Led Zeppelin – Live At Madison Square Garden Working Tapes (Empress Valley EVSD 492/493/494/495 EVSDVD015)

Live At Madison Square Garden Working Tapes (Empress Valley EVSD 492/493/494/495 EVSDVD015)

Madison Square Garden, New York, NY – July 27th, 28th, & 29th, 1973

Disc 1: Rock And Roll, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Moby Dick

Disc 3: Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean, organ solo, Thank You

DVD: The Song Remains The Same outtakes, July 27th, July 29th, news report
I was able to land an original pressing of this title before its auspicious removal from the underground marketplace. Since 2003 I have been steadily listening to the wonderful Winston Remasters’ fair use compilation of officially released material seamlessly woven together with various bootleg sources of Zep’s phenomenal July, 1973 Madison Square Garden shows.

The entertaining Plantations were cherry picked by Winston from bootleg sources. When I first heard of Empress Valley’s “working tapes” release, I was suspicious because of the imminent official release of the reworked Song Remains the Same and it seeming unlikely that Kevin Shirley’s “working tapes” would be leaked so soon. When I heard further rumblings about what was actually on the discs, I began to believe that Winston’s excellent work, which was shared for free by a true fan, had been pirated.

Reading the back of the gorgeous slip case for Empress Valley’s title, which represents the title to be the “original recording for the soundtrack of The Song Remains the Same [with] mixing by Kevin Shirley [and] produced by Jimmy Page”, one might think this is really quite a score by Empress Valley. Listening to Empress Valley’s discs confirmed, however, that the title is actually a butchered and chopped-up version of Winston’s masterpiece. The evidence overwhelming demonstrates this to be so.

The Winston Remaster begins with the bubbling water sound in the Baldwin’s home kitchen, from The Song Remains the Same movie, when John Paul Jones enters and his wife advises that Peter Grant had left him a message. We’re all familiar with JPJ’s happy revelation about “tour dates” being followed shortly thereafter with the echoing “this is tomorrow” lines.

Winston used these sound clips to perfectly set the stage for the rest of the recording. Then come sounds of the airplane from the film, with a large chunk of “Bron-Yr-Aur” that seamlessly flows into the initial electricity filmed and recorded at the dark MSG just before the gig, including Bonzo’s snare taps. None of this introduction is on Empress Valley’s first disc. The first three songs on Winston’s work are “Rock And Roll” from TSRTS DVD (a favorite version of mine due to Bonzo’s sick bass drum work), “Celebration Day” from TSRTS soundtrack, and “Black Dog” also from TSRTS DVD.

These are identical to the 3 opening tunes on Empress Valley’s disc 1. What seals the fate of EV’s source, however, is the simulated audience noise that Winston Remasters incorporated behind Plantations that then faded into the beginning of songs. This is distinct to that remaster, and is unmistakable in its presence on EV’s title.

The first Plantation, which is between “Black Dog” and “Over The Hills” is noticeably different between the two titles, however, as the Winston version has the audience sound existing behind Plant’s edited comments during this short interlude that lasts about 17 seconds into “Over The Hills.”

EV’s title, however, tries to complete the Plantation between these songs, but clumsily splices it in with a weird and slower sounding recording of Robert’s comments than even that which are found on its The Effect Is Shattering title. Given the fact that this audio is unaccompanied by the simulated audience sound makes it stick out that much more, before it fades back into Robert’s words found on the Winston Remaster. For me, Empress has unnecessarily broken up the otherwise fantastic listening experience present on its obvious source recording.

“Over the Hills” is sourced by Winston from a July 28th master tape, with “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” coming straight from the DVD. These are the same sources for Empress’ title. The Plantation on Winston’s set linking Since to “No Quarter” is straight from the July 28th soundboard. Winston’s simulated audience cheering fades approximately 30 seconds into “No Quarter,” which is sourced from the phenomenal TSRTS soundtrack. Empress Valley’s title is the same as this, in every way. So, too, does EV copy directly the Plantation (with ambient audience) and tracks of “The Song Remains The Same” and “Rain Song” that are sourced by Winston from TSRTS soundtrack.

There is more fiddling by EV with the Plantation to start disc 2, which differs from Winston in that it contains a bit more of the comments, but, again, at the bizarre, slowed speed that is more distracting than enjoyable. To make matters worse, “Dazed And Confused,” which is pristinely sourced by Winston from TSRTS soundtrack, is plagued on EV’s title for the first couple minutes by digital clicking and other noises not present on Winston’s work.

This, to me, is unacceptable as a finished product sold by Empress Valley to dedicated collectors, and inexcusable given the fact that its source does not contain these flaws. Winston’s set comes out of “Dazed” with a smooth transition aided by the simulated audience before Robert’s July 28th comments that stop with the “this is a song of hope” audio from TSRTS soundtrack. Empress Valley, however, edit this out from Winston’s recording and, amazingly, splice in an audience recording of Robert’s words after “Dazed” from July 27th before, as in the Winston Remaster, transitioning into the same “song of hope” audio.

I don’t understand the decision making behind this editing which, again, detracts from the listening experience. “Stairway” is from the legendary version found on TSRTS soundtrack. The audience-enhanced Plantation on Winston’s Remaster, from July 28th, is exactly the same as that found on EV’s title. They both end with “John Bonham, Moby Dick, Dick, Dick” from TSRTS soundtrack. “Moby Dick” is from TSRTS soundtrack. After the finishing cymbal crash to this marathon, there is an instant splice on the Winston Remaster to the July 27th soundboard Plantation. EV copies this, too.

Disc 3 of Winston’s set starts with the July 27th soundboard recording of “Heartbreaker,” accentuated somewhat in the beginning by the simulated audience sounds. Empress’s disc 3 starts with a direct copy of the Winston remaster. EV also copies Winston’s use of “Whole Lotta Love” from TSRTS soundtrack, “The Ocean” from the DVD, and “Thank You” from a bootleg source.  The DVD 4th disc sold with EV’s set is pretty cool in its presentation of classic footage from Zep’s 3 night stand at MSG in July, 1973, but is largely not synched to audio and nothing new to my eyes.

Considering the obvious problems with this title, EV should nevertheless receive kudos on the outstanding packaging for this release. The color pictures are rare, glossy, and from either these shows, or others close in time. The tray that unfolds to present the 4 discs is decorated with more great pictures. However, it’s not the packaging, alone, that attracts collectors, and the audio provided by EV on this title has been unnecessarily botched as compared to the wonderful production by Winston Remasters.

It is no longer relevant to recommend, or not recommend, this release as Empress Valley has publicly stated the title has been pulled from the shelves. Whether or not collectors who paid handsomely for this title go through the hassle of returning it is a whole other story, a story that never would have started if this release was honestly marketed to what I believe are savvy collectors. I leave it to the collecting market to determine if Empress Valley’s apology and retraction can withstand legitimate scrutiny.

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