Led Zeppelin – Swinging In San Bernardino (Empress Valley EVSD-303/304)

Swinging In San Bernardino (Empress Valley EVSD 303/304)
Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA, 22 June 1972

Disc 1 (62.12): Tape Drone/Immigrant Song/Heartbreaker/Black Dog/Since I’ve Been Loving You/Stairway To Heaven/Going To California/That’s The Way/Tangerine/Bron-yr-Aur Stomp

Disc 2 (77.02): Dazed And Confused/What Is And What Should Never Be/Moby Dick/Whole Lotta Love/Rock And Roll

Led Zeppelin’s eighth US tour in the summer of 1972 is one of their most legendary for consistently stellar performances (it’s no accident Jimmy Page chose two shows from this tour for the How The West Was Won triple package in 2003), and at the same time one of the worst documented in recordings, audience or otherwise.  The Charlotte and Los Angeles shows are perhaps the best sounding, as well as this, the San Bernardino concert.  The tape has been released before on Tarantura (Route 66), Cobra (Berdu) and most recently on the Magnificent label (Born To Be Wild).  They were plagued by poor sound, jumbled set lists, and excessive mastering causing the annoying metallic sound that is unfortunately common on many releases coming out of Japan. 

This Empress Valley release suffers from none of the above problems.  The front jacket proudly proclaims “Direct sound from Scotch reel to reel”.  While I can’t verify that I can say that Swinging In San Bernardino is a fantastic sounding release from start to finish and is perhaps the best sounding release of this show.  The band sound a bit distant but is very clear bringing out every nuance of the performance.

About the performance, the commonly held opinion is that although the set list isn’t as adventurous as the Seattle and Los Angeles concerts that came before and after (there are no songs from Houses Of The Holy, for example), the joy is in Jimmy Page’s improvisations throughout the entire set.  There is some truth to that assesment although the show begins very sluggish.  It isn’t until “Since I’ve Been Loving You” for the band to warm up and things get much better.  “Stairway To Heaven” is met with applause and Page delivers a classic solo rivaling the great ones from 1973. 

But everything gets blown out by the fantastic “Dazed & Confused” which is probably the best from this tour and one for the ages.  He includes many riffs including “Walter’s Walk”, “The Crunge” and the “Hot On For Nowhere” riff also heard on the December ’72 Manchester tape (Rovers Return).  Swinging In San Bernardino is a great all around release and is perhaps the definitive version.

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