Jefferson Memorial Coliseum, Birmingham, Alabama, USA – May 19, 1977
Disc 1 (65:58) Introduction, 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 (69:19) Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, Moby Dick
Disc 3 (39:06) Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Rock And Roll
This review was written with great inspiration from the new Evenings With Led Zeppelin book by Dave Lewis and Mike Tremaglio. I have several of Dave’s books on my shelf, Final Acclaim, A Celebration, The Concert File and his books on Knebworth and the 1980 Tour but this one really takes the cake. One can easily tell it is a work of love and passion for Led Zeppelin, the attention to detail and photographic history on the venues Led Zeppelin played is astonishing, so to the authors, Eye Thank Yew!
Led Zeppelin’s show in Birmingham, Alabama, the first gig on the 1977 American tour’s 2nd leg, was quite well covered by fans, three audience recordings circulate as well as some silent 8mm video footage. The video footage is of decent quality, so much so that Page would use some of it for a menu on the superb 2003 “DVD” release, sadly not the same can be said for the audio documents. Of the three recordings, the tape referred to as source 2 is the best and only falls into the good category. Source 1 is more complete but a notch below and source 3 is the worse of the three, distant and dull. Source 1 has been booted many years back as Dixie (Antrabata Reference Master ARM180577) and source 2 made its debut as Out Of The Way (The Diagrams of Led Zeppelin TDOLZ-015). Released in April of this year, the Wendy label presents the best and most complete version of the concert to date using source 2 as its foundation filling the gaps with source 1. For those seeking the video footage, it is in excellent quality on the massive History Lesson (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-PRO-DVD) box set, an essential release for those wanting a comprehensive compilation of video footage.
Source 2 is a good yet distant yet clear recording that lacks dynamics but thankfully the instruments and vocals can be cleanly heard. Distance is its worst enemy, Plant’s between song dialog can be difficult to hear at times and there is the occasional bit of crowd noise near the taper. The recording is at least consistent and once one gets used to the sound, the more clarity you get from it. Like Pontiac, the distance lends to the atmosphere, when the band start a song the audience likes, you get a wave of applause giving the feeling of vastness. There are a few musical cuts where the first source is used to fill the gaps, 10:27 to 10:37 of In My Time Of Dying, 20:57 to 21:16 the very tail end of No Quarter, 3:10 to 3:12 in Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, 7:30 to 7:59 of Over The Top, 8:01 to 9:07 during Pagey’s solo, and 8:43 to 9:06 of Achilles Last Stand. There are a few cuts between songs as well, the patch splices are seamless and well handled making for a smooth listening experience, albeit slight dip in recording quality.
The opening salvo of The Song Remains The Same into The Rover jam into Sick Again is great for being at the beginning of the set, seems there’s usually a flub and Page seems to often have trouble with his guitar during the song transitions, I do think that the average sound does seem to hide Page’s mistakes but overall a solid start, Robert tells the audience “Good evening Birmingham…from one Birmingham to another…”. The band waste little time and get into a good version of Nobody’s Fault But Mine. In My Time Of Dying features the usual bit of You Shook Me, par for the course on the 77 recordings. Since I’ve Been Loving is outstanding, while not as intense as the 71-73 versions, it is however very dramatic, full of soft whispers then heavy blues that is most effective. No Quarter is 21 minutes of perfection, JPJ’s first solo section is more Rock than lounge music and Page’s improvisation paints a wonderful mysterious picture. The ending has Robert pushing his voice to the breaking point with his vocal histrionics that are literally show stopping, a classic version!
There are a couple minutes of casual Plantation’s while the roadies get John Paul Jones three necked instrument ready, he tells the same story of music they could not touch without it etc. The acoustic set is really good, Plant is in great voice and his vocals soar during The Battle Of Evermore, JPJ’s vocals are low in the mix, that’s not a bad thing. Going To California is quiet making for idle chatter among the crowd until Robert exclaims “its very hard…” then the Golden God’s loyal subjects agree with him through applause. The up-tempo Black Country Woman with Bonzo’s drumming wakes the audience from their mellow slumber, they are moved to clapping along hoedown style during Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. Jimmy’s playing during White Summer / Black Mountain Side is really fluent, he drops a bit of Bird On A Wing, aka Midnight Moonlight during the transition to BMS. I know what’s coming but I am sure most of the audience was kinda zoning out when bam…Kashmir enters and Bonzo kills it with a superb drum fill, I am sure many an ass was out of its seat. In 1977 there seems to be two Kashmir camps, the good and the…loose, this is one of the good ones. Bonzo’s drumming is spot on and the JPJ traveling orchestra is in tune, and with the help of vocal histrionics, Robert really delivers…”Whooo let me take you there”, this is one song that must have been incredible to see and hear live.
Like at the Atlanta show a month prior, Page throws in a quick snippet of Dixie during his guitar solo, something he would do for the dates in the South. His solo is an aural and visual feast and certainly has the attention of everyone in attendance, although a portion of the bowed section is a bit boring. The version of Achilles Last Stand will wake the dead, like Kashmir before it, the song is aggressive and very muscular making for an exciting version. As great as Page is playing, it’s John Bonham’s drumming that is the x factor, he is just spot on and coupled with JPJ makes for an incredible rhythm section for Page to play over. Stairway To Heaven is the culmination of two and a half hours, the audience sings their praises when the band break into the song and again when Plant sings the first line. Page’s solo is well played and fluent, like Pontiac the start stop jam is really effective showing what the band was like on a hot night. Rock And Roll is the sole encore played at a rock and roll tempo that brings a most satisfying concert to a close.
Wendy use two different styles of packaging, fold open style sleeves and jewel cases, this titles features the latter. Simplistic inserts with a couple live shots of the band as well as a ticket scan, the CD’s have pictures on them and they have a corner OBI as well, simple yet effective. Like the Pontiac Silverdome show, this is a title that will only appeal to the seasoned collector, but once one succumbs to the performance you will quickly find a most satisfying listening experience.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)