Fresh Garbage – Fillmore West – January 1969 (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-169A/B/C/D)
Led Zeppelin’s first tour of North America is legendary and for good reason. Their stage act, still in its infancy, was built around the contrast between light and shade, visceral one minute, gentle the next with musicianship second to none. They took the power of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience and combined it with acoustic music popularized by Joan Baez and The Fairport Convention in a totally unique way. To really get a sense of the importance to what they were doing, one needs to examine their early live work, when the music was fresh and exhilarating to both performer and audience alike. It’s totally amazing that there are so many live tapes from this tour, and most of them are in very good quality. Within these documents is the history of this band from not only the musician’s standpoint, but just as importantly from a fans perspective.
The recordings from January 1969 are required listening for the committed collector, when one takes the time to examine these recordings you really get a sense of how ground breaking the band really were. This release from Graf Zeppelin gathers four of these early documents and gathers them in one volume. This is not the first time it’s been done, Fresh Garbage (Scorpio LZ-0811) was released a decade ago and was an acclaimed title for both its collection of recordings as well as sound quality. The Graf Zeppelin label has been steadily putting out quality Led Zeppelin titles for some time now, they are the most consistent of the labels in terms of quality and content, I was excited when I saw they were releasing this material even though I own Scorpio’s Fresh Garbage and knew it would be hard to improve upon.
Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA, USA – January 10, 1969
Disc 1 (44:21) The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, As Long As I Have You, Dazed And Confused, How Many More Times
Disc 2 (48:34) MC, White Summer, Killing Floor, You Shook Me, Pat’s Delight, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Communication Breakdown, For Your Love
Having begun their first tour of North America in the cold and blustery Pacific Northwest, the sunny confines of California must have been a welcomed sight. The cold weather wreaked havoc on Jimmy Page and the first three dates in Los Angeles featured truncated sets to accommodate his illness. By the second week of January 1969 the band was better prepared to get things rolling in the West Coast musical mecca of San Francisco. The band’s first concerts in the city were a four night stand at Bill Graham’s famed Fillmore West where the Zeppelin had the middle slot between openers Taj Mahal and headliners Country Joe and the Fish. Recordings exist from all four concerts in varying degrees of completeness.
The second show is the most complete capturing both sets performed by Led Zeppelin that evening. It amazing me to hear an audience source of this quality so early on in the band’s history, they were largely unknowns to most, save for the name Jimmy Page, whose name had a following thanks to his days in the Yardbirds. The audience recording is very good quality, great balance with all instruments and vocals being clear in the mix. There is a bit of distortion and tape hiss as one would expect from a recording of this age but overall a superb document of this early show. I have a friend who gave me a cassette copy of this concert taped from the old vinyl title For Your Love (Rock Solid Records RSR 238A-D) in the late 80’s. Needless to say, I already had the Fillmore West bootleg from April but this was a real revelation, especially the encore, Led Zeppelin playing the Yardbirds’ classic For Your Love.
This recording would be issued many times on compact disc as East West (Digger Productions DP 2677), For Your Love (Silver Rarities SIRA 134135 2), For Your Love The Legendary Fillmore Series (Empress Valley EVSD 414/415), Live Adventure At The Fillmore West (Wendy WECD 25/26), Syonen Zep (Akashic AKA-2), Secret History Of Led Zeppelin (92-LZ-13-065), Tales From The Riverside (Luna LU 9309), and Fresh Garbage (Scorpio LZ-08011). I am using the Scorpio Fresh Garbage title to compare as I prefer that version over my other version of the show, the EV For Your Love title. The sound is very similar with the edge going to Graf Zeppelin, they handled the low frequencies much better so there is less distortion and with cleaner sound. The second disc, aka second set is a bit louder and clearer than the Scorpio, it also has more tape before Robert’s introduction to White Summer where the taper clearly says “reel 4”. Overall the sound on disc 2 is more consistent, and better than the Scorpio set. Overall, I am very pleased with this version of the January 10, 1969, for me it’s the best I have out of the Silver Rarities, Empress Valley, and Scorpio.
Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA, USA – January 11, 1969
Disc 3 (45:59) Introduction, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown. Bonus Track: Fillmore West San Francisco, CA, USA – January 9, 1969; Introduction, The Train Kept A Rollin’
The first known soundboard from Led Zeppelin, in circulation, is from the third night at the Fillmore West. I first got the incomplete version on the title Birth Of The Gods (Balboa BP-0001) in the mid 90’s, it was a title that also featured the rare Kansas City November 1969 recording. It soon made the rounds on titles like Anybody Got A Les Paul? (EX00-020), Fillmore East Vol. 2 (Mud Dogs-007), How Many More Years (Empress Valley EVSD 430), Psycho A Go-Go! (Led Note LCD 1504), Syonen Zep Zokango (Akashic AKA-Millennium-3), Fillmore West 19690111 (Wendy WECD-227), and Fresh Garbage (Scorpio LZ-08011).
The soundboard is of excellent quality that was more than likely recorded by promoter Bill Graham, who recorded most bands that passed through his venues. It is extremely clear and detailed with a fine range of frequencies, nice highs and a great bottom end. If there was a main issue it would be the balance, the vocals and drums are a bit higher in the mix than the guitar and bass. Again I’ll use the Scorpio title for comparison as it is certainly better than my old Balboa title. This one is a bit more difficult as the source recording is so good. The Graf title is a tad louder, clearer, less hiss and the bottom end is cleaner with no loss of frequencies, not an earth shattering improvement but certainly an improvement over the Scorpio.
Picking up where the previous night left off, the Led Zeppelin we known and love is emerging more with every performance. This recording is really a great chance to listen to the early chemistry between John Paul Jones and John Bonham, they are locked into a solid rhythm all the while Page effortlessly flies over. Very cool to hear the call and response by Page and Plant during You Shook Me, Robert’s vocal histrionics are incredible, he thanks the crowd without even sounding out of breath! They certainly have won over the audience as they clamor for more and Plant has to try and speak over them to introduce Communication Breakdown, you can hear them hollering clearly as it sounds very intimate.
There is a “bonus” track on this disc, Train Kept A Rollin’. It was originally attributed to one of the April 1969 San Francisco shows but upon very close examination it is now dated as being from the January run of shows due to the sound of the amplifiers, some Zep enthusiast noticed that the sound of the music is certainly coming from Rickenbacker amps, these were only used on the first tour. What we do know for sure that the song is from the second set due to Robert’s comment about being back for a “second time” is very clear. Since the introduction and song are the only thing available it makes it hard to date with 100 percent certainty. The sound is very good, clear and detailed with all instruments and vocals being clear and well balanced. There are some slight sound fluctuations, distortion, and hiss present as one would expect from a tape of this age. It is a fascinating yet frustrating document but very exciting. This recording has been on a few titles, Twinight (Immigrant IM-002-3), Fillmore West 19690111 (Wendy WECD-227), Fresh Garbage (Scorpio LZ-08011), and Dancing Avocado Supreme (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-424A/B/C). This new version on Graf sounds very good, cleaner with far less distortion and a very nice improvement over the Scorpio and a slight improvement from their own Dancing Avocado Supreme title. One only has to listen to this exciting four and a half minute recording to ask aloud…where’s the rest?
Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA, USA – January 12, 1969
Disc 4 (77:12) As Long As I Have You, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, Communication Breakdown, You Shook Me, White Summer, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Pat’s Delight, How Many More Times, Killing Floor
The final night in San Francisco is the least circulated largely due to the recording, it is a good audience source, the music overloads the recording device so there is definitely distortion and while you can make out the instruments, it is not what one would call clear. The guitar and drums are clearer in the mix although Jones’ bass is well represented as well, Bonzo’s drums get drowned out at times. There are cuts between many songs so the Plantations are few and far between, that being said this is a very listenable and enjoyable document. California ’69 (Lemon Song LS-7206/7) was the first to feature this recording. The Fourth Night Legendary Fillmore Series (Empress Valley EVSD-500), and Fresh Garbage (Scorpio LZ-08011) are the only titles to feature this recording.
I only have the Scorpio title in my collection and when I compare them I find that again the Graf Zeppelin is a clear improvement. It has a much better and fuller range of frequencies and to my ears the Scorpio title sound a bit flat. The title trimmed some non music from the tape to easily fit it onto a single disc, about a minute and a half. The performance is superb, hitting the audience in the face with the first notes of As Long As I Have You. They seem intent on hammering the audience with speed and power, none of the previous concerts subtleties here. At times it sounds like Jones and Bonham are just hammering their instruments in devastating fashion, the bow solo in Dazed is haunting and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You is dramatically sorrowful. All of the three main recordings shine a different light on the band and the run of shows, so important primal Led Zeppelin.
The packaging is typical for Graf Zeppelin, but without the frills of other titles. The front cover uses the gig poster, sleek with a noir feel to it. The inner tray features a take on the old East West bootleg cover, the other tray features a play on the old Lemon Song title and each edition is numbered here, mine is 55. If there is one company who delivers consistent product it has to be Graf Zeppelin, this title is a nice improvement over the old Scorpio title and offers a comprehensive way for collectors to get this material. I would love for Graf Zeppelin to take their hand at the Boston 1969 shows, they are as essential as this material and could use a definitive collection.