The Dragon Snake (Empress Valley EVSD-341/342/343)
The Summit, Houston, TX – May 21st, 1977
Disc 1 (68:15): 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
Disc 2 (48:44): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir
Disc 3 (67:38): Moby Dick, guitar solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Rock & Roll, Trampled Underfoot
One of the final issues of the great fanzine Proximity featured a list of the “Holy Grails” of Led Zeppelin collecting. In the ensuing years several items on that list have indeed surfaced like the complete Earl’s Court video. One item that was only hinted was a video/soundboard recording of the May 21st concert at The Summit in Houston, Texas. Videos from the venue’s closed circuit system have surfaced for Queen, Kiss and others, but collectors have buried the video for Led Zeppelin for many years. Lots of money passing hands means we probably will never have a chance to watch the concert and it has never circulated.
The Dragon Snake, this latest release in the “soundboard revolution”, is another very good release for Empress Valley. It’s hard to tell if it’s a soundboard or video soundtrack. This is a very good to excellent professional recording that has very few flaws.
There are some balance problems with the drums and bass overshadowing the rest and there is a cut in “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. However it isn’t like other soundboards which are very sterile and lifeless. There is very good depth to the recording and, most importantly, provides a lot of presence to the music.
The show itself is a pleasant surprise and welcome release. No audience tape has surfaced from this concert so this is the very first time we’ve been able to listen for almost thirty years. There are no big surprises in the set list.
The general consensus about the Houston show is it is a very good but not great performance where looseness prevails over tightness. There are some glaring mistakes but their enthusiasm is infectious. By the time they play “Since I’ve Been Loving You” the band really start to cook and the bass pedals sound like jack hammers under Jimmy’s guitar.
Bonham requests “Over The Hills” four times after that song but they go into a twenty-three minute version of “No Quarter” instead. John Paul Jones plays a passage reminiscent of Elton John at the 9:45 mark in the transition between the “boogie” and the “heavy” sections of the improvisation. Plant calls Jones’ three necked guitar a “turkey” before “Ten Years Gone”.
Plant introduces the acoustic set by stating they did this “before we started punk rock” and is notable for the “Custard Pie” doodle before “Black Country Woman” while they are waiting for “another of John Paul Jones’ secret weapons…the stand up bass.”
Both “Moby Dick”, at nineteen minutes, and Page’s solo, at just over ten minutes, are very compact by tour standards. Page’s guitar solo includes a reference to the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Dixie” before segueing into one of the most intense and dramatic versions of “Achilles Last Stand”. The encore of “Rock And Roll” and “Trampled Underfoot”, which was most common the first month is played for the final time. The following show in Fort Worth will introduce the “Whole Lotta Love / Rock And Roll” medley that will be played for the tour’s duration and “Trampled Underfoot” will appear in the regular set list on occasion.
The Dragon Snake comes packaged in a glossy thick cardboard book similarly used for The Rover Returns and Bringing Down The House. It is an inconvenient storage medium but contains several good photos from the tour. Two year after the initial release of this title Empress Valley reissued it in a fatboy jewel case instead of the cardboard book used for the first edition. The artwork has the same photos used and the discs are identical.