The Rovers Return (Empress Valley EVSD 124/125/126)
Hard Rock Concert Theatre, Manchester, England – December 8th, 1972
Disc 1 (56:17): Rock and Roll, Over the Hills and Far Away, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dancing Days, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, The Song Remains the Same, Rain Song
Disc 2 (39:53): Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven
Disc 3 (40:17): Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, Immigrant Song, Communication Breakdown
Led Zeppelin played two shows at the Hard Rock Concert Theatre in Manchester a week into the biggest UK tour of their career. The Hard Rock Theater is, in the words of Robert Plant, “one step up from Belle Vue which I think they might be right about.” A fair to good tape source exists for this show and was pressed by the Sanctuary label on Hard Rock! in 1999.
Two years later Empress Valley issued the show again on The Rovers Return. For this release they utilize a new audience recording which is is much better sounding. It is still a bit distant, but it captures the music and atmosphere of the event nicely. There are small cuts after “Dazed And Confused,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker” which EV edited in the older tape source and “Communication Breakdown” is sourced from the old tape completely. Also, there is fair amout of tape wobble in “I Can’t Quit You” in the “Whole Lotta Love” medley before a cut at 18:53. The transitions between the two tape sources could have been handled a bit better since the edits are abrupt.
Manchester is a very conservative show, perhaps due to it being in the first week of their biggest tour and starting out under a cloud of such negativity. What is particular striking is how the Houses Of The Holy songs, some of which had been added to the setlist the previous summer, still are played very close to their studio counterparts such as “Over The Hills And Far Away” and “The Song Remains The Same.”
But the ethic in these shows is to inject the heavy parts with particular bite and bile, something Jimmy Page does very well in “Black Dog” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” early on in the show. Before “Dancing Days” Plant speaks about the “weekly musical comics” who “managed to get to Newcastle last week. It’s the first English gig they’ve been to for about thirty five years, and you should see how they’ve changed. … If the album would have come out in the summer, as you’ve probably read, it would have been just right, but still, Dancing Days.”
Manchester are impatient during the more quiet, mellow passages and become vocal during “The Rain Song.” Plant complains about them, sarcastically thanking them “for that accompaniment during the quiet part you silly schmuck, who ever you were. It really doesn’t matter, we’re gonna carry on with Billy Fury numbers all night. Actually, he’s made an album with Eric Clapton, I think. Billy Fury. Here’s one that reminds me of Billy Fury cause it features John Paul Jones” he says before they start “Dazed And Confused.” The half hour long track features “Walter’s Walk,” “Hots On For Nowhere” and “The Crunge” during the long improvisation.
The show concludes with “Whole Lotta Love” which Plant says “typifies everything that we do during our hobby time.” In addition to the regular inclusions in the medley “Everybody Needs Someone To Love,” “Let’s Have A Party” and “Boogie Chillun'” they also include the The Isley Brothers’ “Its’ Your Thing” and Gene Vincent’s “Say Mama.” The medley concludes with a devastating version of “I Can’t Quit You” which morphs into “Going Down Slow.” Manchester is rewarded with three encores: “Heartbreaker,” “Immigrant Song” and a quick version of “Communication Breakdown.”
The Rovers Returnis named after the fictional pub in the British soap opera Coronation Street which is set in the fictitious town Weatherfield, which is by Manchester. The title is also a pun since it also refers to the band’s return after touring the world. Empress Valley chose to package this in a thick bulky booklet with many pictures from the tour. It’s a good show to have and this is the only version of this particular tape on silver disc.