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Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: The Rockpile, Toronto, 18th August 1969

toronto69-posterFrom Underground Uprising uuweb.led-zeppelin.us

It was a hot August night in the summer of 1969 and we were not headed to a Neil Diamond concert. A sensational power rock band, Led Zeppelin, the latest version of heavy bands which started with Cream back in 66 were in Toronto to do two sold out shows.

My friends Donnie Ditchburn, David Strawbridge who worked for John Gibb, a local Toronto clothier (his store was later to become Long Johns, retailers of rock n’ roll clothing), and I had tickets to the 7:00 p.m. show. Gibb was an old school chum of Jimmy Page and he had had them over for dinner that evening. Pagey as he was called by his mates, was the former front man and lead guitarist for the now defunct Yardbirds, and since he had formed his new band Led Zeppelin, they sailed to the top of the album charts and underground radio stations with their first record entitled Led Zeppelin 1. A previous gig at the same venue earlier in the year (February) had brought quite a lot of good press, especially from Ritchie Yorke, the Toronto Telegram’s resident writer for rock concert reviews back then.

Since the release of the first album, Led Zeppelin’s popularity had created a large cult following thanks to the incredible guitar playing of Jimmy Page and the wailing and siren like voice of the lead singer, Robert Plant. The giant leap in record sales and popularity became for the promoters of this particular show, both a blessing and a curse. Led Zeppelins fee had jumped from 2,000 in February to 8,000 for the two shows on this night, and Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s notorious manager was not prepared to honor the agreement he had made with the promoters back in February. More about this later.

The venue for the concert was called The Rockpile, which in fact was the old Masonic Temple located at Davenport and Yonge St. In the past year (68-69), The Rockpile had been converted to Toronto’s version of the Fillmore East, which was much to the disgruntlement of the old Masons who still had some sway and influence in the running of the hall. What bothered them most was all the Marijuana smoke used by all of the stoned out hippies who attended these shows. To the Masons, this temple was a sacred venue. It was a very hot August night as the doors opened at 6:30 and the huge line up piled in quickly so as to get the best possible viewpoint in the hall as there were no seats, you got to sit cross legged on the main floor or stand in the Balcony.

By the time my mates and I got inside we headed straight up up to the balcony area which was jammed packed shoulder to shoulder and hot hot hot. David was a bit of a dandy and would not have considered for a minute sitting down in his finest Carnaby Street styled garb. We would regret not sitting a bit later. By the time the opening act came on, Edward Bear, the temperature inside of the building must have gone well into the 90 degree Fahrenheit range with very high humidity and high smoke density. You surely did not need to bring your own stuff that night because the air was filled with the sweet smell of pungent smoke. Edward Bear, was local pop trio and radio favorite who had a hit, You Me and Mexico.

I found them to be very commercial and in fact could not stand their veiled attempts to look the part with hair down to their shoulders and bell bottomed jeans while at the same time they played forgettable commercial pop. We were here to see our heroes play with the Marshall amps stacked to the ceiling, wailing away to the songs from Led Zeppelin 1. Once their set was finished, they were given a polite and energetic hometown Canadian response and off they went. Perhaps we only had a 20 minute wait for the main act, our heroes!! I couldn’t stand the excitement and anticipation, this was going to be my first live experience to the most listened to band in my repertoire of favorite groups and it was all about to unfold live in front of my eyes. And we waited, and we sweated some more, and we waited. It suddenly dawned on us that there was a problem.

Led Zeppelin was backstage but Peter Grant would not let them go on. Seems the promoters insisted that he honor the contractual option they had exercised from the previous gig and Peter Grant said no way. His attitude was that they had two sold out houses and the band wanted their full fee otherwise they were going back to the hotel and onto the next city on this tour. A tug of war was going on while the 2000 or so of us sweated it out and waited some more. The promoters finally gave in and after about 1 1/2 hours of waiting, which made it about 9:00 pm, we heard the roadies nailing down a drum kit behind the curtain followed by a drummer slashing away at his drums getting ready to play. Then we heard a guitar, and then a bass guitar. Ooh I couldn’t take the excitement at that stage, we were moments away. Suddenly, there was a locomotive opening guitar sound from the song A Train kept a Rollin, an old Yardbirds standby.

toronto69-2cA thundering drum sound and then the curtains exploded open. There they were. The place was bedlam. The band looked very little like the group photo on the back of the first album. Plant had hair down to the middle of his back in blond curls, and was dressed in bell bottom blue jeans and a bright red tee shirt. Page had hair down to his waist, dressed in pink pants and had a Les Paul Sunburst guitar draped over his body, and Jones and Bonham also had very very long hair and wore the fashions of the day even in this ridiculous hot house. All I could think at that moment was how cool they looked. It was like a wave of gigantic sound had hit you and we were on a journey to places I had never been to before in a concert. Marshall amps were piled to the ceiling. It was loud and that was fine by me, how else was one to listen to Led Zeppelin except at ear splitting volume.

Plant sang stronger and harder than anything I’d ever heard before on record. He raced around the stage shaking his shoulders, whipping his head around to shake all that hair, and throwing back beer from the Heinekens he had stashed on Jonesy’s amp at the back of the stage, while the maestro Jimmy Page leaned over his guitar, brought his knees together in a weird sort of knock kneed pose, while rarely looking up from behind all of that jet black cascading mop. The music spoke to us, we were a part of history as far as I was concerned because this group had more energy and spontaneity than any group I had ever seen. It was raw energy, uninhibited, creative, and free from any contrivances.

They segued into I Cant Quit You Babe, You Shook Me, and then Dazed And Confused where somewhere in the middle of the song, the violin bow came out. It was a typical 18-20 minute version of the song from the early days of the band but what really blew my mind was the vocal and guitar interplay between Page and Plant. Page would play some notes, Plant would sing them, Plant would sing some notes, Page would play them. This was not typical stuff that bands would do in concerts. This was taking improvisation out of the box, never to return, amazing.

Then, after Plant introduced the band to us as Jimmy played the intro notes to another Yardbirds standby, Smokestack Lightning, they jumped into the finale, How Many More Times complete with the Lemon Song bit in the middle. This number completely brought the house down with the tradition blues rendition of Squeeze My Lemon until the juice runs down my leg. Then as fast as they had arrived, Robert said to us We have another house to play to tonight, sorry we took so long and see you soon. Then they were off, no encore .

When I left the venue and finally got onto the street out of the hot house of the Rockpile, I really thought that this group, Led Zeppelin would be bigger than Beatles. I was close, and 34 years later I’m still a big fan.

Best wishes, Iden.

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May 19, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Toronto August 18th 1969 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin I (1969)

led-zeppelin-12From starling.rinet.ru

Along with King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King, this is probably the only debut album by any band I’m familiar with that far surpasses anything the band would put out since. I know that fans usually prefer III or IV, and some fans don’t even care much for this debut album at all, but they’re all nuts.

Unlike the Beatles, Led Zeppelin committed a revolution in rock only once. Since then, all they were doing was securing its results. But the beginning, and the major breakthrough, can only be found here. The heaviest album up to that point (although certainly inspired a lot by Jeff Beck’s Truth), it’s also hard-hitting and precise, if you know what I mean. All of the band’s good sides are there, and most of their bad sides haven’t even yet begun to show through.

Let’s see. Side one features the most fantastic, awesome sequence of three songs they ever managed to put together side by side. Although the album begins with the rather throwaway ‘Good Times Bad Times’, with a silly pop melody dressed in heavy chords, it’s followed by the magnificent acoustic ballad ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, an original and improvisatory rendition of some traditional ballad, where for the first time we have Plant introducing the ‘human factor’ that plagued his work ever since. What I actually mean is the way Plant sings most of his parts: stuttering, wavering, inserting lots of (quite often pointless) interjections, ‘ah-ahs’, ‘oh-ohs’ and suchlike.

In just a couple of years this would become totally unbearable, with songs ruined and my personal patience abused, but here it works out just fine. The ballad might be their finest, with Robert finding the perfect compromise between hope and total despair of his personage. The gruff rhythm work in the middle only accentuates it, and the acoustic guitars throughout are just marvellous. Strange enough, people usually quote III as the beginning of Page’s passion for folk; in my opinion, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ is much more effective than any of the ‘folk’ tunes on that album. And the coda, with Plant’s last wailing ‘I… said… that’s when… it’s calling me… baaack… hooooooooooooooooome…’, and the plaintive little chord at the end, is stunning. Nowhere, on no other Led Zep song will you find such passion and care.

Heigh-ho! Next comes ‘You Shook Me’, a dazzling, head-spinning version of some undistinguished classic blues tune. Jeff Beck did it on his Truth album (with Rod Stewart on lead vocal), but you can see where it’s most effective. The band sounds like an immaculate, totally perfected, stone-heavy (er, ‘lead-heavy’, to be exact) machine: Bonzo’s thumping drumming and Jones’s spooky, ‘prolongated’ bass lines set the pattern, while Plant demonstrates some of the most uncompromisedly raunchy singing (for 1968, at least), and Jimmy almost mocks him by imitating every single change in intonation on his guitar. The organ, harmonica and guitar solos are breath-taking just as well, and the song closes with well-constructed vocal/guitar battle that’s sure to get you going. Again – never again would they achieve such a fantastic, meticulous level of perfection!

Without any breaks at all we segue into the classic ‘Dazed And Confused’, with some more examples of the band’s early sharp, crystal clear and immaculate sound. I like it prolongated, like on live versions; but the original is brilliant as well, and, being the heaviest track on the album, it was probably the heaviest song of the Sixties. The lyrics are hogwash, but the melody is catchy, and the instrumentation is as good as can be. And, for those of you who like the hard groove, there’s a furious fast part with Bonzo throwing in elephantic drum lines and Jimmy going like a madman.

Moreover, it’s the first (and next to last) example of the bowed guitar on a Led Zep album. The sound of bowed guitar on live versions is often unbearable (that’s the only weak point with live versions), but here it’s just weird. It’s alright. Note, though, that all of the three mentioned compositions don’t really have much to do with Led Zeppelin: even ‘Dazed And Confused’, although credited to Jimmy Page, was an old Yardbirds tune ripped off from some old blues number. So their main strength is the arrangement and the atmosphere they insert into the songs. Not the melodies.

Anyway, these three songs alone make the record such a terrific razzle-dazzle that I give it a 10 without much afterthought. None of the other songs even come close to this glorious triumvirate, but none of them are nasty, either. Even the closing ‘How Many More Times’, a rather pedestrian blues shuffle, goes down well, with more bowed guitar, Plant’s wailings and a mad mid section. ‘Communication Breakdown’ is breaknecky, ‘Black Mountain Side’ is a gentle pretty acoustic easterny suite (more folk for you folks who rave about III), ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ is yet another fine blues number, although certainly not as polished as the far superior ‘You Shook Me’, and ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ is an okay throwaway despite some mighty fine church organ playing by Jones in the beginning. All of these numbers are listenable, but they really add little to the masterpieces. Ne’er mind, though. If you’re going for diversity (like me), this is not the band you’re aiming at. But if you dig the style heartily, you’re sure to rave and rant all over the LP/CD until you’re nearly breathless.

Just bear in mind: they never got any better than this, regardless of what all ’em critics say. They had songs which came close, but albums? All rip-offs of their first record. Let’s move on!

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin I | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin No Use Gneco (Tokyo, October 1972)

tcd_65_box_1From collectorsmusicreviews.com

Budokan, Tokyo, Japan – October 3rd, 1972

Disc 1: Introduction by Goro Itoi, Rock And Roll, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven

Disc 3: Whole Lotta Love, Immigrant Song, The Ocean, Apology by Goro Itoi

Among all of the tapes for Led Zeppelin’s second tour of Japan in the fall of 1972, the second gig of the tour, and the second one at the Budokan in Tokyo, has the most unique sources available ensuring that this concert has been in constant circulation in one form or another for more than thirty years. There have been at least five different tapes in various degrees of completeness. Among the earliest was the vinyl release Live In Tokyo Oct 2-3 1972 Budokan Big Hall (LLX). On compact disc the Tarantura label issued separate recordings in The Campaign (Tarantura 1972-S-1/2) box set, which contains the entire 1972 tour of Japan, and on 2nd Night In a Judo Arena (Tarantura T2CD-6-1/2).

The second encore “The Ocean” appears on The Lost Geisha Tape (Tarantura TS-1) along with the September 29th 1971 show. Other releases in the nineties include Live In Tokyo (Amsterdam AMS9609-3-1/2/3), The Second Daze (Mud Dogs-011/12), the massive box set on Last Stand Disc titled Live In Japan 1972 (LSD-67/68), Explosion (Flagge) and Live At the Big Hall Budokan Oct 3 1972 (TDOLZ Vol. 73). More recent titles are Majestic Rock (Reel Masters TSTc405031/32) and The Great Dictator (Wendy WECD – 54/55).

No Use Gneco uses a sixth, previously unreleased tape source. It is a good to very good mono audience recording that is reasonably clear and enjoyable. There is some distortion during louder passages and some songs fare worse than others like “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Stairway To Heaven.” Another tape source is used after “The Rain Song,” cutting in at 7:30 and lasting for nineteen seconds containing audience cheering. The audience are quiet for the most part but there is someone with a clown horn and cowbell making intermittent noise throughout the show.

This tour of Japan is notable for being the start of an overhaul of the set list. For two years their shows began with “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker,” but starting here and lasting for three years “Rock And Roll” is installed into the opening slot. The number isn’t segued with the second number as was Zeppelin’s custom and Plant has time to greet the audience before Bonham counts in “Black Dog.” The versions of this song were incredibly heavy. “Arigato. That’s all I know of Japanese” Plant says before introducing “Over The Hills And Far Away” as something from their fifth LP.

The band recorded Houses Of The Holy the previous summer and the initial plan was for it to be released before this tour. It would have to wait another six months before its publication but the entire album, except for “No Quarter” and “D’yer M’ker,” would make an appearance in this show.

“Misty Mountain Hop” was also added to the set list for the first time and is segued directly with “Since I’ve Been Loving You” which contains the blues histrionics of a band who truly loved playing the piece. After “Dancing Days,” another new song, the band sit to play “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp.”

The acoustic set reached four songs and about twenty minutes on their previous tour, but this one song set is the only remnant. Having the full slate of acoustic numbers would have pushed the length of the show to a routine three hours, but it does eliminate one of the more fun parts of the stage act. Following this are the two opening numbers from the new album.

“Last night it was called ‘Zep’ and tonight we’ll call it ‘The Overture’” is how Plant introduces “The Song Remains The Same.” They both made their stage debuts the previous night and are both played close to their studio counterparts.

“Dazed & Confused” reaches twenty-six minutes in this show. Plant punctuates Page’s ascending riffs after the second verse and Page uses some “The Song Remains The Same” style chimes on the guitar before launching into the fast riffs that lead into the violin bow section. They play an instrumental version of “The Crunge” sixteen minutes into the piece before the call-and-response section. The coda is very intense and Plant sounds out of breath as he says, “well…good evening!”

He introduces “Stairway To Heaven” by saying, “here’s a song about time. And ah, and ah, some of the flashes that govern our passage through it. Heavy trip, man.” There is a short delay as Jones tunes his keyboards before they play the piece. Plant sings “Blue Suede Shoes” before the band play the final song of the set, a twenty-five minute “Whole Lotta Love” medley. The inclusions are common for this era with “Everybody Need Somebody To Love” before Plant doing an Elvis impersonation during “Boogie Chillun’.”

Page plays great boogie on the guitar before “Let’s Have A Party.” The final song in the medley is a long, drawn out and heavier than granite version of “You Shook Me” augmented considerably from its studio counterpart. The show closes with two encores, their biggest hit in Japan “Immigrant Song” and “The Ocean.” The final track is a minute long announcement by Goro Itoi explaining that the show is over.

No Use Gneco is packaged in a tri-fold cardboard gatefold sleeve that fits in the outer box and includes a mini-replica of the tour program, a ticket, and other handbills about the event. The first edition is seventy-five numbered copies and the second edition is limited to fifty-five numbered copies and the only difference in the artwork is the first edition having a black spine on the box and the second having a green spine. Both editions sold out within days of its release.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin No Use Gneco | , | Leave a comment

Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix & The Post-War Rock ‘N’ Roll Revolution by Charles Shaar Murray (1991)

42106From amazon.com

This book is an attempt at a scholarly study of Hendrix’s music, its cultural and social significance, its influences and those whose music it influenced. While fascinating at times, the author seems more interested in over displaying his education, vocabulary and being politically correct than he does writing a well researched, reader friendly study of this important subject matter. His obvious bias against certain musical genres and his desire to make everything about race further mars his ability to write an objective study.

The first four chapters are by far the weakest. Long winded ramblings and lack of thorough research render much of the first hundred pages useless. The mini-biography in chapter two is so filled with inaccuracies one is tempted to dismiss Murray’s work before going any further on the grounds that he’s too lazy to research the life of the man who is the central subject matter of his book. Chapter three wastes twenty pages blubbering about sexism in popular music and spouting pseudo intellectual blather just to come to the conclusion that anyone who listens to Jimi’s music already knew: some of Hendrix’s songs contain put downs of women and some attribute to them almost divine qualities, and some fall somewhere in between.

Murray also figured out that women song writers do that, too. What a genius! Then we have a chapter about “the black artist and the white audience”. This is where it gets really bogged down in meaningless meanderings and intelligence and coherency are sacrificed upon an altar of trying to appear politically correct. Anyone whose listened to popular music from the 60’s and also blues, jazz, psychedelic and even country knows that black and white music was thoroughly and irretrievably cross pollinated by this point and thus almost impossible to any longer make an absolute clear distinction between the two. Charles more than proves this point himself but seems loathe to admit it. The arguments here reminded me of a TV critic back in the 80’s who was trying to decide if The Cosby Show was about a black man who happened to be a doctor or a doctor who happened to be a black man. In other words, another 25 pages that really has very little to contribute to our knowledge or enjoyment of Jimi’s music or music in general.

After wading through 105 pages of mostly hot air, my perseverance and patience was finally rewarded and Murray finally digs into subject matter on which he is able to sometimes make a relevant point. Chapter five deals with blues great Robert Johnson and jazz guitarist pioneer Charlie Christian, their similarities with Hendrix and their influence on his music. Fascinating stuff and hard to put down. Murray quotes from some sources that I will definitely be checking out ASAP, both for their subject matter, and the fact that after chapter two I feel a need to fact check this book. The next couple of chapters are devoted to the blues and jazz respectively, and provide a lot of food for thought. At the end of the book there’s a discussion of the gear Hendrix chose to make his music with which is great. Though I really enjoyed the last 100 pages of this work, there were still numerous errors about Jimi and others.

He says the Byrds’ Eight Miles High came out before George Harrison ever heard a sitar. Sorry Charlie, but Rubber Soul containing Norwegian Wood was released in ’65 and Eight Miles High in ’66. He says Sly Stone wrote Somebody To Love that was recorded by both of Grace Slick’s bands, The Great Society and Jefferson Airplane. Wrong! Grace’s brother in law Darby Slick wrote it. He continually refers to Jimi’s Woodstock band as being named Electric Church though it was Gypsies, Suns and Rainbows. He says of guitarist Larry Lee who played in this band that “little has been heard before or since.” That depends on if you’ve ever read in other books on Hendrix. If Murray had done the slightest bit of research he’d know Hendrix and Lee had been friends and played music together since the early 60’s but that Lee spent a couple of years in Viet Nam just before Woodstock and since then has been quite easy to locate by Hendrix biographers and documentarians. And there’s more.

I like the idea behind this book, but it is very flawed in execution. When Murray’s not trying to impress us with what a genius and great musical critic he is, he’s a pretty good writer with a descent sense of humour. He does need to spend a little more time on research and realize that it doesn’t make you less intelligent to make a clear point in 5 pages as opposed to running in circles for 20. While he may have felt Jimi’s impact on rock music was out of the scope of a book this size, he should have at least mentioned artists like German guitarist Uli Jon Roth who have moulded not just their music but their life and spirituality on Jimi’s. Instead Charles heaps praise on pop poser Prince as a worthy example of Hendrix’s influence. This book has more than enough of interest and relevance to make it worth reading, but I must disagree with the other reviewers who shower it with such high praise.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Book Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix & The Post-War Rock 'N' Roll Revolution by Charles Shaar Murray | , | Leave a comment

Free Tons Of Sobs (1968)

MI0002766617From starling.rinet.ru

This debut album is certainly not the best that Free had to offer us, yet it is already competent and self-assured. Perhaps the biggest ‘technical’ difference of this record from the next ones is that Andy Fraser, the band’s main – but unobservable – creative genius, isn’t yet involved as heavily as he’d be supposed to. He only gets credited as co-writer with Paul Rodgers on two of the songs, while all of the other originals are solely Rodgers-credited. Worse, judging exclusively by this record, it is hard to guess that Fraser is actually a bass virtuoso; he only shines is maybe a couple of places, leaving Rodgers and Kossoff as the main heroes. Thus, a large part of Free’s uniqueness is missing here; Kossoff is a fine player, and he’s actually more brash and energetic here than on almost any other record, but that’s not to say his riffs and solos completely blow me away. He’s just professional and tasteful, that’s all.

Paul Rodgers is another story, though: his powerful vocal deliveries on the album show that he certainly found his voice and learned how to make the best of it way before the band was even formed. Sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, excellently modulated to fit the mood of the song, winding its way cleverly around the various obstacles… just a perfectly flowing voice. He’d be more “screaming” later on, but hasn’t your mother taught you that screaming isn’t everything?

As for the songs… well, what would you expect. These guys play blues-rock; I’m not gonna use oblique suggestions and slant insinuations and say that they offer us ‘a previously unimagined perspective on the most basic elements’ or something like that. This is just solid, self-assured blues-rock. [Haters of blues-rock all over the world now rise in indignation, slam the door behind them and proceed to listen to their Soft Machine and Throbbing Gristle collections out of violent protest.] Now that that’s settled, let me share this information with the rest of music lovers: this is a very good blues-rock album, and if it hadn’t been marred by a thoroughly generic, unnecessary eight-minute ramble (‘Goin’ Down Slow’), I’d have easily given it a nine. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Rodgers and Kossoff hammering it out on a slow eight-minute groove, but slow lengthy blues only works in an ideal way when it’s performed by one of the absolute greats, maybe Eric Clapton on ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ or ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’. Okay, gimme ‘Voodoo Chile’ over this at least.

Simply because, you know, they get it so much better on the faster, more compact numbers, that this one just sticks out like a half-sore thumb. Rodgers’ short acoustic ballad ‘Over The Green Hills’ makes a perfect introduction and conclusion for the album, and in between are stuffed all these redhot bluesy deliveries like, say, the majestic ‘Walk In My Shadow’, based on a mighty fine riff and featuring Rodgers at his very very best. Their cover of ‘The Hunter’ is also quite renowned, but my personal favourite is probably ‘Worry’, where everything just comes together: a grumbly fuzzy rhythm track, pretty accompanying piano lines, Kossoff’s usual frenzied guitar tone, and Rodgers’ ominous voice throwing out the lyrics: ‘If it’s the cold black night that’s eating up your heart…’.
Of course, Free’s take on blues-rock was always cocky, from the very beginning – how would we otherwise interpret lyrics like ‘You don’t need your horses baby, you got me to ride, you don’t need your feathers, I’ll keep you warm inside’ in ‘Wild Indian Woman’?

Fortunately, Free’s cockish attitude was never as blatantly obvious and ugly and unrestrained as Led Zeppelin’s, and Rodgers’ gutsy voice more than justifies it. How could we have vintage blues-rock without a hint of sexism if it’s blues-rock we’re talking about? Throw out the sexism and what you get is Renaissance! It’s the amount and proportions of sexism that matter, and in that respect, ‘Wild Indian Woman’ is far less offensive than even ‘All Right Now’.

Apart from ‘Goin’ Down Slow’, the obvious weakness of the record is that it doesn’t offer us that much diversity, of course; apart from all the bluesy originals and covers, and the short snippets of ‘Over The Green Hills’, the only thing that deviates from the formula is the slow dreary ballad ‘Moonshine’, and while it does pave the way to the hypnotic atmospheric masterpieces of Free (like ‘Free Me’ or ‘Mourning Sad Mourning’), it’s not particularly impressive by itself, much as Rodgers strains his voice to keep things interesting.

Still, what do you want from me? These guys have their own style; yes, it’s not yet fully developed, but at least it’s miles ahead of the purist blues approach of the early Fleetwood Mac, for instance. I really hate it when Brit bands were just making carbon copies of their blues influences; but if you try to add some flavour of your own, as in the case of Cream or Taste, for instance, this can easily work. And Free do have plenty of their own flavour. Should we complain? Nice songs, with constant signs of creativity all over them, good arrangements and singin’ – I don’t see why this one shouldn’t deserve at least an objective 10/15. I can’t call it a ‘blistering debut’, but I certainly heard worse debuts.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Free Tons Of Sobs | | Leave a comment

Free Free (1969)

MI0001741067From starling.rinet.ru

Gee, what a nice collection of songs… I actually hated it first time around, but this is one Free album that really grows on you, unlike most of the others.

Just one thing, though, that I don’t understand nohow, is what the hell made people classify Free as a ‘hard rock’ band. Out of the nine tunes here, three are folkish acoustic ditties, two or three more are moderate blues rockers, and then there are a couple really ‘weird’ numbers thrown in, like ‘Songs Of Yesterday’ and ‘Free Me’. Just because a band records a couple hard rock classics like ‘All Right Now’ doesn’t mean it’s “hard-rocking”. This is their most consistent and enjoyable album, and there’s maybe, like ten or fifteen seconds of hard rock on the whole album, for Chrissake! But it’s still really good, anyway.

Paul Rodgers is the star on this album, reveling in its overall gloomy, creepy atmosphere, whether it be the mid-tempo blues numbers or the dreary, dragging along acoustic stuff. The way the record opens, with those ominous wah-wah notes and Andy Fraser’s famous bass riffing on ‘I’ll Be Creepin’, shows you you’re in for an ‘evil’ record – of course, just a moderately evil record, after all, these guys were no Black Sabbath, so calm down! More gritty blue-rock can be found on ‘Woman’ and ‘Trouble On Double Time’, but I’m not really discussing these here: there’s little to mention about them except that both are based on catchy little riffs, all played by Kossoff in his gruff, nonchalant manner, and dumb little lyrics, all sung by Rodgers in his gruff, raunchy way.

Not to mention that, in the best ‘blues’ tradition, he proudly announces in ‘Woman’ that his lady only comes third for him after his guitar and his car. Now that’s what I call a man who got his priorities straight… In case you’re wondering, these songs rule.

Personally, though, out of the ‘fast’ numbers (yeah, right, the quotes are there and they’re gonna stay, because ‘fast’ for Free is always mid-tempo) I prefer ‘Songs Of Yesterday’, a groovy rocker that’s distinguished by the clever way it alternates the fast, boppy parts and the slower, bluesier parts. It also has the best bass workout on the entire record – Andy is giving it his all, and Kossoff inserts an intoxicating guitar line now and then. If anything, this song is way more sophisticated, exciting and entertaining than ‘All Right Now’, although, of course, it’s nowhere near as gut-spinning and if you drink beer you probably won’t like it. I mean, if you drink beer and listen to it at the same time – ‘All Right Now’, on the other hand, is a generic beer-drinkin’ anthem.

And say, even the acoustic stuff on here is friggin’ interesting. Yes it is yes it is ohhh yes it is. There’s the totally gorgeous ballad ‘Lying In The Sunshine’ – you have to appreciate that lazy folky vibe, of course, but the acoustic guitar there is just stunning – a relaxed, almost comatose intonation that, nevertheless, totally suits the song and its lazy, distracted lyrics. Then there’s ‘Free Me’, a song that, unfortunately, drags on for far too long (it would be much better if trimmed in two), and at first glance dismissable as based on a riff stolen from Led Zep’s ‘Dazed And Confused’, but don’t you dare dismiss it until you’ve given it a couple of accurate listens. It has a certain charm of its own, you know, like that drugged out Grateful Dead stuff – not an inch of energy or anything, but so darn pleasant to listen to in any case. Oh well, maybe it’s my masochistic instincts rearing up their head (no, I’m not a masochist, but to a certain extent, we all are).

The best, of course, is still ‘Mourning Sad Mourning’, a deeply tragic ballad that’s also draggy, slow as a tortoise and creepy as a rattlesnake (no, forget that last metaphor, it ain’t one of my best), but when Rodgers chants that magic line ‘mourning mourning sad day – AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!’, you can bet your life that they really succeeded in capturing some of that hard-to-capture genuine folk tragedy feel and stuff it into the song. Definitely second best on the record, and maybe their best ballad overall.

So, despite a couple tracks that are typical Free-filler (the instrumental ‘Mouthful Of Grass’, for instance, is just plain unnecessary, a stupid acoustic shuffle based on the same melody as ‘Lying In The Sunshine’ but nowhere near as captivating – and it keeps dragging on for what seems like eternity; the dull plodder ‘Broad Daylight’, that was perversely released as a single and did nothing but mar the band’s reputation), this here record works and does everything it is supposed to do. Which is, yes, which is to present Free as a good, drunken roots-rock band with heavy folk and blues influences.

But no hard rock in sight! Not a teeny-weeny bit of hard rock! Of course, if you do not consider Paul Rodgers’ voice a hard rock instrument all by itself. I know I don’t, and, like I said, the guy’s abilities as a vocalist are somewhat overrated. All the more exciting is the fact that with so many slow, dirgey, lethargic numbers they still manage to stuff the record with various kinds of vocal and instrumental hooks and make it truly atmospheric. Unfortunately, they managed to almost completely lose that magic power by the time of their next album – perhaps the ‘cock-rock’ image was taking away too much energy.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Free Free | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Moral Reader (Osaka, October 1972)

lz_moralreaderFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan – October 4, 1972

Disc 1: Rock And Roll, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, Immigrant Song

Three tape sources exist for Led Zeppelin’s October 4, 1972 Osaka show. A very good sounding recording, which is missing the opening notes of the concert, “Over The Hills And Far Away,” “Rock And Roll,” “Stairway To Heaven” and a part of the “Whole Lotta Love” medley to Led Zeppelin 71-72 (Digger 71 A-B 72 A-B) and has been released on compact disc on Raw Tapes II (Amsterdam AMS 9611-2-1/2) and The Second Daze (Mud Dogs –011/012). A longer tape source was used for Wild West Side / Live In Japan ’72(Zoso’s Company), Raw Tapes I (Amsterdam AMS9610-2-1/2), The Campaign: Dancing Geisha(Tarantura 1972-5-1,2), Live In Japan 1972 (Last Stand Disc), Complete Live In Japan (Last Stand Disc LSD-69, 70), and Dancing Geisha (Bonzo’s Favorite (Tarantura).

Several releases combine the first two sources for a complete show and they include Connexion (Amsterdam AMS 9612-2-1/2), the four disc set Rock Explosion 72 (Tarantura2000 TCD-15,16 SET) where it was packaged with the October 9 Osaka show in 2004, and separately on Dancing Page (Tarantura2000 TCD-15-1,2) the following year and Live At Festival Hall 1972 (Power Archives PA-0310006/7). There is a third source of the final half hour of the performance, but none of the silver releases utilize this source. Moral Reader sounds almost identical to the Power Archives release, and the sound quality between the two sources that the edits are almost imperceptible. Wendy increased the volume slightly but not to the point where there is any distortion. There is a digital flaw twenty-one seconds into “Rock And Roll,” but otherwise is very good and an excellent way to obtain this show.

October 4 is the first of two shows in Osaka on Zeppelin’s final tour of Japan. This is a good and low-key performance. This is the third show with their revamped set list with “Rock And Roll” installed as the opener and the introduction of the more complicated Houses Of The Holysongs to the act. But even more than the songs, the entire spirit of the fifth LP pervades the arrangements in the songs. There is plenty of progressive rock style experimentation, but also a heavy dose of irony that is absent in the latter days. “Rock And Roll” reveals that Plant’s voice is a bit rough, but he is hitting the high notes with relative ease. “Black Dog” is introduced as “an old one” and Bonham loses the time signature briefly in the middle.

While Page is playing the introduction to “Over The Hills And Far Away” Plant introduces the song by saying, “this is a track off fifth LP.” Page loses his place in the solo by the end, returning to the solo’s opening syncopated melody before returning to the verse. This evening’s version of “Dancing Days” is one of the best, and afterwards Plant makes a big deal about John Bonham singing on “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp,” the only acoustic number in the set. “The Song Remains The Same” is played and sung very close to the studio track, something that will not last too long as the song evolves into a more arena-rock friendly arrangement. The transition to “The Rain Song” is a bit rough but the song is performed very well and afterwards Plant introduces John Paul Jones on “the mysterious mellotron.”

“Dazed And Confused” is twenty-three minutes in length and includes and instrumental version of “San Francisco” before the violin bow solo segment. The long improvisation includes an instrumental version of “The Crunge,” a feature they introduces on the summer tour of the US. “Stairway To Heaven” sounds great with the mellotron recorders at the beginning and Page’s inspired solo. “Whole Lotta Love” reaches twenty-three minutes and the theremin cacophony begins about two minutes into the piece. This section sounds very similar to what they played on the 1971 BBC version, and it leads into “Everybody Needs Someone To Love.” This cover is arguable their most memorable during the life of the medley. Even Phil Collins would mention Zeppelin’s cover when Genesis would include the song in their “Turn It On Again” medleys of 1984.

After “Boogie Chillun’” they play a rare version of “Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” and “Let’s Have A Party,” two songs popularized by Elvis. The slide guitar at the beginning dominates “You Shook Me”. The two encores include “Heartbreaker” and “Immigrant Song,” their biggest hit in Japan. Since the studio track didn’t include a guitar break Page incorporated Jeff Beck’s solo from “Better Man Than I” and adapted it. This solo was further recycled in “Over The Hills And Far Away,” and for this encore he plays the first half as expected before branching off into fast scales and strange thrusts on guitar providing a unique version of the piece. Moral Reader is packaged in a double slimline jewel case with thick glossy inserts and a strange paragraph on the back. Among all the releases this isn’t any better nor is it worse. It is a good and affordable way to pick up this show though and for that it is recommended.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Moral Reader | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Heavy Zeppelin (Landover, February 1975)

zep_heavyzepFrom collectorsmusicreviews.com

Capitol Centre, Landover, MD – February 10th, 1975

Disc 1 (47:16): Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (63:06): Kashmir, No Quarter, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (62:12): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Out On The Tiles intro/Black Dog, Heartbreaker

The third release by the new Led Zeppelin dedicated label TCOLZ and the second to feature the silver debut of recording. Heavy Zeppelin documents the complete show from the Capital Center in Landover on February 10th, 1975. The sound quality of the tape is fair since it was taped a considerable distance from the stage. The tapers speak continuously throughout the show, begging for the band to play “Dazed And Confused” and flirting with the girls in front of them. The music is however listenable and once the ears adjust it is enjoyable to listen to. Imperfections in the tape include the first minute of “Kashmir” missing and there are cuts at 4:12 in “Over The Hills And Far Away,” at 4:57 and 9:00 in “In My Time Of Dying,” 3:06 in “The Song Remains The Same,” 14:28-14:35 in “No Quarter,” 2:24 in “Trampled Underfoot,” tape deterioration around nineteen minutes in “Moby Dick,” a cut at 12:29 and 13:33 in “Dazed And Confused,” deterioration 1:57-2:35 in “Stairway To Heaven,” and 3:09 in “Black Dog.” There are also some speed issues with “Heartbreaker” which the label thankfully addressed and minimized making the final encore listenable.

The Capital Center opened in 1973 and this is Zeppelin’s first concert in this venue. They would play four shows there in 1977 and were scheduled for three in October 1980 before the cancellation of the entire tour and the dissolution of the band because of the death of drummer John Bonham. Several newspaper articles detail the frenzy surrounding the event. “When Led Zeppelin descended on Washington, 18,700 concert tickets were snapped up in three hours. Some people who could not get tickets vented their disappointment just as, perhaps, disappointed Viennese did when they could not get into a Mozart recital. They threw bottles at the police. The tempestuous behavior by disappointed ticket seekers called to mind the sporadic violence in gas station lines last whiter during the oil embargo, the other recent shortage of a life-sustaining commodity. Rock music is to the youth culture what gasoline is to the more adult culture: it is that without which life lacks tang.” (“Led Zeppelin – A Heavier Than Air Craft For Sure,” Courier, Feb 19, 1975)

And again, ”Several hundred youths trying to crash a sold-out Led Zeppelin concert last night began throwing rocks and hollies at police. Fifteen persons were arrested. Sgt. Robert Law of the Prince Georges County police said about 70 officers called to the scene were showered with debris. ‘We have several police cars damaged and windshields broken.’ Sgt. Law said last night. ‘The tires on a police cruiser were slashed and windows were broken.’ No injuries were reported. The concert went on as scheduled inside the Capital Centre. The 18,700 tickets for the show by the British rock group were sold within hours, the fastest sellout in the history of the new arena in suburban Washington D.C. Sgt. Law said the disturbance was started with ‘disorderlies trying to crash the gates.’”

Steven Davis also referred to this show in his book Hammer Of The Gods, writing, “On February 10 the band flew to Washington for a show a the massive Capital Centre. Jimmy hadn’t slept in days and was feeling weird as the group huddled at the side of a specially built sixty-foot stage. The hall was dark, the amps had been switched on and were buzzing, and the audience was setting off firecrackers and cherry bombs. It sounded like Saigon as the Viet Cong entered the city. Jimmy as shaking like a leaf. He hated waiting backstage before a show, preferring to jump out of the limo and run onstage. Bonzo as sweating visibly as the crowd noise built to a warlike Nuremberg roar. ‘This is ridiculous,’ Bonzo said. And then they heard it: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Led Zeppelin!’”

The tape is very good at picking up the general pandemonium within the venue but only one cherry bomb is audible before the band start. The tape starts with one of the tapers saying he’s afraid they’ll cut out a lot of their old songs before they play “Rock And Roll.” After “Sick Again” Plant says, “Good evening. Good evening. I should think so. Good evening to yourself. Well it’s more than a pleasure to be back in this area again. In fact, it’s more than a pleasure to be back in America generally. We tonight, we intend to initially have a really good time, as that is the essence of keeping a group together, and we’d like to included you too, by enjoying it. We intend to cut across a cross section of the music we’ve managed to get together since 1968. This includes some of the raunchy stuff, some of the cool stuff, in fact, what we consider to be a complete good deal. Starting with perhaps a song about a dream.”

They play as scorching version of “Over The Hills And Far Away” with Page in particular on fire. For “In My Time Of Dying” he asks if anyone has heard the new album yet on the radio since it was still two weeks away from release. The tapers enjoy “No Quarter,” claiming they did it really good last time and remark about the dry ice effect. Like many of the early 1975 versions, this is basically an expanded edition of the song from 1973 with John Paul Jones remaining on organ throughout the entire solo. One of the tapers makes an interesting point after “Trampled Under Foot.”

He observes they hadn’t played anything earlier than the fourth album and except for “Rock And Roll” the first half of the show is drawn from either Houses Of The Holy or Physical Graffiti, their latest two records. The actual set list belies Plant’s claim to give a cross section of their music. Only “Dazed And Confused” is played from the first album, “Moby Dick,” “Heartbreaker” and a minute’s worth of “Whole Lotta Love” from the second, nothing from the third and only three from the fourth.

Plant introduces Bonzo before ”Moby Dick” by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, children of the sun, direct from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in two seconds you will witness one of the most amazing experiences. Our percussionist, not Karen Carpenter, but John Bonham.” The drum solo is about twenty minutes long and “Dazed And Confused” reaches thirty. The recording sounds best in capturing the audience reaction to the laser show and Page is confident enough to include the Bouree. The show is strong enough that they included the second encore, and eleven minute version of “Heartbreaker” to send the show.

Heavy Zeppelin is packaged in a fatboy jewel case with no artwork to speak mention on the front and back cover. The instead chose to follow the brown paper bag motif as they did on the first two releases. A booklet is included with photos and newspaper articles to give some kind of context for the show. Like the first two releases, the sound quality is good but not great and appeals to the hardcore Zeppelin collector. For those, this is a welcomed release because this show has never appeared on silver before.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Heavy Zeppelin | , | Leave a comment