Cryin’ Won’t Help You (Empress Valley EVSD-501/502)
Chicago Stadium, Chicago, IL – January 20th, 1975
Disc 1 : Rock And Roll / Sick Again / Over The Hills And Far Away / When The Levee Breaks / The Song Remains The Same / The Rain Song / Kashmir / The Wanton Song
Disc 2 : No Quarter / In My Time Of Dying / Trampled Underfoot / Moby Dick / How Many More Times / Stairway To Heaven / Whole Lotta Love / Black Dog / Communication Breakdown
According to “Led Zeppelin: The Concert File”, the January 20, 1975 concert at the Chicago Stadium was plagued by Robert Plant’s influenza, Jimmy Page’s broken finger on his fretting hand, and a “defective” sound system. With these background facts, it’d be easy to understand why a recording of this concert would not sit atop many collectors’ wish lists. Still, there’s an attraction to the show because of its inclusion of live rarities such as “When the Levee Breaks” and “The Wanton Song”. Zep also performed “How Many More Times”, in place of “Dazed and Confused”, in order for Page to display his showcase bow solo (which receives minimal audience reaction!). January, 1975, however, is the only time Zep fans had a chance to see and hear these songs performed together, adding to the desirability of any recordings from that month. Putting a cherry on the sundae for this reviewer, though, is the out-of-body performance put on by John Bonham in this concert.
A review from the era quoted in “The Concert File” read that “John Bonham played what must have been the longest drum solo in the history of mankind”. Unfortunately, this live recording only captures a portion of that solo, cutting after the opening to “Moby Dick” and removing his soloing until shortly before the bare hands section. The recording, however, is an excellent chance to appreciate the crowd’s overwhelming response to what they witnessed, and what he played. A very captivating listening experience, indeed, and that applies to most of this recording after the beginning of “Rock and Roll”, which is muddy and overloaded for about the first half of the song.
The performance of “When the Levee Breaks” in this concert is worth the price of admission by itself. Sure, the recording’s far less than perfect, but I doubt anyone reading this review demands only soundboard or superb audience sound quality before giving a concert recording a fair listen. Bonzo slightly altered his opening, classic drum pattern, and added quite a few spectacular fills throughout the song that I’ve gone back and reheard multiple times. There is also an extended jam in this song, which includes Page shredding as well as using the slide. This makes one wonder if he really had a broken finger for this show, particularly given his amazing performances in “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “The Song Remains the Same”, which was preceded by a distinctive Robert Plant exclamation of “Alright!” to the audience. “The Wanton Song” is a truncated version, but with a ferocious ending, similar to “In My Time of Dying”, which was also very heavy, but shows the great Mr. Bonham making a rare timing mistake. Given his numerous reminders about having the flu, and the numerous documents evidencing Robert’s vocal challenges during the 1975 tour, his performance is excellent under those circumstances. This is evidenced by his vocals in “How Many More Times”, which predictably isn’t of 1970 caliber, but that’s part of the beauty in an audience recording of this nature. It helps to smooth over some moments that may be cringe-worthy, and enhances the listening experience as a result.
This title is presented in a rather simple paper case that opens to display two familiar, clear pictures from the era of John Paul Jones with platform shoes, and a close-up of Bonzo’s face as he’s exhaling while playing. As with Empress Valley’s other recent release of the May, 1969 Boston Tea Party show, the 2 discs can only be removed by carefully sliding them out toward the case’s spine. The recording quality may be no improvement over prior releases, and therefore redundant and unnecessary for a collector already having this show. But for a first-time listener like this reviewer, this was an excellent concert that is presented very nicely in this title.