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Led Zeppelin – Live On Blueberry Hill Stereo Matrix Master (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-1158/1159)

Live On Blueberry Hill Stereo Matrix Master (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-1158/1159)

The Forum, Inglewood, Los Angeles, California, USA – September 4, 1970

Disc 1 (72:35) Introduction by J.J. Jackson, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Dazed And Confused, Bring It On Home, That’s The Way, Bron-Yr-Aur, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Organ Solo, Thank You

Disc 2 (61:34) What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown, Out On The Tiles, Blueberry Hill

In early September an audio torrent was released featuring a four source matrix of Led Zeppelin’s famous Blueberry Hill concert. A matrix is a merge of sources, more or less layered on top of each other like making a sandwich, a somewhat crude explanation but you get the idea. The entity that did this audio enhancement is known as Night Owl, who has also done similar merges to The Rolling Stones Liver tape, Neil Young’s Manchester 11/3/1976 and Berkeley 10/3/1980, Led Zeppelin’s Texas 8/31/1969 and Fillmore West 4/27/1969, and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fillmore West 7/4/1971 recordings, to great acclaim. What he is able to do with these matrix’ is to offer an alternate view, almost like taking the best of each sources attributes and making the best recording one could imagine.

His work on Led Zeppelin’s famous L.A. Forum gig from September 4, 1970 is nothing short of phenomenal, the sound has a depth that has not been heard on the singular sources. Most agree that this is the best sounding version of this famous concert and having had downloaded the original torrent, was most pleased to find out that Empress Valley has left the work alone and presented it as it should be. Much of the information that follows is from the original torrent and I felt that it certainly pertains to this title and is thus included in this review.

A NOTE ON THE AUDIENCE TAPE SOURCES

Source #1 = the classic TMOQ / Blimp Records bootleg recording (by “Dub” Taylor, Sennheiser 805 shotgun mic > Uher 4000 reel-to-reel?) via the Neutral Zone CDs [NZCD-89019/20, songs re-ordered, from vinyl cutting master?]. Small sections flown in from an Empress Valley bootleg CD box [EVSD-385/6] which is somewhat more complete, even after its composite-patches from other sources have been eliminated. Nevertheless, over 5 minutes of “Moby Dick” (and 16 seconds afterwards) and nearly 2 minutes following “Communication Breakdown” are still missing. The recording also has a small splice in “Dazed and Confused”, plus 13 and 10 second cuts after it and “WIAWSNB”, respectively.

Source #2 = the original Rubber Dubber Records bootleg recording (by Scott Johnson) via vinyl LP transfer [dadgad]; incomplete and in the wrong order on the LP, missing mainly the first three songs and the two encores, “Moby Dick”, nearly 6 minutes of the “Whole Lotta Love” medley (all marked with * above) and 2 minutes of the intro to “Bron-Yr-Aur”. The original tapes have never surfaced and were reportedly lost when the bootlegger was busted, but the available recording is of rather excellent quality for its time and has been used to good effect to augment the sound of the tracks for which it exists.

Source #3 = taken from a transfer of a 2nd gen. reel [Doinker; EVSD calls this recording “TMOQ Alternate Source”]. Retains fragments of the concert introduction but is missing some 1:45 of the intro & tuning before “Bron-Yr-Aur”, most of the “Organ Solo” (just after “SIBLY” ends; 2 seconds is also cut in the applause afterwards), about 12½ minutes of “Moby Dick”, and about 45 seconds after both “Whole Lotta Love” and “Communication Breakdown”. In addition, 3 seconds is cut in “Dazed” along with 5 and 12 seconds during the introductions to “That’s the Way” and “WIAWSNB”, respectively. Used in somewhat lesser degree than sources #1 & #5, which are arguably superior sounding.

Source #4 = used for the concert intro only, taken from Wendy bootleg CD box (discs 7-8) [WECD-285/6; EVSD calls this “Antrabata Source”]. This recording contains the complete introduction but has poorer sound than the other sources, except the last.

Source #5 = taken from a DAT transfer of a 2nd gen. cassette [javit/dadgad; EVSD calls this “Cobra Source”]. A relatively unscathed recording as it circulates, with just the bulk of “Bron-Yr-Aur” and 45 seconds prior to “Whole Lotta Love” (including the first bars) missing, presumably at tape changes; also has a small cut in “Dazed” and omits 2 seconds after “Whole Lotta Love”. Has more tape available after the show ends (along with the EVSD version of #1). Blends well with source #1 so that together they reduce the shortcomings of each other.

Source #6 = taken from a transfer of the master cassette (ext. mic in taper’s t-shirt to Craig Portable Cassette Recorder). The last source to surface, made available by the original taper. Like #4, captures the complete concert intro but the sound quality is a notch below even that tape.

All six recordings were necessary in making this matrix. Surprisingly, it turned out to be feasible to utilize in some fashion all the four major sources, as far as they are available; as mentioned, the two lesser fidelity sources have been used just for the introduction. (Note that the numbering of sources #4 & #5 is sometimes reversed compared to the preceding.)

The exact details are too complex to be written out but the workflow was to first manually yet accurately synchronize — and where necessary, patch and re-arrange — the recordings in digital realm with high quality varispeed re-sampling, resulting in a sort of quasi-multitrack/mic recording. Some audio restoration work was then done on each and the general mix for level and stereo balance was arrived at after trial, error, and experimentation, accounting for any gaps in the tapes. Further work was then required to fine-tune the transition points (at tape breaks), the relative levels and EQ until the end result seemed to be reasonably close to what can be achieved, without too obviously audible artifacts resulting from the mixing together a bunch of half a century old analogue recordings, which cannot be completely brought into exact phase and sync.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks are obviously due to all the tapers, whether anonymous or not, and to the good people who have contributed into preserving and making available their work as well as analyzing it. You know who you are.

A Nite Owl production (NO-2019-10).

Like the also acclaimed Winston Remasters, this is clearly a work of love and shared freely in the traders circles for those who wish to keep with the spirit of the original torrent. The sound is superb, the instruments have depth, separation and clarity not heard before in the singular recordings. It is also the most complete version I know of, all Robert’s chatter is present as well as before and after concert tape. There is just a touch of distortion on the top end of Robert’s vocals, certainly from the original Ken and Dub TMQ source. There are no glaring transitions into lesser sources and the sound is quite even throughout, this amalgamation is the closest this/you will get to an actual stereo soundboard recording of this concert and is a stunning listening experience.

Also included in the original torrent was professional looking artwork as well as two local newspaper reviews of the show itself. Since we all have read previous bootleg reviews of this concert and the “too numerous to list” amount of titles that have come since this concert was played 49 years later, I figure this space would be best served to provide a bit of historical data, so below are the aforementioned newspaper reactions to the concert.

Zeppelin Success
—————-
Los Angeles Times (Sept. 4, 1970).

The LED ZEPPELIN is taking off as well, not to mention flying high. Their concert at the Forum, near Hollywood, was a complete sell out. Robert Plant was especially fantastic on *Immigrant Song*, JIMMY PAGE was ear-shattering on guitar and JOHN PAUL JONES really got it on. The best number, actually, was the finale, *Whole Lotta Love*, because bits of other rock songs were interspersed, and the audience really flipped. Drummer JOHN BONHAM did his thing on this last one, and didn’t we love it! And them. You must loan them to us more often.

Led Zeppelin Plays for Forum Audience
————————————-
By John Mendelsohn. Los Angeles Times (Sept. 7, 1970).

Musically reactionary, overbearing, plagiaristic and exploitative. Though these adjectives may remain occasionally applicable, they no longer suffice in summing up Led Zeppelin, as was quite lucid at the group’s Friday evening performance at the Forum. To rest one’s case after simply cataloging the group’s musical deficiencies is first to wither in the face of responsibility of explaining its awesome commercial success (which is indicated by the fact that the current one is the second consecutive American tour in the last five months during which the group has played to capacity audiences in Forum-proportioned venues). This success may be attributable at least in part to the accelerating popularity among the teen-age rock and roll audience of barbiturates and amphetamines, drugs that render their users most responsive to crushing volume and ferocious histrionics of the sort Zeppelin has heretofore dealt in exclusivity. Combine this condition of the audience with Jimmy Page’s veneration as a super-guitarist and Robert Plant’s ability to brilliantly caricaturize the archetypal sexy lead singer and shatter bottles at 40 paces with his shrieking and it’s not at all difficult to see how the group has achieved astonishing success. A contextual consideration is also in order. The advent of such practitioners in roughly the same as Mountain and Grand Funk, which picked up where Zeppelin left off in sacrificing everything possible to volume and histrionics, has had the effect of making Zeppelin look terrific in comparison. “Whole Lotta Love,” for instance, strikes ears that have survived Mark Farner and Black Sabbath as a masterpiece of subtlety. Which is not to imply that many of Zeppelin’s ridiculously overblown heavy workouts aren’t enormous absurd fun on their own, for they are. Finally, it must be mentioned that, apparently a trifle bored with being enormous fun, Zeppelin has taken to slipping quiet and definitely musical bits in between its dreaded screamers, bits like a pleasant (if far from dazzling) organ interlude by John Paul Jones.

The packaging is a simple sleeve that houses the two CD’s, the cover art is a painting similar to the original TMQ art. Sadly who ever produced this art made a glaring mistake, the date on the back cover is wrongly attributed to September 9, 1970. The packaging and price are certainly not extravagant and do keep the cost down, what is important is the music. When I reviewed the Golden Eggs A Sweeter Blueberry title I posed a question, do I need another Blueberry Hill title? After hearing this, the answer is yes, and therefore this title is recommended and worth seeking out.

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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