The American Return (Godfatherecords G.R. 478/479/480)
Civic Arena, Long Beach, CA, USA – March 11, 1975
Disc 1: 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 2: No Quarter, Trampled Under Foot, Moby Dick
Disc 3: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, [/The Crunge/Out On The Tiles/], Black Dog
Empress Valley recently released the first soundboard edition of this much-bootlegged show under the title Long Beach Californication. This is the latest in a fairly long line of soundboards of 1975 shows from the label. Some of these, such as Days Confused and Snow Jobs, have garnered critical acclaim. More recently, however, the labels’ 1975 soundboard releases have attracted criticism, both here and elsewhere, not so much for their presentation of the music but for their exclusivity, high price and packaging. The artwork of the “Murder Incorporated” edition of St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was criticised for being, at best, historically inaccurate and, at worst, in extremely bad taste. Long Beach Californication has been criticized both here and on the Underground Uprising website, for recycling “common” artwork.
The sound quality of this new stereo soundboard has garnered compliments. TH’s review of the original EV release on the Underground Uprising website refers to this as “one of the best and most well-balanced soundboard recordings from the band’s ’75 shows.” In comments posted after the set was mentioned in the News & New Releases section of CMR (28 August, 2009), Hager referred to it as a “great soundbord recording,”and Asteroidbelt called it “awesome.” Gsparaco, in his review of the subsequent Eelgrass release states that, “the recording is extremely clear and powerful and one of the best sounding of the 75 soundboards.” However, there is one issue – as gsparaco contends, “the tape does run 2% too fast.”
The Eelgrass label has, as alluded to above, issued its own version of the show, also entitled Long Beach Californication. As most collectors are aware, this label specializes in reproducing Empress Valley releases, so it will come as no surprise to read on the BootLedZ website that the Eelgrass version “is an exact copy of EV and shares the same disc times.” There has also been a release on the more obscure White Summer label entitled West Of Sunset. It is the only release from this label listed on the CD Bootleg Discography section of Argenteum Astum’s website, Led Zeppelin Database. However, now Godfather has released its version of the soundboard recording of this show, entitled The American Return, which is described in the label’s promotional material as “the definitive soundboard edition.”
The show begins with a short section of the audience tape during which “the American return of Led Zeppelin” is announced. The soundboard then commences between the announcer and the start of the opening number, Rock And Roll, which is given an exciting performance. After this fine start, the early part of the band’s performance is marred to some extent by technical difficulties. As gsparaco states in his review of the Eelgrass release, “this show has its highlights but is plagued by equipment problems and issues with the PA which seem to distract them onstage.” The performance of Sick Again, which takes its usual second place in the set, contains the first hint of technical problems. As gsparaco goes on to say, “the transition, normally several crashing chords on guitar, is rendered very weak and ineffective.”
The following two songs, however, are given particularly impressive performances. Over The Hills And Far Away is rated by gsparaco as an “excellent version.” He also refers to In My Time Of Dying a “monstrous version” and Mike Magnon, writing on the Underground Uprising website, calls it “one of the best and heaviest of the tour.”
The next two numbers are The Song Remains the Same and The Rain Song, a combination which Keith Shadwick, in Led Zeppelin: The Story Of A Band And Their Music 1968-1980, contends was “a particular highlight” of this tour. It should be no surprise that the two songs, which open Houses Of the Holy, work well together for as Jimmy Page stated in an interview with Guitar World in 1993, The Song Remains The Same “was originally going to be an instrumental – an overture that led into ‘The Rain Song.'” The Rain Song receives a fine performance, although technical problems emerge again during The Song Remains The Same. As Robert Plant points out after both numbers have been played, “for the benefit of anybody who was making a bootleg then, the twelve-string was out of tune on The Song Remains The Same.” Fortunately The Rain Song, played by Page on the six-string neck of his Gibson EDS-1275, suffers no such problems. The first disc then ends with a splendid rendition of Kashmir, appropriately portentious at the start and tense throughout, which Magnon calls “practically flawless”
Disc 2’s opener is No Quarter. This song, which showcases John Paul Jones’ keyboard abilities, was in a state of transition at the time of this show. As gsparaco points out, “this is about two weeks into the new instrumentation, trading in the organ for the grand piano for the solo. The dark and somber intonations of the 1973 and early 1975 versions were gone as these tapes reveal Jones trying very hard to try all sorts of different styles and motifs to find a new direction of the song.” Overall, this is a very atmospheric version, with the grand piano section coming off well. Though it meanders a little, it is enjoyable and it is even a little jazzy here and there. Bonham’s drumming, when it emerges during this section, is very sympathetic, and Page’s guitar also meshes well with Jones’ playing. Plant’s vocals are also impressive here, and I found this an enjoyable performance. Even here, however, difficulties with the equipment are present, with Plant commenting on the “buzzing and humming” emanating from the keyboards.
Technical problems again arise prior to a powerful, thrusting performance of Trampled Under Foot. Sounds of equipment being fixed prompt Plant to say, “the drumming and the hammering is by courtesy of Acme Quaalude Company Limited in the back. This is a guy building a chicken pen. Can you hear it?” (The response from Bonham is that “he’s building a shithouse,” which amuses Plant.) Moby Dick, relatively short at twenty-two minutes, then begins with a strenuous attempt by John Bonham and Jimmy Page to outdo each other on their respective instruments, before the former unleashes his astonishing drumming skills, which, I assume in common with many others, I admire rather than enjoy.
A superb Dazed And Confused, which, as always, showcases Page’s astonishing virtuosity, opens disc 3. This rendition clocks in at twenty-nine minutes and Lewis considers it to be “the highlight of the show.” Plant’s vocal contribution includes a section from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, sung while Page plays the guitar part which was later utilized in Achilles’ Last Stand. Page also includes a few bars of Something’s Coming from Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story. Stairway To Heaven concludes the main set, in a performance that TH finds “flawless and gutsy.” Page’s guitar playing is appropriately delicate at the start and powerful later on and Plant delivers another fine vocal performance.
Whole Lotta Love begins the encore, though after less than a minute-and-a half it gives way to the band’s none-too-successful stab at James Brown-style funk, The Crunge, which is actually rather enjoyable in this live setting. Plant sings most of the lyrics of the first section of The Crunge and then, as gsparaco puts it, “the theramin cacophany mutates effortlessly into the riff to ‘Out On The Tiles’ which leads into a heavy version of ‘Black Dog,'” and this concludes the show.
Overall, this show has not been regarded as one of the band’s performances, being held in low esteem by Luis Rey, author of Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration Of Underground Tapes. Others have also been less that complimentary. Jules McTrainspotter damns it with faint praise. “Whilst this concert was not one of Led Zeppelin’s finest performances,” he writes on the Underground Uprising website, “it was a perfectly acceptable one.” Even those commentators who have not been entirely negative have tended to dismiss the earlier part of the show, where the technical problems were most evident. Dave Lewis, in Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, states that, “the concert got off to a slow start.” There is some recognition that things improved once technical difficulties were overcome. TH maintains that, “in the latter half of the show, the band in fact played very well, even better than on 12 March in some places.” However, the comments from TH and gsparaco quoted above would suggest that even the earlier part of the show had its positive aspects.
The other factor which has often been stated to have had an effect on the band’s performance is the audience. In a comment on the official Led Zeppelin website, Argenteum Astrum states that, “the playing and singing are great here, but in some spots the band seems a little slow…this is probably due to the fact that this is one of the of the worst crowds ever! The audience is dull, bored and seeems half asleep.” Although this is something of an exaggeration, Plant refers to the unresponsiveness of the audience on more than one occasion. Before In My Time Of Dying, he says, “if you intend to sit still, forget it,” and prior to No Quarter he asks, “you will excuse us if we have a good time, won’t you?” Argenteum Astrum seems mystified by the audience’s attitude, as he feels that, “the show has some amazing playing,” and Magnon agrees. “The playing is tight, precise and consistent,” he maintains, “this is an excellent show, with no let downs.” Perhaps these comments are over-corrective; most collectors, I think, would not prefer this to other shows such as the next night’s performance or the concerts in Vancouver (19 March – Snow Jobs, Empress Valley) or Seattle (21 March – Long Drive To Seattle, TCOLZ). However, I gained a lot of pleasure from listening to this show and I would heartily agree with gsparaco’s assessment that, “although it isn’t legendary there is a lot to enjoy on these discs.”
The sound quality of Godfather’s release is excellent. Argenteum Astrum notes on his Led Zeppelin Database website that both the Empress Valley and the Godfather versions sound “superb.” Although the Empress Valley version runs 2% fast, I did not find that it came across as unnaturally fast on first listen and I am not alone in this. For example, in a comment on gsparaco’s review of the Eelgrass version, Sputnik says, “I didn’t notice this release ran fast until it was mentioned.” However, as Argenteum Astrum reported about the Godfather version in the Recent Updates section of Led Zeppelin Database, “it was told that the speed of the board tape is corrected so it seems that this version will be a definitive.” Comparative timings of the two releases bear out the contention that some work has been done on speed correction. For example, in the cases of The Song Remains The Same, Trampled Under Foot and Stairway To Heaven the Empress Valley release runs, respectively, ten, eight and nine seconds faster than the Godfather version.
Also, a few minor flaws in the Empress Valley release have been ironed out to some extent. For example, in Rock And Roll, at 2 minutes and 27 seconds, the sound becomes momentarily louder and coarser. Whether this is due to a brief patch from the audience source or some other factor I do not know, but in the Godfather version it is marginally less jarring. Additionally, the mighty shout let out by Bonham at the end of his drum solo in Moby Dick is clearly distorted on the Empress Valley release but less so on the Godfather version.
Moreover, Empress Valley’s disc breaks are rather untidy. For example, on disc 1, after Kashmir there is a second or two of audience noise which is then cut off. The Godfather version adds two or three more seconds: enough time for a brief fade-out. Similarly, Empress valley’s second disc begins suddenly with some extraneous noise heard just before Plant speaks; Godfather’s has some preceding audience noise which fades in. Empress Valley’s disc 2 ends very suddenly at the conclusion of Moby Dick. Then disc 3 starts equally abruptly with Plant saying, “…Bonham – Moby Dick!” The drummer’s forename is missing and his surname clipped. Plant then says a few more words about Bonham’s performance which would have made more sense at the end of disc 2 – which is where Godfather sensibly places them. Godfather also has each of Plant’s introductions banded with the relevant song, which seems to me to make more sense, whereas Empress Valley has his words appended to the previous song. However, there is a banding error on Godfather’s first disc with the Introduction and Rock And Roll listed separately but in fact combined as track 1; Sick Again therefore is track 2 not track 3, and so on.
This release is housed in Godfather’s usual tri-fold packaging, with a striking image of Jimmy Page playing his double-necked Gibson superimposed on the American national flag. This was also utilized (with a plain, dark background) by TCOLZ for the front cover of its release of the next night’s show at the same venue, Dedicated To Anyone Who Got Divorced Today. There are also several other onstage shots of the band members, the track listing and, as with the label’s other Led Zeppelin releases, sleeve notes by “Paul De Luxe.” There is no booklet.
As stated earlier, this show has appeared many times in a superb Mike Millard audience recording, his first known Led Zeppelin recording. The audience recording has attracted universal praise, with comments such as, “stunning full stereo sound. The sound quality is superb” (Jules McTrainspotter), “near soundboard sound here…amazing!” (Argenteum Astrum) and “one of the most amazing audience recordings available” (gsparaco). The audience recording is, indeed, outstanding. However, I would invariably prefer an excellent soundboard recording to an excellent audience one. As TH argues, this new soundboard “is still very welcome and worthy of our collection, because, while an excellent audience recording better captures how the band overall was actually heard in the venue, a soundboard recording better captures how the band members did perform…on stage.” Despite the quality of the soundborad some collectors may baulk at paying Empress Valley’s prices when they already possess the superb audience recording. In a comment on the Empress Valley release, after it was announced in the News & New Releases section, gsparaco stated that, in view of the quality of the Millard tape, “spending hundreds on a soundboard would be redundant.” However, the appearance of the Eelgrass release made this new soundboard much cheaper to acquire. Now, the Godfather version is both cheaper and better, and consequently this release is highly recommended.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)