Led Zeppelin – Essential Led (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-322A/B/C/D/E/F)

Essential Led (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-322A/B/C/D/E/F)

Grugahalle, Essen, West Germany – March 22, 1973

Essential Led is another comprehensive set by Graf Zeppelin collecting all three sources for Led Zeppelin’s performance in Essen, West Germany during their much praised 1973 European tour in complete form. The Essen performance comes just over the halfway mark of the month long tour, this run of concerts are considered the best of the entire year, the proof is in the pudding so to speak. Thankfully much of the tour was recorded in very acceptable quality, the German taping community came out in force documenting these dates. Of the three known Essen recordings, two are incomplete sources recorded from the audience and the other, a short 50 minute fragmented soundboard recording. Graf Zeppelin Discs 1 through 3 feature source 2 with gaps supplied from source 1, discs 4 and 5 feature source 1 only, and disc 6 features the soundboard fragment with gaps filled by both source 1 and 2. This is the first time all sources are collected in this manner.

Audience Version A Main Source: Source 2

Disc 1 (58:53) Introduction, 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, The Rain Song

Disc 2 (43:23) MC, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven

Disc 3 (42:25) Applause, Big Spender, Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker

The first three discs offer as near a complete concert as possible, this is the first title to use only the audience recordings making for an easier overall listen of this concert. Graf Zeppelin is also the first to offer a mix using source 2 as a foundation with gaps filled by source 1, all other titles that are source mixes use source 1 and the soundboard as a foundation with gaps filled by source 2. The splicing on this title is excellent and seamless, if not for the slight changes in sound they are not detectable, typically great mastering by Graf Zeppelin. Other source mix titles to use this source as filler are Gracias! (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-300/301/302), Essentially Led Complete (Live Remains LR-04031/2), Cold Sweat (Tarantura TCD-43-1/2), and Cold Sweat (Moonchild COLD SWEAT 1/2/3). The sound quality of source 2 easily falls into the very good category, the instruments and vocals are well balanced and clear, each being easily discernible in the spectrum. Source 2 also has a better overall sound, the upper frequencies are better and the bottom end is present but does not muddy up the sound. There is a large chunk of the middle of the set missing, Misty Mountain Hop through The Rain Song, but has much of the concert including the Heartbreaker encore. Having only Cold Sweat (Moonchild COLD SWEAT 1/2/3) the easiest way to evaluate the sound of source 2 is during Heartbreaker. To say the least, it is a massive improvement, the Moonchild versions sounds shrill and compressed to my ears, not even close.

Audience Version B Main Source: Source 1

Disc 4 (58:44) Introduction, 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, The Rain Song

Disc 5 (35:21) MC, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven

Discs 4 and 5 feature the complete source 1 on its own. This is a very good audience recording, the sound is clear and detailed, if anything the lower frequencies can tend to just very slightly dominate but provide a nice punch, quite powerful. Source 1 was first issued on a two LP vinyl set Live In Essen West Germany 1973 Vol 1&2 (Magic Market MM 114A-B / MM 115A-B), while the LP cover boasted a picture of Plant and Page from 1977, they got something correct with the proclamation “Zep massive”. Essen 1973 (Savage Beast SBM-73-1/2) is the only compact disc title to feature only source 1. Source mixes come from Essentially Led Complete (Live Remains LR-04031/2), Cold Sweat (Tarantura TCD-43-1/2), Cold Sweat (Moonchild COLD SWEAT 1/2/3), and Gracias! (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-300/301/302). After starting with the first three discs featuring the source 2 as a foundation, Graf could have easily used this as a foundation as the other titles did, both source 1 and 2 are quite similar, both sound close in distance from the stage, perhaps 2 being a tad closer, and the equipment used for both was good as well. The acoustics of the 7,700 capacity Grugahalle are great allowing for the quality of both. I only have the budget title Cold Sweat (Moonchild COLD SWEAT 1/2/3), Bootledz says it is a copy of the Tarantura title of the same name, Winston Remasters is referenced on the front cover of the Moonchild label. The sound of the Graf Zeppelin in comparison is much improved over the Moonchild. The Graf has improved clarity certainly due to the bass frequencies not being so overwhelming, it sounds like the Graf is also from a better transfer or generation of the tape as the overall spectrum is wider and dynamic.

Soundboard Plus Audience Sources

Disc 6 (61:07) MC, Dazed And Confused, Applause, Big Spender, Whole Lotta Love

Like many of the January and March 1973 soundboards, Essen is just a fragment, this time we get incomplete versions of Dazed And Confused and Whole Lotta Love. There are two titles that feature the soundboard, A Soundboard Platter (Scorpio LZ-07005 01/02/03/04), and Essenial Led (Flying Disc CD 6-807). All of the source mixes prior to Graf use the soundboard portion of the show in some form, Gracias! (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-300/301/302), Essentially Led Complete (Live Remains LR-04031/2), Cold Sweat (Tarantura TCD-43-1/2), and Cold Sweat (Moonchild COLD SWEAT 1/2/3). Guess what, I’m using the Cold Sweat (Moonchild COLD SWEAT 1/2/3) title for comparison, if guessed again about the sound you are correct, Graf easily bests the Moonchild title. Warmer sound for one is enough, the Moonchild sounds compressed, thin, and harsh in comparison, Graf is warmer, cleaner and sounds like you would want it to be, I do wish I had one of the older soundboard only titles, but alas I do not.

Like most know, Led Zeppelin Europe 1973 is essential listening, Essen fits nicely along with the rest of the excellent concerts from this tour, powerful playing in front of a decent audience which sound like they are enjoying themselves for the most part. Page and Bonham are playing incredible during this tour, Plant’s vocals are getting better as well, all make for a somewhat underrated concert compared to the high profile Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg concerts played in the days before this one. To think this is a lesser concert is selling it short, perhaps this concert needs a more complete overview that this new Graf title provides. Based upon the pre concert portion of this recording, the audience seems like they are ready for Zeppelin, there is little fanfare as they start with an excellent version of Rock And Roll, Jimmy in particular is playing incredible from the start. Usually it takes him a minute or so to warm up, not in Essen he is ripping into it from the first note. Based upon the response after the song, the audience is ready as well. Going directly into Over The Hills And Far Away makes for a slow in the action as the audience are in unfamiliar territory, thankfully for us the recording is clear. Again Jimmy is perfect and Robert sounds relaxed and the playing is effortless. This song also benefits from being in the set since the previous October, the band are playing with confidence and based upon the reaction as Page plays the “acoustic” outro they have won them over. Plant tells the audience it’s from the new album, the audience cheer for this.

“We must ask you to cool everything for about three minutes cause James’ guitar is a bit fucked”, Robert follows with some ad libbing which is charming and fun, the audience laugh and cheer as they get things together. When he announces Black Dog they respond with enthusiasm, the song is very dynamic and Bonzo is really pushing, the fill he does at the end of the song is like a precursor, or warning, of what would be coming. During Plant’s introduction to Misty Mountain Hop you can easily hear the source transition, nice and smooth only the sound distance gives it away. Misty Mountain Hop is a standard version as most are, for me is fun and an interesting way to delve into the dramatic Since I’ve Been Loving You, the latter gives us a chance to hear why Page is such an amazing lead player, he understands the notes and the silence between, his knack for hitting you when the song needs it, backing when it doesn’t makes for an electrifying experience, versions from this era are always excellent, this one included.

Essen has one of the better audiences of the German dates, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp is greeted with cheers which turn to clapping as it goes on. Interesting choice only keeping the one acoustic song, they chose right as the hoe down groove keep the momentum going. Page plays a bit of That’s The Way in the middle section. There is a small fade / cut a minute and a half into The Song Remains The Same in source 1, since the other sources do not have this part of the concert it is slightly incomplete. Robert gives a very passionate rendition of The Rain Song, it matches Page’s playing which is intricate and outstanding in the instrumental passages. The heavy section is very dynamic and quite powerful, as the song goes back to the gentle ending Bonzo lays in with some very powerful fills, his power will be felt even more in the next song.

Dazed And Confused is epic clocking in at 32 minutes in length, this is a hold on tight version. One gets an idea of what Bonzo is up too just a couple minutes in, pushing in a deliberate fashion, he seems to be telling Page, “all right Jimmy, what have you got tonight!”, no worries as the Grand Wizard of the electric guitar is ready for the challenge. As the song moves into San Francisco and the bow solo, Bonzo adds little flourishes of drums and cymbals and quiet tympani before Jimmy takes his solo spot. Plant’s moaning eerily adds depth to Page’s bowing, they mimic each other in complete synchronicity. At times the audience seem casually listening as you can hear quiet conversations taking place, they will soon be quieted forcibly. They take a collective breather and Bonzo counts in and we are off for perhaps the best ten minutes of the entire evening. Page plays solo after solo effortlessly, he throws in a few bars of Walter’s Walk and a loose variation of Train Kept A Rollin’ before the funky section. Bonzo’s rhythm is intricate and incredibly complex as he goes from this to that on a turn, not following but going toe to toe with Jimmy. The inspiration seems endlessly flowing as they go through the different textures of the song before the band get back into familiar territory, Bonzo seems to lead the dance and Jimmy switches him up only to look back and find Bonzo right there. A sustained note and Bonzo and Jonesy take the Que and lead back to the main theme, a roller coaster of instrumental madness. Perhaps my favorite part of this song is the very ending, just under the 30 minute mark Bonzo unleashed an incredibly powerful final salvo that raises the hair on my neck, just incredible. Funny I found this part to be much more enjoyable on the audience source versus the soundboard.

The audience is blown away and they give a loud and stomping reaction, their joy is carried over with a typical great version of Stairway To Heaven, Plant’s vocal delivery is wonderful. During the solo Page hangs on a sustained note till it almost hurts, always on the edge. The ovation is massive, certainly deservedly so. Plant gets into a bit of Brenda Lee’s Big Spender as he awaits a ready sign for Whole Lotta Love. Once the band gets into Whole Lotta Love you get the feeling being this is a good one. All four are having a blast, Jones is playing some incredible bass runs, certainly no repetition, grooving and improvising. Bonzo is everywhere, he is hammering during the early part of Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. The band follow with a rare take on Turn On Your Lovelight, the band blow the dust off a Grateful Dead version, frantic playing by Bonzo. It’s interesting to hear Page go from Boogie to Rockabilly played at high speed as they segue into their ode to Elvis with Baby, I Don’t Care and Let’s Have A Party. There is a tape cut before I Can’t Quit You, these 1973 versions are slow and very heavy, Page just destroys on the solos, incredibly slow and deliberate to so fast you almost think he’s not human. The Blues interlude leads to the explosive finale, of course Bonzo has to have the last word, like Dazed it is incredibly powerful. The audience is in a frenzy and give a huge ovation and instantly clap and chant for more, the wait is long but worth it as the band end the show with a storming version of Heartbreaker.

The packaging is nice, the front and rear covers are just ok, stock photos of the band from the tour, the inner ones are where it’s at. The inner front cover features color shots from the concert itself, the rear inner features a homage to the Essen 1973 (Savage Beast SBM-73-1/2) title with small pics of the ticket stub and concert poster, very nice addition which really ties the whole release together. For me, this is an essential (no pun) upgrade for this concert, Graf Zeppelin have done it correct by offering all three sources in one package. This title is an excellent way to get the complete Essen experience in excellent quality in one handy volume.

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