet Painted Lady,” which overcomes more misogynist lyrics by virtue of Elton’s tender delivery of them plus another pretty melody.

Still, only two of the albums truly classic tracks come on what used to be sides three and four (the album is now a single cd), thereby strengthening the “this should’ve been a single album” argument, but “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” is a terrific, hard charging, rabble rousing party tune that’s simply Elton’s most convincing guitar driven rocker, period. Last but certainly not least is the short but sweet album closer “Harmony,” which is basically the antithesis of the opening track but which is also impressive enough that it became a popular radio track without being released as a single. I’m not surprised how that happened, as the song’s airy harmonized choruses, in direct contract to its sombre deep voiced verses, are almost impossible not to sing along to.

So, long story short (though it’s probably too late for that!), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on which Del Newman, not Buckmaster, added orchestrations to several songs, could’ve been a masterpiece had it been edited down, but its many high points capture the multi-faceted talents of one of the brightest pop stars of the ‘70s. For all its over ambitious faults, none of his other albums range quite so far or show off so many different styles, and as a result for better and sometimes worse Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the quintessential Elton John album.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road | | Leave a comment

Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield (1992)


Review Bill Graham is the rock promoter most famous for operating the leading rock and roll theatres of the late sixties and early seventies, including the original Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco, the Fillmore East in New York, and the Fillmore West, (a different building in San Francisco.)

The Fillmore period was sort of a golden age of rock and roll. Graham was able to present virtually all the cutting edge bands of the time, including some acts, like Santana and the Allman Brothers, before they even had their first record out. Rock and roll shows had never received the kind of attention to detail and respect for performers and audiences that Graham brought to the Fillmore’s. Graham presented a variety of music, including blues and jazz, although the headliners were almost always top draw rock and roll acts.

Many artists took advantage of the Fillmore’s reputation to record live albums there. In fact, according to this book, 58 albums were recorded at the Fillmore’s and 17 of them were certified gold. The Fillmore’s also became gathering places for the music industry. Graham was more than just a first hand witness to this era, he helped to create it. The Fillmore sections of this book are a fascinating examination of how the Fillmore came into existence, how the musicians felt about playing for Bill Graham, how the booking policy of the Fillmore evolved, and finally why Graham closed the Fillmore’s at the peak of the their success.

In addition to Graham’s own memories, there are memories of his contemporaries as well which round out the story. Italics are overused in attempt to make the writing sound like a transcription of someone talking, but this is only a minor irritation. Consider the following quote from Pete Townsend which is taken from the book: “(Graham) gave us dignity. We felt we weren’t the pop plebes we had been when we went out with Herman’s Hermits and we were told to shut up and get in the back of the bus. We were dignified people. We were artists.”

Graham’s opinions are fun to read. Who was the best act he ever saw? (Otis Redding) Who was the biggest pain in the neck? (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).

Of secondary importance, but still fascinating, an added bonus really, are Graham’s memories of his childhood escape from Nazi Germany. Most biographies are boring when the subject’s childhood is discussed, but in this case, Graham’s family was broken up during the Nazi era. Graham was a small boy and the only member of his family to escape to the United States. He was reunited with his surviving sisters after the war.

Review As a theatre venue manager and talent promoter for the past twenty years, I’ve always known Bill Graham as the most recognizable face in our business, but it was only when I read this book that I came to understand what a trailblazer and true impresario he was. A truly complicated, conflicted, and not always role-model quality man, Graham was a genius at making the concert experience something more than just people listening to music, which is something we sorely miss in the concert business now. The early story of his flight from Nazi Germany is just icing on the cake.

I actually bought eight copies of this book and distributed them to my staff. That’s how valuable I thought this book was for anyone associated with making theatre-goers happy. It’s also a great general read, because the story is gripping no matter what.

Not everyone loved Bill Graham, and for good reason, but the legacy he left (even though we’ve managed to bury it in the past ten years) is a rich one that we can all continue to be inspired by.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Book Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock And Out by Bill Graham and Robert Greenfield | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Conquering Kingdome (Seattle, July 1977)


Kingdome, Seattle, WA – July 17th, 1977

Disc 1 (68:19): Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills and Far Away, No Quarter

Disc 2 (64:32): Ten Years Gone, The Battle of Evermore, Going to California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, White Summer, Kashmir

Disc 3 (76:53): Over The Top / Moby Dick, Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll

Conquering Kingdome is the latest release of the popular July 17th, 1977 Seattle show. Previous releases of this show can be found on very good audience recordings like In A Delirious Daze (Equinox EX-00-013/014/015), a legitimate soundboard like on Jupiter And Saturn (Tarantura TCD-45-1~3) and the video soundtrack like on Fallen Angel (Tarantura TCD-104-1~3).

Godfather utilize the video soundtrack which is found on such releases as Year Of The Dragonon Empress Valley. It’s been remastered to give it a bit more liveliness and punchiness making it very enoyable to listen to. The first pressings had two-second gaps between each of the tracks. But this defect has been corrected by the label.

Seattle is the first show of what was supposed to be the third leg of their massive summer tour in 1977. They would play a few more shows, but this remains one of their final shows in the US. A review of this concert states that “the Led Zeppelin concert at the Kingdome came off without too much trouble. There were several arrests, lots of dope and booze smuggled in – either under coats or inside bodies – and some very sick kids from drinking too much.

“Led Zeppelin has earned a reputation for attracting surly crowds which generally fight and riot. But the most damage was to the ears and there is a possibility 62,000 people will spend today saying, ‘Huh?’ What attracted these people, generally hard-core rock fans, was the experience. It was appreciated by some when the lead singer, Robert Plant, told the crowd he was deaf in one ear. It was a miracle the whole band wasn’t stone deaf. Later, Plant said his hearing came back during one number.

“The concert started shortly after 8 p.m. amid fireworks and people holding up lighted matches, the moment everybody had been waiting for. Throughout the long Sunday, the huge crowd remained orderly as it waited to get through the gates and have the experience. … Plant promised that the 1977 tour would be ‘blood, thunder and the hammer of the gods.’ A squad of paramedics was geared up for the blood and everybody else was geared up for the thunder and hammer part.” (Post-Intellengencer – July 1977)

Seattle, because of the sterility of the venue and the length of the break, is a bit tired and cold sounding. The start, with “The Song Remains The Same” and “Sick Again” both sound very good. Robert Plant greets the audience afterwards and mentions several problems, notably himself going deaf in one ear, “which leaves the critics to work it out for themselves” he jokes, and Page having a touch of “sleeping sickness.”

Things do improve in “No Quarter,” which Plant introduces as ”a song about a journey. A rather, a journey that has its pitfalls and a journey with anticipations of all sorts of problems.” Unlike the wired versions played in Los Angeles, this one is much slower and well thought out. Jones tries several ways to get the audience involved in the piece, including standing up and encouraging the to cheer (not audible on the recording but visible on DVD).

Afterwards Plant shares some good news with the crowd: “Well I guess it’s a funny thing to tell ya that when you’re deaf in one ear, but you know what’s happened? It’s clear again. It’s the strangest cure I’ve ever known.” He then speaks about “Ten Years Gone” and he band deliver a very good version of the piece.

“The Battle Of Evermore” is the first song of the acoustic set, a song which Plant calls “medieval punk rock.” Before “Black County Woman” he has to scold the audience for throwing firecrackers, saying it is “about the lousiest thing that you could possibly do to throw firecrackers, right? Now I suppose at the end of saying that, somebody’s just going to throw one to go well there you go man, but it would be really about the best thing that you could do on a Sunday night not to throw firecrackers. Is everybody agreed? And then it will also aid us to play acoustic music without having a heart attack.”

The Physical Graffiti song segues into “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.” There seems to be a problem with the guitar in the middle. Plant sings an impromptu “When The Saints Come Marching In” over a bass-line by Jones. “That little bit of impromptu jazz in the middle doesn’t usually happen” Plant explains afterwards. ”It was a broken string that caused it, but at least we know we can play in the bar at the hotel afterwards.”

After very good versions of “Kashmir” and “Moby Dick,” Page has his guitar solo. At fifteen minutes, it’s scaled back from the Los Angeles extravaganzas and not as night. It segues into a weak version of “Achilles Last Stand” which even has Plant a bit embarrassed. The show ends with “Stairway To Heaven” and before the encore Plant thanks ”Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska, Idaho, Portland, Northwest United States.”

Overall it’s a professional performance by Led Zeppelin, but certainly not one of the best from the tour. It does have it’s charm and the great sound quality makes it that much more appealing. Conquering Kingdome is packaged in a trifold gatefold sleeve with various stylized photographs from their eleventh US tour on the artwork. This is a nice sounding upgrade of a very common tape and worth having.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Conquering Kingdome | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin In Through The Out Door (1979)


I suppose if you’re not going to go out with a bang, then you’d might as well go out confusing the hell out of everybody. This was the final Led Zeppelin album released while all the members were still alive (John Bonham would die the following year), and this is one freaky beast. Legend has it, these guys had so many problems that they were hardly able to function as proper human beings much less coherent musicians. The only member of the band who was straight enough to write new songs was John Paul Jones.

Jones was also apparently aware of his surroundings enough to realize that the music the kids were listening to in 1979 was disco and new wave. So, lo and behold, In Through the Out Door is very much a keyboards driven album! Except, the keyboards are very weak in the mix and thus sound terribly amateurish. I certainly can’t blame them for not letting the keyboards dominate everything since Led Zeppelin had the great Jimmy Page among their ranks, and nobody would dare drown him out. Except Page spent most of the album puttering about in the background not seeming to give much of a damn about what he’s playing. And all I can say about the nearly dead drummer Bonham was that he kept good time; if you’re expecting him to throw out any inventive fills in the mix, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

I think nearly everyone can agree that Led Zeppelin were reduced mere shells of their former, glorious selves at this point, even compared to Presence, and yet this album entertains the hell out of me. I was starting to worry that the entertainment value of this album was unintentional, but I listen to a song like “Hot Dog,” and I realize that at least they had control of their faculties enough to goof on Elvis. Plant warbles around amusingly in that Elvis Presley way (as opposed to the Robert Plant way), and that generic country-rock hoedown groove they generate is so much fun that it makes me want to get up out of my chair and goof around with them.

I can’t be sure what was possessing them to do it, but they wrote a 10-minute song devoted mostly to a disco groove, and they dubbed it “Carouselambra.” It’s such a strange song. Plant wails over it just as though he were (poorly) singing a regular Led Zeppelin song, and Page can barely be heard making deeply pitched growling noises with his guitar in the background. It’s such an odd thing, but I somehow find it rather infectious and at least Jones’ bass is danceable! Unfortunately the middle portion of that song is devoted to a very long and very sluggish bit of heavy blues that has absolutely no personality. When they get to that portion of the song, 10 minutes starts to seem like 20 minutes.

The lengthy reggae bit in the middle “Fool in the Rain” is nearly unlistenable, and the vaguely poppish “All My Love” is so awkwardly played that they sound like a mediocre high school band warming up. “South Bound Suarez,” on the other hand, utilizes such a strange keyboard texture that I can’t help but to sit up and take notice of it. Heck, perhaps I even like it! The opening song, “In the Evening” certainly didn’t need to be seven minutes long, but I find that dumb keyboard-centric riff to be quite catchy, and it’s complimented well with some heavily mixed and simple drumming.

A lot of people really like the closing song “I’m Gonna Crawl,” and I have no trouble believing that whatsoever. The main attraction there, surprisingly enough, is Plant who actually vomits in his microphone in a convincingly emotional manner. I don’t find the melody or groove engaging whatsoever, and in fact I get bored of it after only a short time, but Plant somehow manages to keep it together. Even a functional Page comes in here and there with a few interesting licks.

Led Zeppelin in In Through the Out Door were half-disintegrated, and I wouldn’t recommend this album to anybody. However, if you’ve purchased it by accident, then you might be surprised to find some entertainment value in this strange, strange album. To say the least, it was a head-scratching way for this band to go out.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin In Through The Out Door | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Coda (1982)


I’ve been long suspect that I’ve been a dummy my entire life. The fact that I can listen to a much maligned outtakes album like Coda and enjoy it more than Presence has such connotations. How can a straight-thinking person think such things? Maybe it’s the pure imperfection of this I like. Perhaps I approached their earlier albums feeling that Led Zeppelin were a little too self-aware that they were immortal rock ‘n’ roll gods. Who knows?

Anyway, Bonham died in 1980, and I guess that meant there was no chance of Led Zeppelin continuing to release albums under that moniker. So I guess that gave Jimmy Page reason enough to go through the vaults to pick out some unused songs to remix and release. Some people saw this gesture as a cheap cash-in, but according to Page, it was a response to these songs being rampantly bootlegged at the time. That’s a really damn good reason for him to have released this. If nothing else, it proved that there was a sizable audience for this stuff.

And the kids of the early ’80s had a good reason to be interested to hear these songs. The opening track, “We’re Gonna Groove,” kicks ass! It was recorded live way back in 1969. As you might imagine, that was when the band was at the peak of their live playing abilities, and it shows. Everything is in its place; Plant squawks like a rock star, Page’s guitar licks are tight and exciting, Jones’ bass is infectious and danceable, and Bonham’s drumming is tight. It’s a cover of a B. B. King song, but it sounds exactly like a classic old Led Zeppelin song. So where can it go wrong? Frankly, I wonder why this song isn’t more beloved by their fans.

A live version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is also included, and it’s certainly another one that the die-hard fans will lap up greedily. I find it to be a little bit sloppy and I’m not a huge fan of Page’s improvised and selfish licks throughout, but I can’t deny that I get a little something pumping through my veins when I listen to it. “Poor Tom” is a folkish rocker that was left off of Led Zeppelin III. It isn’t bad for what amounts to a two-chord song! What keeps it afloat, amazingly enough, is Bonham’s tight drumming.

Also amazingly, Coda contains a four-minute drum solo, “Bonzo’s Montreux,” that I don’t find boring. When I think of drum solos, I usually think of flashy and pitter-pattery things that are sometimes fun at first, but they pretty quickly start to bore me. This drum solo, on the other hand, is rhythmic and huge. It sounds as though Bonham were playing it on a mountaintop, and Zeus was his audience. I can’t say I’m greatly awestruck listening to it—it’s just a drum solo after all—but it’s one of the few drum solos out there, I’m aware of, that makes me want to tap my foot.

Things were going great until the closing track, “Wearing and Tearing,” an overlong and sloppy song that was left off of In Through the Out Door. Shouldn’t we be immediately suspect of anything that was left off of that album? Normally yes, but I actually like the other outtake, “Darlene.” It’s a stiff boogie-woogie, but the detached riff is kind of catchy, and the loud drumming makes it seem epic. They even treated us to some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano in there, which certainly doesn’t hurts!

Despite my opening paragraph, Coda is by and large the worst Led Zeppelin album. It’s the most scattershot and sloppy collection of songs this band ever released. But what were we expecting? Masterpieces? This is an outtakes album, for cripes sake! What’s more, they had already used up the best of their pre-1975 outtakes for Physical Graffiti. However, this album isn’t as bad as its reputation would have us believe. I found Coda to be an altogether fun release. However, it’s only meant for people who already own and love all Zeppelin’s other albums. Make this your final Led Zeppelin purchase. Unless you’re weird and like to do everything backwards.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Coda | | Leave a comment