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Led Zeppelin Four Blocks In The Snow (Madison Square Garden, February 1975)


Madison Squrare Garden, New York, NY – February 12th, 1975

Disc 1 (75:42): Introduction, 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 (63:49): Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick, Dazed And Confused

Disc 3 (37:54): Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, Heartbreaker

Disc 4 (58:36): Introduction, 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

Disc 5 (45:45): No Quarter, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 6 (72:02): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, Heartbreaker

Led Zeppelin’s final gig in Madison Square Garden in 1975 is among the best recorded and most popular, considered by many to be part of the core for any collection. Three unique sources exist for the show and has been in almost constant circulation for thirty years. Two audience and an excellent soundboard all exists and have been pressed many times. Four Blocks In The Snow collects together the two audience recordings in one six disc package for the first time. Discs one through three has the first audience source that is one of the most clear and vivid of their entire live career. It first saw release on vinyl on In Concert (Rock Solid Records RSR 206) and In Person(Rock Solid Records RSR 205) and both included in The Final Option boxset. Other vinyl titles include Live At Madison Square Garden 1975(Zep Toepper LZ500) with “Rock And Roll,” “Sick Again,” “No Quarter,” “Moby Dick” and “In My Time Of Dying,” Madison Square Garden (The Swingin’ Pig Records TSP 300-6) and Madison Square garden 1975 (The Swingin’ Pig Records TSP 500-5/3).

Compact disc releases include Heartbreaker’s Back In Town Vol. 1 (TNT Studio 92 0120) and Heartbreaker’s Back In Town Vol. 2 (TNT Studio 92 0121), The Jumpleg (Tarantura T3CD-7) and its European copy 10th US Tour (Whole Lotta Live WLL001/2/3). Last Stand Disc issued the tape twice. The first is MSG 1975 (LSD-12/13/14) and an improved copy on MSG 1975 (LSD-79/80/81). The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin also issued the show twice on Can’t Take Your Evil Ways(TDOLZ Vol. 19) with a limited edition boxed set and a normal cardboard gatefold sleeve release. Other versions include Ladies and Gents (Tarantura TCD-7) and Madison Square Graffiti (Red Devil RDO15-1,2,3). There are cuts after “The Rain Song” and “Moby Dick” and, despite claims by both TDOLZ and TCOLZ, a cut at 9:45 in “Moby Dick.”

Discs four through six contain the second audience recording that was pressed several years ago on That’s All Right New York (Electric Magic EMC-011 A/B/C). That release was highly processed and sounded horrible as most of their latter day releases were. The sound quality is good but highly distorted in the higher frequencies and if it weren’t for that problem this would be a really nice alternative to the first audience recording. TCOLZ didn’t try to fix the issue but rather left it along making the first pressed edition worth listening to. This version is also pitched corrected. There are cuts at “Sick Again” at 0:35, “The Rain Song” at 6:59, “Moby Dick” at 1:15 and 3:18, and in “Dazed And Confused” at 24:32.

The opening introduction is much longer in the second recording, capturing the mc asking people to not stand up and pointing out the seats behind the stage are good. The band start the concert with noticeable intensity before Plant speaks to the audience, saying, “We came four blocks in the snow to get here, you realize that? Well let me tell you something. People were calling me up on the telephone today saying is it gonna be on, is it gonna be on. For a minute I wondered about my anatomy, then I realized there was some discrepancy about the weather. Isn’t it good when it snows? Doesn’t it change the vibe of the city? I think it’s great. Anyway, so we’ll dedicate this to the keeper of the seasons. The man who gives us snow when we need it whoever he is, wherever he is.”

Natural disasters have a tendency to draw the community closer together and that effect works for this show as well. This isn’t any longer or shorter than others, but everything is delivered as such a quick pace and nothing drags. This being the final night at the Garden also has much to do what that as Plant says, “Thank you. This is what we consider to be the last of the New York concerts. We’ve got the Nassau county ones, but we’ve always really dig playing in the Garden, and so tonight we’re gonna have a really ecstatic one, right? This is co-dependent on two things, us and you.”

“The Song Remains The Same” continues the theme of travel and Plant introduces the song by saying, “this is a song that came to us along with a lot of very good experiences as we travelled the world. We ended up in Rodney Dangerfield’s would you believe?” (Dangerfield’s was the comedy club Rodney Dangerfield opened in 1969.)

“Now Qurter” is played by “the impeccably clean fingernails of John Paul Jones. The man who made Monty Python’s Flying Circus a flop in New York.” John Paul Jones takes his time in the solo, trying to develop an ominous theme but really doodles until Bonham picks up the pace. Page delivers a confident counter to the organ. The smoke machine didn’t work during the song, which Plant points out afterwards. The mood is lightneed more with “Trampled Underfoot” which is about “the embellishments of the motor car, and it has connotations to physical contact.”

After “Moby Dick” Plant calls Bonzo “the Johnny Weissmuller of the Plazza hotel.” The following song “Dazed And Confused” hits the half hour mark for the first time on the tour. Page brings the band into “Walter’s Walk,” a common theme from older tours but rare in 1975 and his solo in “Stairway To Heaven” is classic. “Heartbreaker” is played as the second encore and during the guitar solo they get into a bit of Elvis’ “That’s Alright” taken at a much slower and heavier tempo. “Ladies and gentlemen of New York. You’re too much, and we ain’t so bad ourselves” are Plant’s parting words. TCOLZ utilize a six disc fatboy jewel case to store the six discs. The artwork is again the plain brown paper bag motif used for all of their releases so far with a two sided insert with various tour photos and a photo of the ticket stub in the middle. This is one of the new labels much more interesting productions thus far and is worth having.

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Four Blocks In The Snow | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Some Colored Nancy (Nancy, France, March 1973)

59083989Summer Colored Nancy is Wendy’s newest release including audience tape from Nancy March 27th, 1973 with bonus tracks taken from the board tape from Bradford January 18th, 1973 show. As usual, the title is packaged in jewel case and has obi.

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Some Colored Nancy | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin We’re Playing Our Balls Out (LA Forum, March 1975)


The Forum, Los Angeles, CA – March 27th, 1975

Disc 1 (71:12): Introduction, 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, Since I’ve Been Loving You

Disc 2 (71:54): No Quarter, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (76:36): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog

Disc 4 (71:29): Introduction, 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, Since I’ve Been Loving You

Disc 5 (68:39): No Quarter, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 6 (76:34): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog

Led Zeppelin’s final show of their 1975 tour at the LA Forum is one of the longest, heaviest and self-indulgent on record. This show is good for those who like their Zeppelin dark and mysterious with long and crazy improvisations going on for hours. Surprisingly this show was never released on vinyl but saw new life with the advent of compact discs. We’re Playing Our Balls Out is a similarly long six disc set containing two different audience recordings. The first three discs contain the popular Mike Millard recording. This is a three dimensional stereo audience recording capturing all of the details emanating from the stage and is the source for all of the previous titles. The tape cuts in during the Linda Lovelace introduction and has cuts at 4:10 in “The Rain Song,” 24:02 in “No Quarter 24:02,” and a very painful cut at 36:23 in “Dazed And Confused.”

Perhaps the earliest can be found on Psychical Graffiti (Flying Disc CD6-817), which claims this to be a soundboard recording and was supposed to be part of a three disc set but the label only produced one. The Italy produced Dazed And Confused (Mad Dogs Records MDR-LZ001-2) and its Australian copy Crazed And Bemused (Black Cat BC-22) has “Rock And Roll,” “Sick Again,” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The earliest three disc set with the whole show appear on Electric Orgasm (Jolly Roger D91-51-52-53) and in the boxset Get Back To LA (Tarantura T9CD-1-7). In the late nineties Final Show In the Forum 1975 (Jelly Roll JR 12/13/14) (which many Zeppelin collectors admit is the best version), Tour De Force (Rabbit Records RR 005/6/7) and Remainz (Akashic AKA-4) all were released to various degrees of success. The latest two editions can be found in the boxset Deep Throat III (Empress Valley EVSD-162/163/164) and Last Night In the Forum 1975 (Power Archives PA 0307001/2/3), coming out in late 2003 and are actually the only titles to use the second tape source to fill in the gaps on the first.

The second tape source has never been released before in its entirety. TCOLZ is the silver pressed debut. It is a fair to good recording taped a distance from the stage. It lacks significant dynamics but it is strangely listenable. It is a tape that will require “bootleg” ears but once one adjusts to the lo fidelity it can be enjoyed. This tape has cuts after “The Rain Song,” “Kashmir” and “No Quarter.” Also in “No Quarter” there are cuts at 7:45 and 25:22. “Trampled Underfoot” contains a cut at 10:27. “Moby Dick” has cuts at 18:00, 22:32 and at 25:44 and “Dazed And Confused” has cuts at 33:43, 35:58 and 45:32.

For the final night on their tenth US tour, Led Zeppelin play one of their longest ever gigs clocking in at almost three and a half hours. They also stretch themselves musically and, although they don’t always succeed, the results are interesting nevertheless. Disc jockey JJ Jackson introduces porn star Linda Lovelace to introduce the band and after the opening duo of ”Rock And Roll” and ”Sick Again” Plant says, “This is the last gig on the American tour for us. So it only remains to be said that we intend to have yet even a better time than we’ve had here before. We’d like to thank Linda Lovelace for coming on and making an appropriate speech about our presence and we’d like to apologize for being late, but one of the cars didn’t crash. It didn’t crash.”

He further recalls the ending of the previous tour, saying before “In My Time Of Dying, “the last time that we finished a tour in the States we finished it off on New York, which is not really the most pleasant place to be, you know? But um, there’s some nice ladies on 83rd street, but um, the rest of it, no. So it’s, it’s almost um, it’s with a bit of sorrow that we’ve got to leave California, and even the Continental Riot Houses wasn’t that bad in the end.”

Both “The Song Remains The Same” and “The Rain Song” sound extremely weighty on this night and after “Kashmir” they celebrate the final night by changing the setlist by playing “Since I’ve Been Loving You” for only the third time on the tour. Still a bit rugged, Page misses the transition from the solo to the final verse. Self consciously Plant says afterwards, “Right, well that was something that we’ve done about three times in three years. It’s always quite refreshing to do things that we haven’t done for such a long time even though sometime you might think it puts your reputation at stake in front of twenty thousand people, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? We’re playing our balls out, and talking about playing our balls out, we now feature a man with a lot of balls, in fact three. This track, three balls you fool, ladies and gentlemen, No Quarter. John Paul Jones on piano. No Quarter.”

“No Quarter” reaches a half hour in this performance. Jones plays an interesting three note arpeggio on the grand piano and runs it through different variations as a reoccurring motif before Page comes in with the guitar section of the solo. This is certainly one of the more interesting improvisations among the 1975 versions of the piece. “Trampled Underfoot” follows and Page himself, in a magazine interview several years ago, singled this performance out as perhaps the best ever. He plays a unique solo in the middle and by the end Plant is singing “Gallows Pole” as the song moves along. In fact he refers to the song afterwards as “Trampled Under Gallows.” Plant continues talking about a part they attended in honor of The Pretty Things and how Bonham left early and threw a television out of the window, one of his activities that has passed into legend.

“Dazed And Confused” is introduced as “a deliberation for the fact that we should be now, in about three months time, I don’t know, on our way to Kathmandu. So stand by for the songs when we come back from there. Reaching forty-five minutes even with the cut, this is one of the longest versions extant on tape. Early on, where Plant would normally sing either “San Francisco” or “Woodstock,” he mumbled lyrics to an unidentifiable song with the phrase “loving you” repeated over and over again. Before the return to the third verse Page hits upon a chunky riff over a funk rhythm laid down by Jones and Bonham that sounds terrifically exciting and in unfortunately cut on both recordings. Its transition to the finale is missing.

When they return to the stage for the encores Plant says, “We’d like to thank California for being such good hosts to us while we’ve been here, and if anybody can hear us in England, we’re coming back baby!” (Referring to the shows scheduled in Earls Court in London in two months). The encores are comprised of only the “Whole Lotta Love” with segue into “Black Dog,” but the middle section is great with Plant singing “Licking Stick” and saying “licking” over again. He keeps asking “has anybody seen the bridge?” and the audience keep responding “NO!!!” During the theremin section Bonham lets Jones and Page battle it out several times by remaining silent, only to pick up the pace and lead them into “Black Dog.” “It’s time to ramble on. Good night” are Plant’s parting words. We’re Playing Our Balls Out is another solid release by TCOLZ and it’s to their credit they offer a clean and natural sounding edition of the Millard source, and the second source for the first time on silver disc, available in one convenient package. The brown paper bag artwork is getting a bit old, but shouldn’t really detract from the value of this release.

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin We're Playing Our Balls Out | , | Leave a comment

Soul Sacrifice: The Santana Story by Simon Leng (2000)


Review Simon Leng the author is to be commended for writing this comprehensive volume so crammed with facts, that it demands a second or third read to fully digest the plethora of information.
The Author starts off by giving us a sufficiently detailed description of Mexican culture and customs, detailing Jose Santana’s (Carlos’ father) life as a Mariachi violinist, tutoring his son in the art of Mexican street music. Moving on to details of Carlos’ early days right up to the formation of the early Santana bands. From then on the story of Carlos and the Santana bands is told in a collective manner that takes in the making of each album from the very first one right through to “Supernatural”.

The reader is perfumed with inside information, the politicking, the rationale and other events behind each of Santana’s releases. The lives of other musicians, key figures or otherwise, are also touched upon, bringing meaning and life to such well known names as “Chepito” Areas, Wayne shorter, as well as the lesser known ones that most fans of Santana would know little or nothing about.

To this end Leng is to be commended for a job well done, but falls short of expectations in the pictures department. Considering that Santana is such a colorful entity, giving us black and white shots is a disappointment. Still the pictures are good ones just the same but a poor effort for a book of this kind, and for this it misses out on the fifth star rating. Thirteen photos are provided grouped together on glossy paper, plus one on the back cover.

One annoying aspect is Leng’s persistence in referring to Carlos as “the Mexican”, and other musicians as well by their nationality. Although this descriptive tool can be effective within context, its persistence to the very end is rather banal.

The book also provides us with two surprises, a description of the night Jaco Pastorious got killed, and the fact that Carlos Santana cannot read music. At the very end is a treasure trove of information in the form of two discographies– original releases, and guest appearances. Santana devotees will find this an invaluable tool for tracking down recordings of Carlos playing on other artists’ albums. A real bonus for any musicologist or interested person, is a compilation of all musicians that have ever been involved with the Santana band, as well as offshoot bands, all with micro-biographies attached.

Definitely value for money, this book not only furnishes historical facts but makes for a useful source of reference as well. Highly recommended.

Review I chose to read this book for a project in Spanish class. I play guitar, and I have always liked Carlos Santana’s playing.

This was one of two books about Carlos Santana that I could find. Carlos had a rough childhood playing violin for money in Tijuana Mexico. When he moved to America as a teenager, he first picked up a guitar, and learned to play. He eventually started a band and played small clubs in the Bay Area of San Fransisco. Simon Leng does a very good job describing Santana the man, and Santana the band from the release of the first album, to the release of the last as a full band.

Leng describes the good times, and the bad times for the band, as well as the man. One part in particular that I really liked, was when the original Santana band played at the Woodstock Festival, in 1969. Leng describes it very well from the stage setup, to what the band actually played. Sometimes, the book was a little difficult to understand, mostly because of the fact that some words are spelled differently in England, where this book was written. Also, the book can get a little boring and slow but it always gets interesting again. Unlike other “rock star” biography’s, Soul Sacrifice focuses more on Santana’s life, than on his drug use, and womanizing.

I love to read books about bands, and guitarists, so naturally I wanted to read about Carlos Santana. This book is one i would definitely recommend if you play guitar, or if you love Carlos Santana’s playing/style of music. Also, It is a great book to read if you want to learn more about Santana. I believe that Simon Leng did very good research for this book, and I liked the way he wrote this book. I learned a lot from this book about an amazing guitar player, and his well earned fame.

It was a great book, and I hope that this review can help you.

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Book Soul Sacrifice: The Santana Story by Simon Leng | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Copenhagen Warm-Ups (Copenhagen, July 1979)


When Led Zeppelin scheduled their comeback from the events of 1977 they planned it in three stages. The first was the recording of a new album, which they did in November 1978 in Stockholm. The second was a return to the stage in Europe, and the third and final was a US tour which, as events would dictate, would never occur.

Although they planned their first concert in two years with the huge Knebworth festival, they decided to play two warm up gigs in Copenhagen, Denmark a week before. These were the first shows in Denmark since they played the KB Hallen in 1973. These were poorly advertised and planned. The first show was delayed several hours because Zeppelin couldn’t fit their lighting rig in the venue. While trying to regain their live prowess and breaking in their new set list, these are essentially public rehearsals before an uncritical audience.

The setlist itself reveals Zeppelin trying to “cut the waffle” (as Plant said in an interview after Knebworth) by cutting out the long solos and playing more songs while maintaining a two and a half hour marathon set. Trying to have it both ways produced one of their most clunky and disjointed set which seems to lose any kind of momentum it builds. Nevertheless it is one of their most complete in terms of comprehensiveness with songs from every one of their albums including the not yet released In Through The Outdoor.

Falkoner Theater, Copenhagen, Denmark – July 23rd, 1979

Disc 1 (71:40): Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, Celebration Day, Out On The Tiles intro / Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Hot Dog, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (57:36): White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Achilles Last Stand, guitar solo / drum solo, In The Evening, Stairway To Heaven, Rock And Roll

The first Copenhagen show exists on a superlative sounding stereo audience recording which surfaced soon after the event on the famous Melancholy Danish Pageboys Get It On (Danskmusic M-197-3). The same tape is used for all compact disc releases including Melancholy Danish Pageboys Get It On Remake (Silver Rarities SIRA 80/81) misdated July 24th, Melancholy Danish Pageboys Get It On (Cobra 022), 79 (Antrabata) with all four 1979 shows, Copenhagen Warm-Ups (TDOLZ Vol. 94), Copenhagen Warm-Ups (Empress Valley EVSD 30/31/32/33/34), Copenhagen Warm-Ups (Tarantura), and Copenhagen Warm-Ups (Last Stand Disc LSD-1/2/3/4 and the reissue LSD- 86/87/88/89). All these have minor variations which are meticulously documented on the Bootledz site, but all generally sound great. This green cover no label version however is one of the very best versions available and remains so despite the other releases in the ensuing years. The only flaw is some digital interference beginning in the last half of “Hot Dog” and running through the first minute of “The Rain Song.”

The tape begins with the audience cheering and Robert Plant on stage making an announcement saying “Good evening. We have no lights….we must apologize but the lights keep going so we’re gonna play with like half a light show.” The audience start their rhythmic clapping and Bonzo joins them before the band start the opening song, a rusty version of “The Song Remains The Same” followed by “Celebration Day” for the first time since 1973.

“Thank you very much, and thank you for your patience and waiting for the disappearing lights. Well it’s been eight years since we were here last time. There’s not too much talking to do, quite a bit of playing” he says as an introduction to a good version of “Black Dog.” The following numbers are played with hesitation and Page messes up the short guitar break in “Misty Mountain Hop.” “Since I’ve Been Loving You” follows although not with the segue employed in 1972 and 1973. This is the debut of the new double solo arrangement where Page plays two guitar solos instead of one, a practice he will keep through the 1980 tour.

“After quite a while we seem to managed to create an LP. And LP’s, albums usually reflect…didn’t think I was gonna go through all this, but they usually reflect where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you think, and consequently this one’s some ethereal quality. It’s called ‘Hot Dog’” Plant says before the first of two new songs in the set. They play tentatively and it seems Page wants to duplicate the guitar solo from the set but changes his mind and the results are a mess. Afterwards Plant again apologises for the lights, saying, “That was because we were very heavily influenced by the P.A. and lighting company who charges so much money we had to write that song and they got the royalties. That’s why only half the lights are working.” When someone requests “D’yer M’ker” Plant replies, “never heard of it.” “The Rain Song” is played for the first time alone, not linked with “The Song Remains The Same.”

In the second half of the show “White Summer” sounds very good as does “Kashmir.” After “Achilles Last Stand” Plant speak about “virgin soil that we now tread. It’s not only have we been quite quiet for two years, but in being quiet we only found this song about six months ago.” The long theremin solo of the 1977 tour is gone for the violin bow solo exclusively which leads into a tympani introduction for “In The Evening.” The studio recording begins with a short but effective violin bow exercise so utilizing this arrangement makes sense. It also builds up the tension for their latest epic barn burner, much like how they did on the previous tour with “Achilles Last Stand.” The show ends with “Stairway To Heaven” and only “Rock And Roll” as an encore. Overall it sounds like what it is: an open rehearsal fills with bum notes and weak performances.

Falkoner Theater, Copenhagen, Denmark – July 24th, 1979

Disc 3 (67:18): The Song Remains The Same, Celebration Day, Out On The Tiles intro / Black Dog, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Ten Years Gone, Hot Dog

Disc 2 (74:07): The Rain Song, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, guitar solo / drum solo, In The Evening, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love

The second Copenhagen show was also released on vinyl soon after the event on the vinyl Copenhagen Warm Ups: 2nd Night (Empire & Geiko Sukui 3ZC-07249 1-6), In The Evening (Dane Records SX 502), Raging Violent The Virtuoso (no label), and Zep Over Europe (Earthwords ZEL A-H). Compact disc releases have all been in a four disc set with the previous night and can be found on the titles listed above and which are documented meticulously on the Bootledz website. The recording is slightly more fuzzy than the first night but still excellent and very powerful with several tape flips after “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Kashmir” (which cuts off the final notes).

Getting their first live performance in two years out of the way, they deliver a much tighter and more confident show than the first which some collectors say is the best of the four 1979 appearances. “The Song Remains The Same” has much more energy as it burst on the stage with a dramatic segue into the fanfare that is “Celebration Day.” ”Well good evening to you. It’s very nice to be back in Copenhagen after many years, in fact, since last night. It’s very nice to have the lights back with us tonight and it’s very nice to have Susan Watson Taylor’s young nephews here too” are Plant’s opening words before “Black Dog.”

“Misty Mountain Hop” with Page hitting the solo correctly. Plant sings through a harmonizer which is probably meant to duplicate the doubled vocals of the studio recording but oftentimes sounds quite silly. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is introduced as a “blues…and that’s been virtually the background of ninety percent of the stuff we’ve ever put on record.”

Page plays some pretty sounding trills in “No Quarter” in the verses. There is almost no keyboard solo from Jones since Page comes in very early. He plays a fluent solo but seems to steal the spotlight. Afterwards they get ready to play “Ten Years Gone” for the first time in two years. “This next one’s really a bit of a departure from set formula” Plant says since they didn’t play it on the 23rd. There is a delay with Jones’ guitar and Plant quips, ”very shortly we shall be doing eleven years gone.” When the audience begins to chant and stomp in rhythm Plant jokes, “you should have been here last night.” The complicated Physical Graffiti track is played without a hitch retaining its pristine beauty.

“Sick Again,” which was not played on the 23rd, is added to the set list after “Trampled Underfoot.” The violin bow solo leading into “In The Evening” provides the greatest excitement of the evening, being an effective piece of theatrics with the audience clapping along. “Whole Lotta Love” is dedicated to Beowulf as they introduce a new seven minute arrangement of the song. In tracing the evolution of the piece over ten years, from its single form to medley to the vehicle for theremin battles, this is one of the greatest versions. The middle section contains a tight and hard riff pummeled over the head of the audience which caps a great evening by the band. Copenhagen Warm-Ups on Zoso was issued in the mid nineties in a basic, no-frills packaging and remains one of the best versions available for these interesting concerts.

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Copenhagen Warm-Ups | , | Leave a comment

Lester Bangs re-reviews Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (Stranded, 1979)

10946535From Stranded

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because the fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid. I spent endless days and nights sunk in an armchair in my bedroom, reading magazines, watching TV, listening to records, staring into space. I had no idea how to improve the situation and probably wouldn’t have done anything about it if I had.

Astral Weeks would be the subject of this piece – i.e., the rock record with the most significance in my life so far – no matter how I’d been feeling when it came out. But in the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. (My other big record of the day was White Light/White Heat.) It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison’s previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums by the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work

I don’t really know how significant it might be that many others have reported variants on my initial encounter with Astral Weeks. I don’t think there’s anything guiding it to people enduring dark periods. It did come out at a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self-destructive undertow that always accompanied the great sixties party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in it’s maw and was pulling straight down. so, as timeless as it finally is, perhaps Astral Weeks was also the product of an era. Better think that than ask just what sort of Irish churchwebbed haints Van Morrison might be product of.

Three television shows: A 1970 NET broadcast of a big all-star multiple bill at the Fillmore East. The Byrds, Sha Na Na, and Elvin Bishop have all done their respective things. Now we get to see three of four songs from a set by Van Morrison. He climaxes, as he always did in those days, with “Cyprus Avenue” from Astral Weeks. After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock ‘n’ roll set-closers. With consumate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of “It’s too late to stop now!,” and just when you think it’s all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it’s sensational: our guts are knotted up, we’re crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we’ve seen and felt something.

1974, a late night network TV rock concert: Van and his band come out, strike a few shimmering chords, and for about ten minutes he lingers over the words “Way over yonder in the clear blue sky / Where flamingos fly.” No other lyrics. I don’t think any instrumental solos. Just those words, repeated slowly again and again, distended, permutated, turned into scat, suspended in space and then scattered to the winds, muttered like a mantra till they turn into nonsense syllables, then back into the same soaring image as time seems to stop entirely. He stands there with eyes closed, singing, transported, while the band poises quivering over great open-tuned deep blue gulfs of their own.

1977, spring-summer, same kind of show: he sings “Cold Wind in August”, a song off his recently released album A Period of Transition, which also contains a considerably altered version of the flamingos song. “Cold Wind in August” is a ballad and Van gives it a fine, standard reading. The only trouble is that the whole time he’s singing it he paces back and forth in a line on the stage, his eyes tightly shut, his little fireplug body kicking its way upstream against what must be a purgatorial nervousness that perhaps is being transferred to the cameraman.

What this is about is a whole set of verbal tics – although many are bodily as well – which are there for reason enough to go a long way toward defining his style. They’re all over Astral Weeks: four rushed repeats of the phrases “you breathe in, you breath out” and “you turn around” in “Beside You”; in “Cyprus Avenue,” twelve “way up on”s, “baby” sung out thirteen times in a row sounding like someone running ecstatically downhill toward one’s love, and the heartbreaking way he stretches “one by one” in the third verse; most of all in “Madame George” where he sings the word “dry” and then “your eye” twenty times in a twirling melodic arc so beautiful it steals your own breath, and then this occurs: “And the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves.”

Van Morrison is interested, obsessed with how much musical or verbal information he can compress into a small space, and, almost, conversely, how far he can spread one note, word, sound, or picture. To capture one moment, be it a caress or a twitch. He repeats certain phrases to extremes that from anybody else would seem ridiculous, because he’s waiting for a vision to unfold, trying as unobtrusively as possible to nudge it along. Sometimes he gives it to you through silence, by choking off the song in midflight: “It’s too late to stop now!”

It’s the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes illumination is attainable. Or may at least be glimpsed.

When he tries for this he usually gets it more in the feeling than in the Revealed Word – perhaps much of the feeling comes from the reaching – but there is also, always, the sense of WHAT if he DID apprehend that Word; there are times when the Word seems to hover very near. And then there are times when we realize the Word was right next to us, when the most mundane overused phrases are transformed: I give you “love,” from “Madame George.” Out of relative silence, the Word: “Snow in San Anselmo.” “That’s where it’s at,” Van will say, and he means it (aren’t his interviews fascinating?). What he doesn’t say is that he is inside the snowflake, isolated by the song: “And it’s almost Independence Day.”

you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get around to telling you about Astral Weeks. As a matter of fact, there’s a whole lot of Astral Weeks I don’t even want to tell you about. Both because whether you’ve heard it or not it wouldn’t be fair for me to impose my interpretation of such lapidarily subjective imagery on you, and because in many cases I don’t really know what he’s talking about. he doesn’t either: “I’m not surprised that people get different meanings out of my songs,” he told a Rolling Stone interviewer. “But I don’t wanna give the impression that I know what everything means ’cause I don’t. . . . There are times when I’m mystified. I look at some of the stuff that comes out, y’know. And like, there it is and it feels right, but I can’t say for sure what it means.”

There you go
Starin’ with a look of avarice
Talking to Huddie Leadbetter
Showin’ pictures on the walls
And whisperin’ in the halls
And pointin’ a finger at me

I haven’t got the slightest idea what that “means,” though on one level I’d like to approach it in a manner as indirect and evocative as the lyrics themselves. Because you’re in trouble anyway when you sit yourself down to explicate just exactly what a mystical document, which is exactly what Astral Weeks is, means. For one thing, what it means is Richard Davis’s bass playing, which complements the songs and singing all the way with a lyricism that’s something more than just great musicianship: there is something about it that more than inspired, something that has been touched, that’s in the realm of the miraculous. The whole ensemble – Larry Fallon’s string section, Jay Berliner’s guitar (he played on Mingus’s Black Saint and the Sinner Lady), Connie Kay’s drumming – is like that: they and Van sound like they’re not just reading but dwelling inside of each other’s minds. The facts may be far different. John Cale was making an album of his own in the adjacent studio at the time, and he has said that “Morrison couldn’t work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes.”
Cale’s story might or might not be true – but facts are not going to be of much use here in any case. Fact: Van Morrison was twenty-two – or twenty-three – years old when he made this record; there are lifetimes behind it. What Astral Weeks deals in are not facts but truths. Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boiled down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

Transfixed between pure rapture and anguish. Wondering if they may not be the same thing, or at least possessed of an intimate relationship. In “T.B. Sheets”, his last extended narrative before making this record, Van Morrison watched a girl he loved die of tuberculosis. the song was claustrophobic, suffocating, mostrously powerful: “innuendos, inadequacies, foreign bodies.” A lot of people couldn’t take it; the editor of this book has said that it’s garbage, but I think it made him squeamish. Anyway, the point is that certain parts of Astral Weeks – “Madame George,” “Cyprus Avenue” – take the pain in “T.B. Sheets” and root the world in it. Because the pain of watching a loved one die of however dread a disease may be awful, but it is at least something known, in a way understood, in a way measureable and even leading somewhere, because there is a process: sickness, decay, death, mourning, some emotional recovery. But the beautiful horror of “Madame George” and “Cyprus Avenue” is precisely that the people in these songs are not dying: we are looking at life, in its fullest, and what these people are suffering from is not disease but nature, unless nature is a disease.

A man sits in a car on a tree-lined street, watching a fourteen-year-old girl walking home from school, hopelessly in love with her. I’ve almost come to blows with friends because of my insistence that much of Van Morrison’s early work had an obsessively reiterated theme of pedophilia, but here is something that at once may be taken as that and something far beyond it. He loves her. Because of that, he is helpless. Shaking. Paralyzed. Maddened. Hopeless. Nature mocks him. As only nature can mock nature. Or is love natural in the first place? No Matter. By the end of the song he has entered a kind of hallucinatory ecstasy; the music aches and yearns as it rolls on out. This is one supreme pain, that of being imprisoned a spectator. And perhaps no so very far from “T.B. Sheets,” except that it must be far more romantically easy to sit and watch someone you love die than to watch them in the bloom of youth and health and know that you can never, ever have them, can never speak to them.

“Madame George” is the album’s whirlpool. Possibly one of the most compassionate pieces of music ever made, it asks us, no, arranges that we see the plight of what I’ll be brutal and call a lovelorn drag queen with such intense empathy that when the singer hurts him, we do too. (Morrison has said in at least one interview that the song has nothing to do with any kind of transvestite – at least as far as he knows, he is quick to add – but that’s bullshit.) The beauty, sensitivity, holiness of the song is that there’s nothing at all sensationalistic, exploitative, or tawdry about it; in a way Van is right when he insists it’s not about a drag queen, as my friends were right and I was wrong about the “pedophelia” – it’s about a person, like all the best songs, all the greatest literature.

The setting is that same as that of the previous song – “Cyprus Avenue”, apparently a place where people drift, impelled by desire, into moments of flesh-wracking, sight-curdling confrontation with their destinies. It’s an elemental place of pitiless judgement – wind and rain figure in both songs – and, interestingly enough, it’s a place of the even crueler judgement of adults by children, in both cases love objects absolutely indifferent to their would-be adult lovers. Madame George’s little boys are downright contemptuous – like the street urchins who end up cannibalizing the homosexual cousin in Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer, they’re only too happy to come around as long as there’s music, party times, free drinks and smokes, and only too gleefully spit on George’s affections when all the other stuff runs out, the entombing winter settling in with not only wind and rain but hail, sleet, and snow.

What might seem strangest of all but really isn’t is that it’s exactly those characteristics which supposedly should make George most pathetic – age, drunkenness, the way the boys take his money and trash his love – that awakens something for George in the heart of the kid whose song this is. Obviously the kid hasn’t simply “fallen in love with love,” or something like that, but rather – what? Why just exactly that only sunk in the foulest perversions could one human being love another for anything other than their humanness: love him for his weakness, his flaws, finally perhaps his decay. Decay is human – that’s one of the ultimate messages here, and I don’t by any stretch of the lexicon mean decadence. I mean that in this song or whatever inspired it Van Morrison saw the absolute possibility of loving human beings at the farthest extreme of wretchedness, and that the implications of that are terrible indeed, far more terrible than the mere sight of bodies made ugly by age or the seeming absurdity of a man devoting his life to the wobbly artifice of trying to look like a woman.

You can say to love the questions you have to love the answers which quicken the end of love that’s loved to love the awful inequality of human experience that loves to say we tower over these the lost that love to love the love that freedom could have been, the train to freedom, but we never get on, we’d rather wave generously walking away from those who are victims of themselves. But who is to say that someone who victimizes himself or herself is not as worthy of total compassion as the most down and out Third World orphan in a New Yorker magazine ad? Nah, better to step over the bodies, at least that gives them the respect they might have once deserved. where I love, in New York (not to make it more than it is, which is hard), everyone I know often steps over bodies which might well be dead or dying as a matter of course, without pain. and I wonder in what scheme it was originally conceived that such an action is showing human refuse the ultimate respect it deserves.

There is of course a rationale – what else are you going to do – but it holds no more than our fear of our own helplessness in the face of the plain of life as it truly is: a plain which extends into an infinity beyond the horizons we have only invented. Come on, die it. As I write this, I can read in the Village Voice the blurbs of people opening heterosexual S&M clubs in Manhattan, saying things like, “S&M is just another equally valid form of love. Why people can’t accept that we’ll never know.” Makes you want to jump out a fifth floor window rather than even read about it, but it’s hardly the end of the world; it’s not nearly as bad as the hurts that go on everywhere everyday that are taken to casually by all of us as facts of life. Maybe it boiled down to how much you actually want to subject yourself to. If you accept for even a moment the idea that each human life is as precious and delicate as a snowflake and then you look at a wino in a doorway, you’ve got to hurt until you feel like a sponge for all those other assholes’ problems, until you feel like an asshole yourself, so you draw all the appropriate lines. You stop feeling. But you know that then you begin to die. So you tussle with yourself. how much of this horror can I actually allow myself to think about? Perhaps the numbest mannekin is wiser than somebody who only allows their sensitivity to drive them to destroy everything they touch – but then again, to tilt Madame George’s hat a hair, just to recognize that that person exists, just to touch his cheek and then probably expire because the realization that you must share the world with him is ultimately unbearable is to only go the first mile. The realization of living is just about that low and that exalted and that unbearable and that sought-after. Please come back and leave me alone. But when we’re along together we can talk all we want about the universality of this abyss: it doesn’t make any difference, the highest only meets the lowest for some lying succor, UNICEF to relatives, so you scratch and spit and curse in violent resignation at the strict fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do but finally reject anyone in greater pain than you. At such a moment, another breath is treason. that’s why you leave your liberal causes, leave suffering humanity to die in worse squalor than they knew before you happened along. You got their hopes up. Which makes you viler than the most scrofulous carrion. viler than the ignorant boys who would take Madame George for a couple of cigarettes. because you have committed the crime of knowledge, and thereby not only walked past or over someone you knew to be suffering, but also violated their privacy, the last possession of the dispossessed.

Such knowledge is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a person (a lucky person), so it’s no wonder that Morrison’s protagonist turned away from Madame George, fled to the train station, trying to run as far away from what he’d seen as a lifetime could get him. And no wonder, too, that Van Morrison never came this close to looking life square in the face again, no wonder he turned to Tupelo Honey and even Hard Nose the Highway with it’s entire side of songs about falling leaves. In Astral Weeks and “T.B. Sheets” he confronted enough for any man’s lifetime. Of course, having been offered this immeasurably stirring and equally frightening gift from Morrison, one can hardly be blamed for not caring terribly much about Old, Old Woodstock and little homilies like “You’ve got to Make It Through This World On Your Own” and “Take It Where You Find It.”

On the other hand, it might also be pointed out that desolation, hurt, and anguish are hardly the only things in life, or in Astral Weeks. They’re just the things, perhaps, that we can most easily grasp and explicate, which I suppose shows about what level our souls have evolved to. I said I wouldn’t reduce the other songs on this album by trying to explain them, and I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that, all thing considered, a juxtaposition of poets might not be in order.

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Van Morrison Astral Weeks | | Leave a comment