Classic Rock Review

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin Live An Illustrated Exploration Of Underground Tapes by Luis Rey | , , , | 1 Comment