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Led Zeppelin – Alpha & Omega (Magic Bus MB-04)

29516509126_81663b7c78_oAlpha & Omega (Magic Bus MB-04)

Back in the mid 1980’s when my thirst for live Led Zeppelin material was unquenchable, the only source I knew of for this material was bootleg LP’s. Sure I had the BBC stuff I taped off the radio and The Song Remains The Same soundtrack and after going to every record store in the phone book, I was able to find a hip store who carried such items. I can still remember the first boot I bought, Egg On Your Face on the Wonderwall label, the concert was the incredible Montreux gig from March 7, 1970 and while the quality (or completeness) is nowhere near what current versions of the same gig are, I was forever hooked. At the same record store I came across a book, The Illustrated Collectors Guide To Led Zeppelin by Robert Goodwin. It was in these pages that I got my first taste of what was out there, and during the many hours I spent looking at that book and imagining what these forbidden concerts sounded like, you started to become familiar with titles, Live On Blueberry Hill, Going to California, Bonzo’s Birthday Party, For Badgeholders Only…the list goes on and on. Certainly one title that was easily recognized was Alpha And Omega, put out by a label named International Records. While many titles were nonsense (Unburied Dead Zeppo’s Grave…WTF), this title gave what it advertised, Led Zeppelin’s first (known) and last recordings of their performance history in the United States Of America. To celebrate, and pay homage, to this classic LP, the folks at the Magic Bus label have given us a box set of the same name and same material.

Featuring the last two dates on the ill fated 1977 North American tour on July 23 and 24, 1977 using multiple sources to provide the complete concerts as well as the band’s first recorded concert in Spokane, Washington on December 30, 1968. The set boasts sound that was taken directly from the best sounding analog sources, mastered in a studio in their original analog format with only post production done digitally to provide the absolute best sounding versions of these important concerts to date. Like the other three box sets from Magic Bus, there are extras in the form of a 36 page booklet that is visually stunning. Since both 1977 concerts took place in the afternoon, there are a plethora of excellent quality photographs that make up this beautiful booklet. Again The Rover provides factual liner notes and background of the concerts themselves and if that wasn’t enough there are two posters featuring the futuristic blimp artwork that was done originally for 1977 shows, both are double sided with the reverse featuring memorabilia and the tour dates.

led-zeppelin-second-to-the-last-mb04Second To The Last: Oakland 1977 1st Day (Magic Bus MB-04 A/B/C)

The Day On The Green, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA – July 23, 1977

Disc 1 (68:08) Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, The Rover Intro / Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2 (60:56) Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman / Bron-Yr-Stomp, Trampled Underfoot, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir

Disc 3 (44:47) Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, Black Dog

This title should be called “Penultimate Omega”, the second to the last date in the United States uses a three source mix to complete the show. There have been a few prior releases of this concert, It’s Been Great (Image Quality IQ0010/11/12), The Quiet Before The Storm: The Day On The Green Vol. 1 (The Chronicles Of Led Zeppelin TCOLZ 042/043/044/045/046) both showcased individual sources. It was the Scorpio label that did the first source amalgamation to present the complete concert on The Last Performance In The USA (Scorpio LZ-09034). Most fans are familiar with these Oakland shows, for those who aren’t, follow the links for the reviews!

This release features a mix similar to the Scorpio title and uses two main sources plus a scrap of the third to complete the concert, GS stated in his review of the Scorpio title that the differences between the two were jarring, and while the sound is also quite similar I do not find them much different from each other and they both compliment each other. The main source is good, distant yet clear and atmospheric with just a slight hiss present. The second source is also good yet distant with less hiss but just a tad bit lacking in dynamics. Since they were taped from a distance and being that it was an outdoor setting both do “breathe” yet are really enjoyable recordings. The crowd is a bit animated and you can hear comments and reactions throughout. I like the mastering better on the Magic Bus, the transitions are smooth and has a warmer sound to it, where the Scorpio sounds a bit harsh. The show is packaging in a mini LP style sleeve adorned with black and white pictures on the cover, this houses the individual disc sleeves that themselves feature color and black and white live shots from the concert as well as track names on the back. The CD’s have pictures on them, disc 1 has the blimp artwork employed for the box cover, disc 2 has the “nurses do it better” phrase, the third has the Swan Song logo.

led-zeppelin-a-fighting-finish-mb04A Fighting Finish: Oakland 1977 2nd Day (Magic Bus MB-04 D/E/F)

The Day On The Green Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, CA – July 24, 1977

Disc 1 (60:28) Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, The Rover Intro / Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Over The Hills And Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2 (61:46) Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Mystery Train, Black Country Woman / Bron-Yr-Stomp, Trampled Underfoot, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir

Disc 3 (38:03) Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, Outroduction

The true Omega gig, the last ever concert in the United States has had a few releases over the years, again on vinyl as Alpha and Omega and The Last Brawl (H & A Productions LD 1A-D) and on Cd as A Fighting Finish (Silver Rarities SIRA 122/123), Final Ever In The States (Missing Link .014/015), Push Push (Image Quality (IQ 026/027), Seventh Heaven (Immigrant IM 006-007), Last Concert In America (Tarantura 2000 TCD-101 1,2), and The Last Performance In The USA (Scorpio LZ-09034). Always love the old vinyl titles, both reference the back stage incident the previous day, and could also be interpreted as the band fighting to stay inspired.  

The second Oakland gig, this concert had a wider circulation due to the sound quality, where the previous day’s recordings never rise above average, this show is blessed with much better sound. Much more close to the stage, clean and atmospheric and well detailed falling easily into the very good range. Three sources are used to present the entire performance, the first two main sources are similar in sound and make for easy transitions and listening. Like the previous day, this set is similar in content and sound to the Scorpio set, the source transitions are seamless and if anything the Magic Bus has just a very bit less hiss. I also stuck in there old Image Quality title as reference. It is my opinion that many of the old IQ titles hold up well, Push Push certainly falls into this category. This new Magic Bus is obviously more complete, it has not been amplified near as much and is warmer with better dynamics with the top end being no where near a harsh as the old IQ title. The performance is housed in a mini LP style jacket with the CD’s housed in sleeves with track listings on the back, all adorned with live shots. The CD’s have pictures on them, CD 4 has the blimp artwork with a blue tint, disc 5 has a variation of the Swan Song art, Cd 6 has a live shot of the stage.

led-zeppelin-sounds-of-the-undergroud-mb04Sounds Of The Underground: Spokane 1968 (Magic Bus MB-04 G)

John F. Kennedy Memorial Pavilion, GonzagaUniversity, Spokane, Washington – December 30, 1968

Disc 7 (56:53) The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, As Long As I Have You / Fresh Garbage / Mockingbird, Dazed And Confused, White Summer, How Many More Times / The Hunter, Past’s Delight

The earliest known recording of Led Zeppelin, and while not the best tape out there, it has seen numerous releases due to its historical importance. Earliest title was a aforementioned Alpha and Omega and as part of the mighty Final Option (Rock Solid Records) in the vinyl daze, and in our modern compact disc era as Gonzaga 68 (Capricorn CR 203IE), Lifetime Guarantee (Empress Valley EVSD 141),  Lifetime Guarantee Revisited (Empress Valley EVSD 508), and Yardbird’s Fame (Tarantura 2000  TCD-69).

The Gonzaga tape is a good sounding audience tape, it starts muddy and a bit distorted yet clears up after Train and is quite listenable. Empress Valley’s second release of this concert, Lifetime Guarantee Revisited is certainly an excellent version of this concert as their mastering was excellent. Compared to that title, this new version by Magic Bus is a bit lower in volume, has just a bit more hiss but where the EV had less hiss and had better higher frequencies, this title has better all around frequencies making for a fatter, warmer sound. The Magic Bus does have some drop outs not found on the EV, the EV is a more consistent version.

Primal Zeppelin at its best, I love the tone on Page’s guitar, it sounds clean and less distorted as it would become in the coming month (s). The packaging features a mini LP jacket and sleeve with excellent pictures of a very sound Led Zeppelin, these early pictures shows that they were not only excellent musicians, but also very fashionable as well. The cd has an early live shot showing the band almost on top of the audience.

This box set by Magic Bus is a beautiful, well thought out and executed release featuring concerts that do not get repeated as much as others. For those who have the Scorpio The Last Performance In The USA and Empress Valley Lifetime Guarantee Revisited, there is really no need to invest in this set, but for those of you who either need upgrades or do not have these important concerts in your collection, here is an excellent way to get them.

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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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One comment

  1. The EV Lifetime Guarantee is loseless if my memory is still right and also heavily compressed.

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