Kentucky Bourbon (Empress ValleyEVSD-483/484/485)
Freedom Hall Kentucky Fair And Exposition Center, Louisville, KY – April 25th, 1977
Disc 1 (74:46): The Song Remains The Same, Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, In My Time Of Dying, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, Ten Years Gone
Disc 2 (56:36): The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Moby Dick
Disc 3 (34:19): guitar solo, Achillies Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Rock And Roll
It was a surprise earlier this year when the tape of Led Zeppelin’s April 25th, 1977 Louisville show suddenly surfaced and was posted online. It didn’t take long for the Japanese Led Zeppelin labels to obtain, press and distribute the show in the silver pressed compact disc format. Wendy was the first with Louisville Slugger, co-opting the name given to the online download. Empress Valley was next with Kentucky Bourbon released afterwards. The tape contains the complete concert with little cuts at 4:18 in “No Quarter”, 5:20 on “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and at 3:00 in “Achillies Last Stand”.
The taper was close to the stage and was able to capture a good to very good recording that is somewhat clear and enjoyable. There is distortion in the upper frequencies that clears up on occasion. The concert itself is strong albeit schizophrenic performance with some incredible highlights and strange wandering that are interesting to hear.
The first three songs are played at a brisk pace, and after “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” Plant says, “Before we go on can we ask one thing of you…we intend to play our best for you. Can you not push so much at the front because there are a lot of people getting a little bit hurt. Now I know that sounds a bit silly at a concert and you might say bullshit…there are a few ladies coming over the barrier who don’t look at all well.”
Plant describes “In My Time Of Dying” as “another blues” before they play a very slow and light version of the piece. This is usually one of their bombastic, frenzied numbers but this version sounds delicate especially at the beginning. There is a reference to “You Shook Me” by the end as most versions from this tour.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” follows. There are no bad versions of this song from this era this one included. “No Quarter” is twenty minutes in length and contains the earliest reference to Nut Rocker and gives us four overall (April 28th in Cleveland, May 22nd in Fort Worth, and June 7th in New York).
This rock interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “March” from The Nut Cracker was adapted by B. Bumble and the Stingers and was a number one hit in 1962. Emerson Lake And Palmer popularized it again a decade later and it is this version what Zeppelin covers. Jones does a good Keith Emerson impression and one wonders if this was suggested by ELP since Zeppelin used their Manticore Studios in London for the tour rehearsals.
Jones’ head wanders at the piece’s conclusion and he moves to the electric piano to play the “No Quarter” theme thinking they will play the second verse. Only after Plant shouts out and Bonham begins to play the rhythm for the proper solo does Jones get back on track. The second half of the song is spectacular with a heavy stop-start section followed by a catchy Page riff before the song leads into its conclusion.
“What year is it?” Plant asks afterwards. “That is a real rock and roller’s question. For about the last eight or nine years we’ve been coming over here and on the last tour about two years ago we were doing stuff off Physical Graffiti. There is some stuff off that album that we avoided doing on stage because it involved too much changing around.” Someone in the front row heckles him and he replies, “We always do the old shit what are you talking about? That’s why we’re in rock and roll, man” before introducing “Ten Years Gone”.
This version starts out strong but Page loses some enthusiasm in the middle with an uninspired solo. After introducing the acoustic set they play the most aggressive version of “The Battle Of Evermore” on record with Plant shouting the lyrics with unheard of hostility, adding a new dimension to the piece. The acoustic set is followed by a tight version of “White Summer” and “Black Mountain Side”. “Moby Dick” is only seventeen minutes long and sounds powerful in this recording. The guitar solo contains the “Star Spangled Banner” followed by the theremin and violin bow solos.
This section of the show would be expanded in later dates reaching an insane half hour in Los Angeles, but is compact here lasting eight. “Achillies Last Stand”, just like “In My Time Of Dying”, begins slow and lacking energy but picks up by the middle. “That is a track from Presence called ‘Achillies Last Stand'” Plant says afterwards. “It’s a long story but if you could listen to the lyrics sometime you can understand the relevance of it. It is very important. Besides that we had a good time.”
“Stairway To Heaven” is spectacular with another classic solo. “Rock And Roll” is the first and only encore on the tape. Most of the April concerts have “Trampled Underfoot” as a second encore but it was either not performed in Louisville or not recorded. Kentucky Bourbon is packaged in a fatboy jewel case with the cover of the tour program on the front cover and several photos of the era on the inside. It is given a basic package and is priced moderately.
This is a practice which Empress Valley introduced late last year and, according to the label, will continue for the time being. Some have complained about Empress Valley, and labels in general, selling a product which was posted on line for free. The reality is there are collectors who prefer to own the artifact and the labels cater to them.
The Led Zeppelin tape collecting community is infamous for elitism and nastiness (for whatever reason) and labels like Empress Valley and Tarantura create an opportunity for everyone, including those who don’t have the proper connections or who are able to download these tapes, access to these recordings.
And lastly, profits from releases like these give Empress Valley the capital to purchase awesome recordings like the Whisky A Go-Go tape that surfaced around Christmas time which would never have seen the light of day, so releases like this shouldn’t be begrudged but rather supported. The performance and the sound quality are much better than one might expect and is definitely worth having.