Electric Magic (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-1120A/B/C/D)
Empire Pool, Wembley, U.K. – November 20, 1971
Disc 1 (41:19) Introduction, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Rock And Roll, Stairway To Heaven
Disc 2 (57:24) Going To California, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Dazed And Confused, What Is And What Should Never Be, Celebration Day
Disc 3 (44:08) Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love Incl. Big Black Cadillac Blues, Boogie Chillen’, Hello Mary Lou, Mess O’ Blues, Honey Bee, Going Down Slow, Kind Hearted Woman
To the Led Zeppelin collector Electric Magic means one thing, the eclectic two night stand in London, England during their seventh tour of the United Kingdom in the fall / winter of 1971. The eclectic tag comes from the support acts, most notable the vaudeville circus acts, plate spinners, and performing pigs dressed in hilarious attire all of which who made the music support act Stone The Crows look pedestrian in comparison. More importantly the band was touring properly in support of the long awaited fourth album that was finally released in early November after a few delays over the cover art. Having already played North America for the umpteenth time as well as the incredible first Japanese tour, the UK would prove to be another great success, Led Zeppelin playing mostly intimate venues and devastating audiences with a visual and sonically visceral musical presentation.
Led Zeppelin would play the two gigs in London at the 9,500 seat Wembley Arena on consecutive evenings on November 20 and 21, 1971 to capacity crowds. The band had incorporated the mysterious four symbols into the stage set, Jimmy would have his “Zoso” symbol on his amp cover as well as his sweater that was hand made by a fan. The effort Led Zeppelin put into these concerts paid off with good reviews coming from all the major British music papers. New Musical Express; “Their programme proved to be a living history of their success”, Melody Maker; “This was an English band playing like crazy, and enjoying every minute they stood there onstage”, and Sounds; “Whether you prefer your Zeppelin soft or hard there couldn’t have been many disappointed faces in the 9,000 odd who attended the concert”, and “Zeppelin played their hearts out with a selection of old and new, lots of acoustic things and lots of Rock. Old favorites like Whole Lotta Love and Communication Breakdown causing near havoc” are just a few of the reviews.
There is a singular audio document of only one of the concerts, a 143 minute incomplete audience recording that falls into the fair to good range. It sounds like it was recorded close to the stage and is mostly clear and well balanced. It does, at times, suffer from distortion, occasionally muddy and muffled yet the instruments and vocals are discernible although the drums do get lost at times. This is a consistent recording so once your ears adjust it is an easy and enjoyable listening experience. The venue acoustics are evident as you do pick up on the hall echo and there is just a bit of tape hiss and there are a few tape cuts. That’s The Way has a very small cut at the 3:23 mark, Dazed And Confused is cut at 22:32, and the tape ends a few seconds after Robert’s “Good Night” following Whole Lotta Love, sadly eliminating the encores. I say sadly because Zeppelin was playing some interesting encores on the UK tour most notably Gallows Pole and Eddie Cochran’s Weekend. There have been several releases of this recording over the years, Magick (Tarantura EM-001,2), The Electric Magic Show (Mad Dogs 033/034), Electric Magic Show (Apple-376), Electric Magic Show (Electric Magic EMC-023A/B), The Empire Strikes Back (Tarantura TCD-102-1,2,3), and Electric Magic Wembley Empire Pool (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-730/761/762).
I have had the Empress Valley version of this concert for some years, it is a beautiful package containing the complete recording on three CD housed in a gatefold sleeve. The set comes with 2 small cards featuring a dynamic live shot and the event poster, detailed liner notes in both Japanese and English and a poster of the gig poster, all this is house in a small box, a set worthy of such a prestigious gig. This Empress Valley version has served me well over the years and this is what I used for comparison. Empress Valley have EQ’d their title a bit, they have increased the volume and removed the tape hiss and mastered the sound to add more of the upper frequencies giving it a bit of a shrill sound to it. The Graf Zeppelin is thus slightly quieter, has a bit of tape hiss and a better dynamic range, it has a nice analog sound one associates with a recording of this age and timbre. To my ears the Graf Zeppelin has the better sound, easy on the ears and does justice to the original source.
It seems like Led Zeppelin could not catch a break when playing London in both 1971 and 1972, they played big arenas in late fall early winter and the venues were cold and the band had to work to heat them up. Up to the task, the band turn in a very solid performance, in his review of the Empire Strikes Back title, GS states that “this is a good show but Zeppelin sound too uptight for it to be a magical night”, a correct assessment of the performance, this is a very good night nonetheless. Immigrant Song features a nice long solo followed by a bombastic version of Heartbreaker, muscular with swing. To much hilarity, Robert gets the audience to respond to his repeated “Good Evening” in an effort to warm them up! I really like the 1971 versions of Black Dog, the band played very tight versions of the song during its early days in the set, they would loosen in the following years and while always great, some later versions lacked the power these version do.
The acoustic set is the clearest part of the recording, the sound is clear and detailed and while you hear the large hall echo, they manage to make for an intimate experience. Robert’s talk is casual while Jimmy and John Paul tune up and go into a gentle version of Going To California. Robert seems to get a bit lost in the instrumental intro to the song and comes in a tad late, he was certainly listening to the wonderful interplay between the two instrumentalists as they entwine the guitar and mandolin beautifully. They continue with an equally wonderful That’s The Way then a simple version of Tangerine, I much prefer these early versions of the song versus the polished ones from the 1975 Earl’s Court stand. Curious that the band does not play Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp as it was played at the majority of the UK dates, I did not detect a cut between Tangerine and Dazed. Speaking of Dazed And Confused this is an excellent version, the band do not force the beginning but once they break into the instrumental portion leading to the bow solo the “three” let it fly. Robert adds his trademark moans during the bow interlude and the vocal interplay with Page during the fast section, primo 1971 stuff. The Whole Lotta Love medley is standard for the tour, while no deep cuts, the band play great versions of Ricky Nelson’s Hello Mary Lou, Elvis’ Mess O Blues, John Lee Williamson’s Honey Bee, and an intense version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Going Down Slow where Jimmy really gets into some brilliant lead runs that seem to nearly crush the tape machine.
The packaging is typical for Graf Zeppelin, full color inserts with the famous gig poster on the front, the rear and interior all feature live shots from the Electric Magic gigs themselves. This release is a numbered edition, mine of no. 76 so need for the sticker, the CDs have that famous shot looking up at Robert in full flight with Jimmy in the background, the discs are credited to Snowdonia. This release is an improvement over the EV version in sound only, the EV version certainly wins on packaging and presentation but it’s the sound that counts and Graf is the clear victor.