Sixty Nine Special (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD1209/10/11)
Many of the great sounding remaster projects out there are coming grass roots style, music fans that are using technology to master live recordings to get the most out of them. There are a couple people out there that have been turning out quality projects for the Led Zeppelin trading community, both the Winston Remaster Series and Dadgad Productions have been releasing quality remasters for some time now. These releases are freely available on the intraweb and certainly make their way to collectors market, this is certainly a testament to the job and care that is taken with the source material, to honor the tape, not ruin it. Now we must add another to this list. The entity known as Nite Owl has been producing some really nice projects, taking well known concerts with multiple sources and making a matrix of them. The first one I heard was the famous Led Zeppelin LA Forum Blueberry Hill 9/4/1970 concert and was impressed with it, the sound stage was opened up and the recordings seemed to breathe with new life. I went back and found his Zeppelin 8/31/1969 and Rolling Stones 11/9/1969 projects, both were equally as stunning which brings me to this budget style release from Empress Valley. This three disc release collects two Nite Owl Led Zeppelin projects, Fillmore West 4/27/1969 and Texas Pop Festival 8/31/1969, packaged together under the header Sixty Nine Special.
Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA, USA – April 27, 1969
Disc 1 (68:24) The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, As Long As I Have You, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown
Disc 2 (62:32) Killing Floor, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Sitting And Thinking, Pat’s Delight, Dazed and Confused
Led Zeppelin’s concert at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore West is an easy fan favorite, largely due to the recording and performance. For years this was one of the few soundboard recordings to circulate and releases of this material are numerous, too numerous to list here. Undoubtedly if you collect Led Zeppelin bootlegs, you have a couple versions of this concert in your collection. My history with this concert dates back to the mid Eighties and a single LP release, Moby Dick on Jester Records. I had a collecting buddy who had the first part titled Fillmore West, and made me a copy on cassette. This eventually led to the early compact disc titles Zeppelin Edifice and Zeppelin Express both on the Condor label (which I still own) and my current go to title Dancing Avocado Supreme by Graf Zeppelin.
Nite Owl has taken both known recordings, an excellent soundboard source and a very good audience recording for use in this project, here is what was used and a brief synopsis of the work done to produce this project:
STEREO MATRIX of two independent recordings mixed together:#1: stereo/mono stage recording (“SBD”) [* cut]: (KSJO) pre-FM master reels > DAT [c. 1990] > CD-R [Spider-Web]#2: mono audience recording [** cut]: 2nd gen. copy [KRW_CO]SBD source (tail end) patched with: 1st gen. 7½ ips copy [David White c. 1979] > 2nd gen. reel [Bill B.]
Restored version of the audience tape synchronized & mixed to remastered version of the stage recording: channels corrected (stereo/set 1) / azimuth corrected (mono/set 2); “Communication Breakdown” re-edited to set 1.The stage or SBD source is missing, among other smaller cuts, sections of “White Summer”, the end of “How Many More Times”, the intro to “Pat’s Delight”, and 77 seconds of “Killing Floor”; only the audience recording is available for these parts.A short section has here been repeated in the “Dazed and Confused” bow solo to repair a cut smoothly (as the audience source cuts out shortly before this point).
First off this sounds incredible, the mastering is top notch and new life is breathed into this recording. The top end is much more crisp and detailed and the added depth has given the low end more of a punch. I had to pull out Blue Flame (Bumble Bee BB-0702009-10) as well as Dancing Avocado Supreme (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-424A/B/C) for comparison. Blue Flame has more of the top end while DAS by Graf has better all around frequencies and a great bottom end. I know it’s hard to compare these titles to a matrix, but just wanted a reference. The first thing that grabs you, other than the sound, is the beginning of Train Kept A Rollin’ is much more smooth and even and while the level adjustments during the first couple of minutes are still there, they are much easier on the ears. The sound is so much better on this new title it is really no comparison, it is like washing years of dirt off an old car to find a gleaming beauty underneath.
There are noted spots where the soundboard was available and we get only the audience tape, the transition from two sources to one is wonderfully handled, very smooth sounding and while there is a significant difference in timbre, the sound is not jarring at all. This is just an extremely well done matrix and remastering project that delivers on all marks, the sound is incredible and the performance, especially on the first set, is sublime. The intimate confines of the Fillmore West seem to enhance the bands confidence and thus deliver a typically great ‘69 concert. The 18 and half minute version of Garnet Mimms’ As Long As I Have You and the 23 minute How Many More Times are both incredible and showcases the band’s ability to play freely and not afraid to extend the songs as it happens. The Smokestack Lightning intro to Killing Floor is quite heavy, I have loved it since I first heard it and perhaps the second set highlight, the only known version of Buddy Guy’s Sittin’ and Thinkin’. Dazed And Confused is superb, it takes a bit of focused listening since Jimmy is low in the mix, he seems to pull out all the stops. This recording gives you the chance to hear how in sync Jones and Bonham are, they are up front in the mix and we are able to really listen and appreciate the foundation they lay down for Jimmy to solo over.
Texas International Pop Festival 1969, Dallas International Speedway, Lewisville, TX, USA – August 31, 1969
Disc 3 (65:02) Introduction, The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown
Disc three features the Texas Pop Festival matrix previously released as Texas International Pop Festival 1969 Stereo Matrix (No Label). This is the first taste of the Nite Owl matrix projects I heard, and was instantly a fan of. The disc time is the same as the No Label and they sound identical, no need to mess with anything, just download and press to disc. Just for reference here is a bit of info on what Nite Owl did to achieve this impressive production.
STEREO MATRIX of two independent recordings mixed together:#1: stereo stage recording (“SBD”) [* cut]: 1/4″ reel masters > 7.5ips sefety copies > DAT > CD-R [dadgad]#2: Freezer’s audience recording [** cut]: low.gen copy > bootleg CD “Plays Pure Bob” [Tarantura BOB-001]SONGS: [65:02]
NOTES:Restored version of the audience tape synchronized & mixed (panned right of center) to remastered version of the stage recording.Only a single source is available during the three major cuts mid-song (as well as most of the warm-up on track 1).A short section with severe mic disturbances during #2.1 (after a cut in the tape, before the band announcement) has been edited out. Additional micro-cut in #1.6 (HHMT) has been patched.
The Plays Pure Bob source is the longest and most complete, it is used for most of the introduction clocking in at 41 seconds, it should be noted the intro is not complete as there is a tape stretch where it sounds like the pause button was used, this has been removed for what I assume is an easier listen. There is a 52 second gap in the soundboard at Dazed and Confused from 11:02 to 11:52 and a 63 second gap during How Many More Times from 19:00 to 20:03 where it is only the Bob source. The transition of sources is seamless and perfectly done.
Nite Owl’s work on this project is nothing short of phenomenal, this matrix breathes new life into this concert not previously heard. There is a depth not previously heard as well as warmth especially noticeable when one compares this work to the soundboard. The Bob source has some audience talking that is noticeable yet only adds to the atmosphere, when you hear the audience interaction with Plant during the Lemon Song portion of How Many More Times, the additional audience sounds as if they stretch on and on. What is the most noticeable thing about this version are the bass guitar and drums, better clarity and definition, simply stunning.
Led Zeppelin’s performances during the summer tour of 1969 are superb, the band had fully gelled and were turning in incredibly visceral concerts feeding off the energy of the time. 1969 was the era of the large Rock festivals where the youth of America would congregate and listen to music when it was about the music. The Zeppelin seemed to raise their game and most often were the highlight of the days events, many times the whole festival. The Texas Pop Festival performance has been a fan favorite for years mostly due to the superb recording and blistering performance and this version is really like the icing on the cake and in my opinion a must listen.
The packaging is certainly budget style, the three discs are in individual sleeves housed in a simple cardboard outer sleeve, nothing extravagant. The front cover features a picture of the band playing at Detroit’s famed Grande Ballroom, very dynamic. The rear is simple black background with white lettering featuring venue, date, and track listing. Again all praise goes to Nite Owl, the work done to create projects like this are certainly a labor of love, the effort put forth on these releases is nothing short of phenomenal and for those who have not yet listened to them, I implore you to seek them out either at your favorite online shop or better yet, download them for free . This three disc set was very reasonably priced, which made an easy decision even easier since I already had the Texas Pop No Label release.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)