Today’s edition of “Put the Boot In” is looking at a pivotal and albeit amazing performance from Led Zeppelin’s first American tour in early 1969. This performance is from Thee Image Club in North Miami beach Florida on Valentines Day 1969. The show comes from an audience recorded bootleg and released on the Tarantula label under the monicker “Yellow Zeppelin” After listening to this show I think a more apt title would be “A Saint Valentines Day Massacre”, based on the way this early flight of Led Zeppelin bombards the unsuspecting crowd. The recording itself sounds great for an late 1960’s recorded audience recording. The bass is slightly muffled at points and there is the obvious distortion issues based on the loudness of the band. But all in all, Jimmy is amped and Robert’s vocals cut through the din. Bonzo’s drums are gonna be audible no matter what! If you’re looking for letter ratings this show gets a “B” for sound, but an “A” for performance. Just tune in, turn on, and crank up this recording and you will find it is a very enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes. In less that two years Zeppelin’s popularity would know no bounds, and its recordings like this that show the band in its infancy, taking chances, and blowing minds.
The recording starts with John Bonham hammering out the tempo to the era specific opener, “Train Kept A Rollin”. While the recording echoes slightly, once Jimmy’s Yardbird’s Telecaster slices through the electric air like an aerodynamic missile, any sound issues are forgiven. I can’t comprehend what the crowd in attendance was thinking when this fire breathing beast walked on the stage. Led Zeppelin I had only been out since January, and while it was starting to move on the charts, the band was still relatively unknown. “Train” blasts down the tracks at a furious rate until it slams head on into the back of “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. Robert Plant absolutely howls the lyrics to this blues classic in such a way, that the thought crosses my mind that he may be the greatest vocalist ever! The show starts off that intensely! Jimmy Page’s spry fingers scurry across the the fretboard like a spider searching for a dark corner. The detail and natural vibrato in this fingers is fascinating to hear even on this distant field recording. After the exhaustive opening Robert introduces the next song as being from their new LP that is ‘currently doing pretty well, apparently”. John Paul Jones plays the opening figure of “Dazed and Confused to light applause. “Dazed” is a song that underwent numerous changes over the course of its life, and was one of Zeppelin’s main vehicles for improvisation. These early first LP era versions are boiling over with energy and always contain a mystery or two. The Page bow sequence is very dark and very psychedelic, and has yet to fall into the “themes” that would become standard in later versions. Robert echoes Page’s riffs with erotic groans and quotes some “Sugar Time” lyrics. When the band comes back together the rhythm section takes off from the starting gate like a shot. John Paul and Bonham so in the pocket that you couldn’t get a drum machine to replicate their tightness. Jimmy surfs along the top with riff after riff, some familiar and some not so much, but all effective. Jimmy’s guitar is so loud at this point in the recording I have to chuckle to myself. The music is vibrating with beautiful chaos at this point. The call and response between Robert and Jimmy is right on, its hard to believe the band has been together for less that six months, and are this good. During this era I have always thought there is something other worldly about the sound of Jimmy’s 1959/60 Dragon Telecaster. There is an indescribable knife edge quality to Jimmy’s attack that guitar players have been trying to replicate for years. This performance is full of consummate examples of that classic sound.
“Dazed and Confused” climaxes and concludes, but special notice must go to Jimmy’s hallucinatory muted guitar lines after the return to the song, and before the final chord. Slippery and understated, Page’s riffs are euphoric in their statement, a stand out moment of the song. The crowd reciprocates in generous applause as Zeppelin continues the show with “The Lemon Song/Killing Floor”. This in my humble opinion is the best performance of the first half of the show thus far. The band rips into the double time segment of this song with such abandon that I play this part back three different times to gain a full appreciation. At this point all of the instrumentalist’s are clear on the recording, and the band is cooking like a pasty tourist in the steamy Florida sunshine. Jimmy plays with a slightly clean tone that makes his riffs ring with a bell like quality. The true magic cast during this performance occurs when the band hits the “squeeze my lemon” breakdown. Page kicks his “crybaby” on and lays down a series of thick milky leads as Plant scats and quotes lyrics from the tune, “I Think You Need A Shot”. Page’s guitar continues to peel kaleidoscopic notes as the band picks up momentum. Suddenly we are back into the double time jam as the band rings all of the juice from this lemon, and crashes to a satisfying conclusion. Hats off to the entire band for a priceless and special jam.
Unfortunately after such a intense first half of the show the band enters into a slightly out of tune and ragged, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. This can be forgiven based on the music that proceeded it, but the song pails in contrast to the proceeding jams. The track is much better suited to an acoustic reading, but still an A for effort.It’s easy to understand why the song was eventually dropped from future set lists. The final track on my disc one is “How Many More Times” and it shakes the windows and rattles the walls with no other than John Henry Bonham leading the charge. At one point during the improv Bohnam and Page enter a call and response that is devastating in its accuracy and concentrated energy. Page goes into duets with every member of the band at some point who then bounce back every idea that he throws out. A perfectly played game of rock tennis. Eventually Page hits on a quintessential Zep riff and the band locks into a thunderous jam with all hands on deck. As soon as the band locks onto an idea, Page starts to lead them on another journey toward Mordor. Page gets so far out with his licks before the Bolero segment that John Paul lets go with a series of sliding bass lines that may induce dizziness. It’s a shame that this version of “How Many More Times” cuts shortly after the concerts second “bow” interlude. I am of the opinion that this is one of the finest early Zeppelin shows I have heard, and if a soundboard ever surfaced it would yield amazing treasures. The second bow interlude is as euphoric and dark as the earlier “Dazed” breakdown, but quietly fades just as the band is ready to turn another corner. Damn! Oh well, I must be thankful for the bit that circulates and that we can all enjoy.
The second disc starts with Page on stage solo for his spotlight, playing “White Summer/Black Mountainside”. This version, like all of them contains unique improvisations within the basic structure of the song cycle. While nothing jumps out at me for being completely special, this is a well played version with Jimmy playing concisely. This Page spotlight acts as the “whisper to the thunder” that follows. I am barely prepared for the following “As Long as I Have You” that startles me out of my seat with a crashing guitar strike by Jimmy. Unbridled power is all that comes to mind as the band roughs up the crowd with this naked display of brute strength and musical ability. At this point in the band’s career they were lacking original compositions, so songs like “As Long As I Have You” were their main improvisational vehicles until tunes like ‘Whole Lotta Love” came into the rotation. There are a few versions of this song available on other Zep boots such as 4/24/69 and 4/27/69 which contain soundboard sound quality and arguably more mature performances. But this in no way dampens the astonishing intensity of this audience recording. Intensity may be too broad a term for this jam, as it is full of dynamics, light, shade, and careful instrumental placement. But it is played with such enthusiasm and strength that intensity seems an apt description.
At around five minutes into the song things really heat up as Bonham and Page start to churn a delicious groove that just rumbles quietly until igniting into a “Mockingbird” jam. Jimmy has his “Wah Wah” emanating a slippery whine behind Robert’s bellowing vocals. The jam suddenly drives into a heavy syncopated rock and roll swing with Page laying down his most impressive “Yardbird” riffs which are marinated in a psychedelic sauce. Riff after riff is shot out like machine gun ordnance until they climax into a long sound wave of guitar feedback that segues into a wordless Robert Plant scream recital. Led Zeppelin is now a tight and smoking R&B band strutting their stuff across the darkened stage. “As Long As I Have You” epitomizes the early Led Zeppelin ideal, and gives fans a glimpse into the band’s influences, and a peek at the “nuts and bolts” of the group. This is Led Zeppelin broken into their primal elements. At one moment the band is a sharp toothed beast clawing its way toward your throat, at another a dancing gazelle gliding across the landscape.
Taking a brief pause Robert Plant speaks to the breathless audience, “In spite of the high spirits we are going to do a blues”. What follows is a clinic in “white boy blues” put on display by the band. “You Shook Me” was a staple of the band’s early sets, and it never failed to ignite the band into a lumbering blues swing. Plant channels all of his blues idols and regurgitates their influence in a primitive and ancient scream. It’s amazing how tied into each others performances Page and Plant are even at this early stage of the band’s career. There are numerous versions of “You Shook Me” available in the Zeppelin bootleg world, but its versions like this that make me shutter. I have to say I believe that the other British blues/rock bands at the time (Cream, Stones, Fleetwood Mac) paled in comparison to the “Zep” interpretations of the blues during their early career.
The concert recording ends with what Zeppelin fans know as an early version of “Moby Dick”, lovingly named “Pat’s Delight” after John Bonham’s wife. I am not aware if this is indeed the true end of the concert, but it does end the recording I have and my review. Book ended by an instrumental passage to set the stage, “Pat’s Delight is thirteen minutes of recognizable and thundering John Bohnam drumming. Double and triple paradiddles scream by the audience at speeds unknown to modern drummers except maybe Buddy Rich. I love that during Bonham’s spotlight people near the recording gear can be heard letting out hoots and hollers as they watch Bonham unleash on his kit with superhuman strength. A highlight of hundreds of Zeppelin concerts this segment is another chance to listen in awe to the natural wonder which is John Henry Bonham.
This early field recording of of a young and hungry Led Zeppelin illustrates the four distinct, yet still developing personalities beginning the construction of their empire. The defiant Robert Plant, the magical Jimmy Page, the stoic John Paul Jones, and the animal John Bonham, learning to listen to one another and to develop a rapport that has been unequaled in rock and roll. The future after this concert will be filled with legendary and incredible performances by an older and more mature band. In contrast, these early concerts demonstrate a band learning on the fly, experimenting, and having fun traveling into the unknown. By developing medieval science’s and myth, the band will create a mystical stew that will metamorphosis into something the four musician’s could only fathom in their dreams. Sit down with this recording and witness Led Zeppelin in their infancy, hear musical giants change the landscape of rock, and be a part of a magical ritual that continues to this very day.