Led Zeppelin – Bonzo’s Birthday Party (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-006A/B/C)

Bonzo’s Birthday Party (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-006A/B/C)

The Forum, Los Angeles, CA – May 31st, 1973

Disc 1 (63:23): Introduction, Rock And Roll, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (40:33): Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven

Disc 3 (54:18)  mc, Moby Dick, Happy Birthday To You, Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean, Communication Breakdown

Led Zeppelin’s May 31st, 1973 Los Angeles shows is one of the standards for any collection. In constant circulation for almost forty years, it has seen many different releases on vinyl and compact disc utilizing three unique audience tapes and a soundboard recording of much of the show. The best releases are those which utilize as many of the sources in order to complete the entire concert.  One of the better editions was released in 1999 on Bonzo’s Birthday Party (The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin TDOLZ Vol. 90). 

Graf Zeppelin, who debuted with several impressive releases, followed with their version of Bonzo’s Birthday Party and use the same three audience source edit.  The show opens with the second tape source, which is good but thin, for the opening three songs “Rock And Roll,” “Celebration Day” and “Black Dog.”

The best of the three audience tapes, the TMoQ recording, picks up at the beginning of “Over The Hills And Far Away.” It continues through the first encore “The Ocean.”  And finally, the third and poorest sounding of the three, which is far from the stage but still somewhat audible, is used for the final encore of the night “Communication Breakdown.” The third source is also used for some time between numbers such as after “No Quarter.”  Graf Zeppelin even include Plant’s introduction to “Dazed And Confused” which was left off of the TDOLZ.

Robert Plant himself calls this show “magic” and it is given how loose everyone is and in the mood to party. Jimmy Page hurt his finger several days before when they were throwing beer bottles out of the hotel window (so the story goes) and the first LA date on May 30th was canceled. His injured finger is noticeable with some bum notes in “Rock And Roll” and especially “Celebration Day”, but with “Black Dog” he hits his stride.

Is everybody sufficiently in the state of mind to have a good time?” Plant asks afterwards, and when they finish “Over The Hills And Far Away” suggests the name of the recording and says he had known Bonzo for fifteen years “and he’s been a regular bastard.”

They play an interesting version of “No Quarter.” Plant mentions “it’s a song that, we’ve been kicking around for quite a while, and it seemed that Houses Of The Holy was the right concept in which to put it out.” Comparing the jazzy demo recorded in 1970 to the bombastic version played in Los Angeles that night provides a startling contrast.

Page’s finger doesn’t interfere with the heaviest portion of the concert, a half hour long “Dazed And Confused” which is as perfect as any other version from the ninth tour. “Stairway To Heaven” is dedicated to Bonzo and Plant allows him to bash his balls out for “Moby Dick.” The finale of the show “Whole Lotta Love” is played without any additions to the medley, unlike the final night in Los Angeles.

But before the encores Plant goes into a long explanation about the state of the band: “We’ve had one or two problems which I’m going to tell you about now. Jimmy sprained his finger two days ago. We had to cancel last night, and he’s playing tonight and keeping his hand in a bowl of cold water to keep the swelling down, and so I think that’s great. I really do. When he was playing, when he was playing that bit in Hearbreaker, if you’d have felt what he must have felt. We’re rock and roll veterans, so we’re gonna do a song about you. It’s called The Ocean, and it’s about you.”

Zeppelin’s stay in Los Angeles on this tour is the source of much gossip and titillating speculation about the excesses of rock stars on the road. Plant himself wrote “Sick Again” in response to these events, and a news release at the time reported:

“It didn’t get much attention, because the group paid for everything, but Led Zeppelin was in rare destructive form when they were here recently for some concerts. Things got off to a bad start when lead guitarist Jimmy Page sprained a finger when he lurched against a fence at San Diego Airport. That apparently threw the boys into a grand funk. Not too long after the group got settled in a ninth floor suite at the Continental Hyatt House, a table came sailing out their window. Explanation for the mis-Led table was, the boys were irritated at being told not to toss liquor glasses into an open Lincoln convertible parked on the street below.

“Then it was off to a theater to attend a party for Jo Jo Gunne. There members of the group were accused of smashing up the rest rooms and defacing paintings in the lobby. Back to their hotel they went to spread a four-foot cake around the swimming pool. It happened to be Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s 25th birthday. When George Harrison and wife Patti dropped by to help celebrate. Bonham threw both of them, fully clothed, into the swimming pool.” (Led Zeppelin Tears Up Los Angeles, Newswire, June 1973)

Bonzo’s Birthday Party is packaged in a fatboy jewel case with the William Stout artowrk on the front cover and on each disc.  This is an improvement over the TDOLZ because it is more complete and more natural sounding and not as processed.  Graf Zeppelin have been producing amazing quality titles and this is another. 

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  1. Yes, I’ve had the Graf Zeppelin version for some time now and I agree. While it does emphasise some of the problems of the tape more because of the natural sound it also sounds better as a result of it. Definitive indeed.

  2. Graf Zeppelin’s release is superior to Neverland. First of all, Neverland’s soundboard is nothing special. Watchtower’s old release sounds better and had beautiful packaging. They dropped the ball there. Regarding the audience sources: Graf Zeppelin’s edits between sources are smoother and the sound is more dynamic and natural. Neverland’s sounds like they went a little too heavy on the noise reduction, there are faint traces of metallic, jingling sounds on the quiet passages.
    This is a remarkable release of a very over released show. I’ve always been amazed at the fact that Moby Dick was incomplete on all audience mixes of this show until recently. I mean after all, it was the man’s birthday – you’d think that would have been done years ago. The only complete MD was found on a 3 source mix that was shared on trading sites, until very recently with this and the Neverland release.

  3. Me too choose the Neverland 5cd version instead as it have the complete audience matrix AND the complete soundboard. But seperated (not so fond of audience/soundboard matrixes). The Neverland is great. Me neither can compare it with Graf Zeppelin version however. Would indeed be interesting to know if someone can.

  4. I’m tempted to pick this up. However, I recently got hold of the 5CD (sbd & aud) edition on Neverland. Does anyone have any thoughts on how the two compare?

  5. This is a fantastic release and has now become my favorite version of this show. The edits between the three tape sources are smoother than previous releases (TDOLZ, Empress Valley, and Sanctuary). If you don’t have this show, I recommend that you accquire this title before it sells out.


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