Led Zeppelin’s longest tour of England would come in late 1972 with 25 dates spanning a two month period, the band would feature the same basic set list they had used in Japan the month prior that would also be used for the following European tour and become the framework for the American jaunt in the coming months. The group would take a short break mid tour for Christmas, just prior they would play two concerts in London at the Alexandria Palace, a venue that while very architecturally ornate and beautiful, was rather difficult to properly set up for musical concerts. Led Zeppelin would struggle with not only sound but also the temperature inside being somewhat cold. With a somewhat cool and lack luster audiences, the band would nonetheless put is two very enjoyable performances, collected in the new set from Empress Valley.
Disc 1 (53:11) Announcements, Rock And Roll, Over The Hills And Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-YR-Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song
Disc 2 (66:09) Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love
Disc 3 (21:54) Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Mellotron Solo, Thank You
There are two audience sources for the first night at the “Ally Pally”. The first recording is in the very good range, it is more distant and while clear and detailed lacks dynamics, a bit flat sounding. This had a few titles on vinyl as Alexandria Palace 1972 (Gell), Alexandria Palace 22/12/72 (LZ 1972 AOZ7211A-APZ7211B), and People Weekly (Toasted TSTD 1910A-D). The second was the source for the brilliant and quite famous vinyl title Riot House (Jump JMP-02A-B). The quality is excellent being taped close to the stage but sadly only features the last hour of the concert (I had this title for years on green vinyl). This concert would also be the subject of a scant few titles, Riot House (Wendy WECD 47/48/49) would feature both recordings but kept separate while Flawless Performance (Image Quality IQ 013/014/015) and Riot Show (Cobra Standards Series 006) would mix the sources together. For this new release, Empress Valley uses the entire first source and fills a couple small gaps and for the entire mellotron solo > Thank You. I dug out my old Flawless Performance title to see how this new one stacks up. Surprisingly I found them both to be similar, the IQ title is amplified a bit more and thus has a bit more tape hiss where this new EV sounds cleaner with more natural dynamics, a big difference is that the bass does not muddy it up.
The concert begins with announcements, short and sweet sit down so all can see and the band get into Rock And Roll. Ah hearing this song as an opener can be a good thing (72/73) or a bit rough (75), thankfully Jimmy is in perfect shape and his playing is most fluent. The sound clears as they transition into Over The Hills and Far Away, I have always thought the band was thinking on what to put in this second spot as it is not as dynamic as Train> I Can’t Quit You or the devastating Immigrant Song> Heartbreaker openers used prior. London gets its first airing of this most important new song, something that would be a mainstay of the next five years. Jimmy plays a wonderful guitar solo while the rhythm section bobs along. Robert gives his opening speech about the prior date in London at Wembley Arena and mentions how cold it is and states “we must Instill the warmth in our bodies”, Black Dog certainly starts the thaw. The coupling of Misty Mountain Hop into Since I’ve Been Loving You was started on the Japanese tour the previous October and for me would be perfected as high drama on the American tour the following year. This combo is no slouch, the audience applauded the guitar solo that transition the two as Page breaks into Since I’ve Been Loving You’s opening chords.
Dancing Days has a great intro by Robert, “Summer, Inebriation…good times” and I must concur. I first started listening to this album on the junior year of high school and that was certainly our mantra. I love live versions of this song and wonder why the band did not keep it in the set for the American tour other than the rare second night in Detroit encore. The single acoustic number, not a Conway Twitty song but a tune written in the Mountains of Wales about a blue eyed dog, Bron-YR-Stomp. The hootenanny style of the song gets the audience clapping, at least some of them perhaps in a way to generate heat. The audience sound a bit impatient and shouts of Whole Lotta Love and Stairway To Heaven are heard as the group prepares for The Song Remains The Same and Rain Song, the double neck sounds a bit out of tune during Song giving an even feel to the first half.
The ever evolving Dazed And Confused gets a nice ovation, the song is also in transition into a structure that will last through 1975 and features the first known inclusion of San Francisco, curiously in his most recent Led Zeppelin Tape Documentary, Luis Rey traces its origins to the previous weeks performance in Birmingham and even goes deeper in recognizing the piece as being loosely based upon Neil Young’s Cowgirl In The Sand. Things finally heat up, Dazed is almost a prelude to a brilliant and well received Stairway To Heaven, and as with concerts from this era, it is Whole Lotta Love that brings the house down. The string of songs in the Medley features the band hitting a stride where the music flows and in dizzying pace. Everybody Needs Somebody To Love and a couple of Elvis classics are split by a cut in the tape from 11:39-11:34 that is filled with source 2. Lets Have A Party and Heartbreak Hotel give Robert a chance to play King and for Jimmy to really let loose with some excellent lead playing. I Can’t Quit You has the group returning to its roots, Page plays what he feels brilliantly while Bonham and Jones play a shuffle as it flows effortlessly into Shape I’m In bringing an end to a typically well played set ending epic.
The second source is used for a few seconds of crowd noise at the end of the second disc and beginning of the third. The first encore is a brilliant Immigrant Song > Heartbreaker, the devastating combo is just as effective in the latter part of the show as the beginning, the audience are quite pleased with Heartbreaker and clap along joyously, the first source ends at the songs conclusion, the mellotron solo and Thank You are both solely from the second source. The difference between the two sources is like night and day, I like the labels choice to present the complete first source and it is nice to have it. Jones’ solo is interesting, at times it sounds quite whimsical and other time you feel like you are in some English cathedral. The audience seems happy as the band break into Thank You, Robert gives a beautiful vocal rendition of the track, sounds very much from the heart. Despite the cool conditions and audience the band plays well for the first night in London.
Disc 1 (55:06) Rock And Roll, Over The Hills And Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-YR-Stomp, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song
Disc 2 (75:29) Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven (stopped), Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker
There are two sources for the second night in London, the first is by far the best, a bit distant falling in the good to very good range with just a bit of hiss. It has been the singular source for all previous titles, Merry XMas Mr. Jimmy (Lemon Song LS 7208-09), Titanic (Image Quality IQ 16/17/18), and Disturbance House (Wendy WECD 52/53). The second source is a short fragment of the first 30 minutes of the concert, is much poorer in sound and has never been bootlegged before. I broke out the old Lemon Song title Merry XMas Mr. Jimmy for evaluation, This new title was not amplified as much so it has less hiss and also sounds clearer, brighter and has a warm sound I find much more easy on the ears, clearly a much better version of the tape.
Second night in London, While this concert is not as good as the previous evenings performance, it is certainly no slouch either. Again the band is plagued by the temperature of the building and Plant’s vocals do sound a bit rough at times, the band is so in tune with each other that even an average performance makes for a good listen. You can hear a pin drop as Rock and Roll ends and Page plays the first few bars of Over The Hills and Far Away, they do however help Robert out a bit in Black Dog. Plant’s initial good evening finds him talking of good vibes something that does get a response of Hallelujah from one punter and he also says they left on the heaters in the bathrooms in an attempt at sarcasm.
Misty Mountain Hop is really good, Page’s guitar has a nasty sound to it and he plays an almost pregnant transition to Since that again the audience give polite applause to. The pure English blues of Since I’ve Been Loving You is easily the highlight of the first half, Plant and Page put some really nice nuances to the performance as they share their musical conversation. Jones switches to the organ for the second part of the song giving it a very heavy vibe. Tuning is a constant in these cold temperatures, Plant asks the audience if anyone was there and he gets a loud response. He introduces Dancing Days to zero applause, and while the other three seem content with the isolation, Plant will continue to create a rapport with the audience, easier said than done.
The audience sounds bored and impatient prior to Dazed and Confused, they shout at the band but at least they’re alive! Another good transitional Dazed, each night Page sounds like he is experimenting with different notes and themes and is slowly working his way to perfection that would come during the European tour in a couple months time. The audience seems to agree and the song gets the first warm applause of the night. Shouts of sit down precede Stairway, the band seems a bit harassed by some trouble in the audience, which Plant addresses as “its one of the hardest numbers to do with a monkey house”, the band then start the piece over. Perhaps wanting to sooth the crowd and retain the vibes brought upon by Dazed, the band deliver a really nice version of Stairway that culminates the energy of the group in a positive manner.
Just before Whole Lotta Love Robert tells the audience Bonham has a new drum solo called Titanic, and the band embark on a glorious 28 minute joy ride of a Rock n Roller coaster. The band gets into a funky instrumental version of The Crunge and don’t know how to get out of it so they just stop. The medley is the same as the previous night and has the same effect, awakes the sleeping audience with superb playing from the entire band and based upon the ovation at the end, their noble quest was successful. The band come back and dedicates the sole encore of Heartbreaker to Roy Harper. Just prior to Bouree, Page gets into some hoedown picking that had the audience stomping along, the vibes are finally real.
Bonus Source first released on “Riot House” vinyl album AlexandriaPalace, London, England – December 22, 1972
Bonus Disc (59:00) Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Mellotron Solo, Thank You
As a bonus, EV gives us the complete second source of the first Alexandria Palace gig, the recording is excellent, full range of dynamics and sounds clear and atmospheric almost in complete contrast to the first source. This brings back a lot of memories for me as the recording picks up an atmosphere the other does not and was my first audience source for Immigrant Song and to this day is still one of my favorites. A great addition to this set.
The packaging is nice, both concerts are house in a box with cover art taken from an Italian Magazine feature on the band showcasing pictures from the event. It seems like the latest trend is to include an OBI and the back of the box features a live shot of Robert. You open the box and each concert is housed in its own gatefold sleeve both with the same cover art with the center being different and the back has venue, date, and track listings and each also feature its own OBI. Simplistic yet classy looking. I like the mastering on this set very much, the packaging is nice and while it seems these mini box sets are a new fad, when done like this, works most effectively.