Earls Court, London, England – May 23rd, 1975
Disc 1 (58:57): Introduction, Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains the Same, Rain Song, Kashmir
Disc 2 (62:51): mc, No Quarter, Tangerine, Going To California, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot
Disc 3 (58:08): mc, Moby Dick, Dazed And Confused
Disc 4 (27:00): mc, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog, mc
The initial plan for Led Zeppelin’s engagement in Earls Court was to have three concerts over one weekend starting on Friday, May 23rd. Given the “demand unprecedented in the history of rock,” two shows were scheduled to accommodate the demand for the preceding weekend.
May 23rd exists on three good to very good audience recordings in varying states of completeness. It is a very scarce show with few good versions coming out over the years. The earliest incarnation can be found on vinyl The Awesome Foursome Live At Earl’s Court (The World Joker JMP 9 A-H) and was copied onto CD on The Awesome Foursome (CG 42-43-44).
Other early vesions such as Tarantura’s first release of the show on Thunderstorm (Tarantura T4CD-5-1-4) and Welcome To the Show (TDOLZ Vol. 79) use the best sounding of the three tapes with a big cut in “Trampled Underfoot.”
Arabesque & Baroque The Third Night (Antrabata ARM 230575), Physical Express (Jelly Roll JR 16/17/18/19) and the last release of the show in 2002 on Complete Earl’s Court Arena Tapes “III” (Empress Valley EVSD-101/102/103/104) are multiple source edits meant to fix the cuts on the best sounding recording.
The Rites Of Manhood is also a multiple source mix, using the best sounding recordings to present the show in its three and a half hour entirety. The edit in “Trampled Underfoot” (at 5:30) is very well handled. There are several cuts between songs and one 10:04 in “Moby Dick.” Tarantura also didn’t mess with the tapes much, allowing it to sound as natural as possible, and it presents every available moment of the show.
Some argue this is the best sounding of the Earls Court tapes and the most enjoyable performance. The title comes from an entry about this show on the official Led Zeppelin website “The Mighty Zep and My Rites of Manhood My first trip to England.”
The tape starts with David “Kid” Jensen introducing the band, saying: “After an absence of something like four years I guess we’re all ready for a bit of physical graffiti” before “Rock And Roll” and ”Sick Again.”
Robert Plant is in jocular mood tonight, constantly telling many inside jokes and making funny asides. “Last weekend we did a couple of warm up gigs for these three, this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We believe that these were the first three gigs to be sold out, yeah? So these must be the ones with the most energy stored up, right?”
The show continues in a brisk pace at the beginning, playing tight versions of “In My Time Of Dying,” “The Song Remains The Same” and a gorgeous “The Rain Song.” The topic of travel and journy is frequently mentioned by Plant. Before “Kashmir” he speaks about his ”left arm is swollen beyond all proportion because I just had it chipped for cholera, and small pox, and everything else that we might catch while we go hunting in the jungle for new words and new songs for a new album…. the last time we had a chip in the arm and wander in the jungle nobody really went anywhere at all. We wrote a song called ‘Kashmir.’”
For John Paul Jones’ big spot, Plant announces: “This next piece also features John Paul Jones on keyboards. These days John is working a lot on keyboards. This features Jonesy, the maestro. It’s called ‘No Quarter.’” After a short delay and a few weird noises coming out of the organ, Plant jokes: “That’s Jonesy the maestro. Now we feature John Paul Jones on piano, whose bicycle clip is caught in his sock.”
(The “bicycle clip” quote is a reference to the Monty Python skit “Cycling Tour” where Michael Palin’s character Reginald Pither’s clip get caught, among other things).
Jones’ grand piano solo is very tranquil and melodic. He also shows much confidence at first, unlike some of the versions from the end of the US tour in March where he meandered a bit before settling upon a suitable melody. Page and Bonham come in to darken the mood, playing the more traditional “No Quarter” improvisation. Plant himself mentions the “sinister connotations” which are “plodding along.”
For “Tangerine,” he speaks about “the effect of love apart from squeezing lemons and other such vicious martial arts,” calling it “a beautiful song of love.” The band admirably pulls off four-part harmony. Since it’s only captured in the audience tapes (the soundboard recordings record only Plant singing), this is the best recording of such a rare Zeppelin event. Plant is quick to acknowledge it when the song is over: “Four part harmony featuring John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Reginald Pither.”
As the road crew are getting the band ready for the acoustic set, Plant gives a rambling introduction to “Going To California.” He speaks about their trip “along the A5 past Wellington.” He’s distracted by someone shouting in the wings (“Is my manager shouting at me?”) and by Bonham’s roadie setting up the microphone, saying, “This gentlemen here who’s altering the mic stand was arrested for swearing at passersby at a tube station six months ago, Mick Hinton. He was then arrested three months later for driving over a traffic island. Really gets so bad because it costs Bonzo a fortune. He’s now limping because Bonzo just gave him a dead leg.”
The acoustic set is a nice addition, breaking up the long meandering epics in the set. Zeppelin in the mid seventies were at their heaviest and (some say) self-indulgent, and having an intimate set with the audience is very welcome. It adds another half hour to the set, but since this a rare concert in England the audience don’t seem to mind. Plant makes a few jokes before “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” at Jones’ expense, speaking about his stand up bass which ”when he used to be with Jet Harris and Tony Meehan they were all the fashion.”
After “Trampled Underfoot” come two more epics. Bonham’s “Moby Dick” reaches twenty-give minutes and “Dazed And Confused” past thirty. Plant refers to the latter as coming from their first session together “the first thing that we did play together back in the summer of 68, in the days of Scott McKenzie.”
Perhaps because he mentioned McKenzie Plant sings “San Francisco” instead of “Woodstock” like he had been since the second leg of the US tour in March. He lets out several loud shrieks and Page’s violin bow interlude in appropriately creepy. The improvisation doesn’t have anything new but is delivered with breathtaking confidence.
Plant takes a shot at journalist Charles Shaar Murray, who were a bit critical of the first two Earls Court shows, before “Stairway To Heaven” telling him “there’s a psychiatrist on his way Charles. Just hang on. Keep those teeth gritted, but here’s one for you in you better moments Charles. Good old Charles.”
When the come out for the encores John Bonham acknowledges his father in the audience by shouting “HELLO DAD!” His brother Mick was also there and mentioned this event in his boot My Brother John, writing: “Come May 23rd, Jacko (father), Debbie (sister) and myself, along with a good friend of mine set off to see for ourselves how the band had progressed since we had last seen them at Trentham Gardens. As soon as the band walked onstage, to rapturous applause, we were in awe at the whole bloody size of it. Showco had shipped in the PA system and light show that was used on their American tour and above the stage a huge video screen showing close up views of the band as they went about their business. For three and a half hours, we were treated to rock music from a band that you just know were glad to be home. Every enthusiastic move by the band was highlighted in a show that was second to none. Laser beams fired above the heads of the audience gave the effect of flaming arrows when they reflected off a mirror ball, filling the vast hall with snowflakes and stars.”
“Whole Lotta Love” contains the theremin duel and segues into “Black Dog” to close the show. At the end Plant quotes William Blake: “…and did those feet in ancient times. Thank you very much England, and Wales, and Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and may the best team win. Good night.”
The Rites Of Manhood is packaged in a thick, four-fold cardboard sleeve. The front has a famous Earls Court photograph of Page playing theremin during “Whole Lotta Love.” Inside Tarantura use never before seen amateur photographs from the Earls Court shows including one from this gig (the point of the show where Bonham stands up after “Tangerine.”) It’s unique to see such candid photographs. Overall, this is the best version of this rare show and is worth having.