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Led Zeppelin – Going To California (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-020A/B/C/D)

Going To California (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-020A/B/C/D)

In the Led Zeppelin bootleg collecting community Going To California means one thing, the classic bootleg dating back to the early days of vinyl featuring the incredible recording and performance from the Berkeley Community Theatre on 14 September 1971. This is a top tier bootleg, as essential as Blueberry Hill, Bonzo’s Birthday Party, and Destroyer and like those titles, has been in steady circulation for the past 46 years. Graf Zeppelin throw their hat into the ring with a 4 disc set featuring both BCT concerts, the classic September 14 show and its less common predecessor yet equally impressive September 13 concert.

The Berkeley Community Theatre is an intimate 3,500 seat venue that is on the campus of Berkeley High School, in the early 70’s the famous promoter Bill Graham would occasionally promote concerts there as well as his other San Francisco venues the Fillmore West and Winterland. Having previously booked Led Zeppelin at the Oakland Coliseum Arena during their 1970 September tour, Graham decided to bring the band to the more intimate confines of the BCT for two evenings. Typical for Led Zeppelin, press reports at the time complained about the loud volume and lack of subtleties, when listening to these concerts several years gone, they are a total success in performance and musical presentation.

Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, California, USA – September 13, 1971

Disc 1 (65:35) Introduction, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day

Disc 2 (71:33) MC, That’s The Way, Going To California, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown

The first night in Berkeley started doing the rounds back in the mid 90’s, the first title being Back On The West Coast (Mad Dogs 031/032) and over the years others followed California Stampede (Magnificent Disc MD-7102 A/B), Going To California (TMQ 0501001-1, 2 & 0501002-1, 2), Berkeley First Night (No Label), Going To California (Wendy WECD-302/303/304/305), and most recently Going To California 1 (Moonchild BERKELEY1st-1/2), and perhaps the best of the more recent releases being Berkeley Daze 1st Night (The Godfatherecords G.R. 722/723).

The recording from the first night falls into the very good range, most consider it incomplete as a press report notes a song called “It’s Been a Long Time” was the final encore. The sound is distant but clear with the lower frequencies being somewhat muddy, the guitar, drums, and vocals are clearly discernible, the bass not as much. Back in 2012 when Godfather Records released Berkely Daze 1st Night, many considered it the best title in terms of sound quality, easily rivaling the older TMQ version. When I compare this new Graf title to the Godfather I find them to be of similar volume, no excessive volume on either. Godfather sounds like they removed the tape hiss and minimized the lower bass frequencies making for a brighter sound. Graf has elected to offer sound closer to that of the original tape, there is just a bit of hiss but has a warm and natural sound, this also provides a much wider sound spectrum and to my ears, the Graf is superior.

The taper obviously was experienced and they managed to capture a near complete performance, none of the songs have cuts and the sound is consistent throughout. The performance is typical for 1971, incredibly tight and focused playing. Bill Graham introduces the band with each getting the prefix of Mister before their name, something that was common for him. I have always enjoyed his introductions of other bands, The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead so I very much enjoy hearing him intro the Zeppelin (also the 69 and 70 times as well). The first half of the concert, from Immigrant Song to Dazed And Confused seems very focused and serious, the Bay Area Rock fans seem intent on listening, their reactions are derived from the music being played. I was thinking while listening to Black Dog at the fluency of Page and Jones while keeping the tempo steady, very tight playing as they maneuver the groove.

Page’s playing during the bow solo in Dazed And Confused is spectacular, he conjurers up incredible sounds that have the audience entranced and garners a nice ovation as it comes to close and transition into the fast section. It’s amazing how much this song grew in just two years, focused improvisation from each member from light to shade in an instant. The acoustic section, while just two songs, creates an intimate atmosphere, Page on acoustic and John Paul on Mandolin seem to blend perfectly, the Bay Area fans give the band the respect they deserve and are quiet (except for a couple loudmouths) and appreciate the gentleness of the songs. The band get a little loose for the incredible 23 minute Whole Lotta Love medley featuring the standard Boogie Mama to start followed by Ricky Nelson’s Hello Mary Lou, Elvis’ Mess of Blues, and a nice slow and long version of You Shook Me are the highlights.

Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, California, USA – September 14, 1971

Disc 3 (48:22) Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed And Confused

Disc 4 (48:06) Stairway To Heaven, That’s The Way, Going To California, Whole Lotta Love

Most know the famous story of this recording, soon after the concert the person who did the recording sold it to the bootlegger who, under fear of being busted, supposedly dumped the original tape and pressing plates into the ocean. For the history of these events, please read Cliff’s review of the Godfather title as it goes into detail on the history of the tape. Long story short all subsequent titles either vinyl or CD are all sourced from vinyl, the better copies come from the early vinyl. For this new release, Graf Zeppelin claim to use the “Vintage LP Going to California (TMQ-72004 / LZ 1-4)”, the label has opted to present the high quality transfer with very little processing other than surface noise removal and to fix small areas of channel drop outs, all other cuts and segues were left as is making a faithful version of the original vinyl.

Vinyl titles are many, Going To California (Berkeley, Trade Mark of Quality both Stout and Plain label, Titanic, GLC, Mammary, Box Top Records), Goin’ West (Instant Analysis LZ2-4), Halfway To California (Viking Music LZ2-4), LA Forum (LZ 1-4), Raging Violent The Virtuoso (No Label), The Final Option (Assorted), The Trade Mark Of Quality Years (TMQ reissue box set from original plates) and I’m sure there are more.

On CD we have Going To California (Electric Junk LZ 1992-1), Going To California (TMQ 0501001-1, 2 & 0501002-1, 2), Going To California 2 (BERKLEY2nd-1/2), Going To California (Shout To The Top STTP-043/4), California Expedition (Cashmere CSCD-009/010), Going To California (Wendy WECD-302/303/304/305), Berkeley Daze 2nd Night (Godfatherecords G.R. 724/725) all feature this recording.

The recording itself it excellent, recorded close to the stage with no crowd interference near the taper, all instruments and vocals are very clear and discernible in the mix. The sound favors the mid to high frequencies and there is some slight top end distortion, all minor quips as this is certainly the best audience recording from 1971. I am again using the Godfather version, Berkely Daze 2nd Night for comparison. I find the sound to be similar, if anything the Godfather has a bit more bass than Graf, the main differences in these titles is the Graf is easier on the ears due to fixing the channels and Godfather used the previous nights recording to fill the gap in Dazed and Confused, Graf left the gap alone.

The performance, like the previous evening, is sublime. With such clarity of sound we can enjoy every nuance of the band’s performance. Immigrant Song is incredible from the first chord, how the tape recording did not crumble is beyond me. Jimmy’s solo is fluent and well constructed, I find that the versions of this solo from the previous year are tentative, with a year under its belt Page has a great theme he seems to follow with superb results. One can barely catch their breath before Heartbreaker hits you, the way Page and Jones weave their notes around each other is incredible, entwined without getting tied up. This recording picks up John Bonham’s drum sound superbly during the slow beginning of Since I’ve Been Loving You, the depth sound of his Ludwig set is incredible and almost as bombastic as his playing.

Dazed And Confused, like the previous night, is mysterious and haunting. The bow solo is exquisite with Plant mimicking Page’s conjured sounds creating an ethereal atmosphere inside the small theater. This version is notable for Plant adlibbing a bit of Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA during the song, the song goes through several twists and turns as Page leads the group to the summit and stunning climax. Plant sings Stairway To Heaven to the children of the sun, a perfect version of the band with the audience so quiet you could hear a pin drop. A pretty much note perfect version, like most from 71 the band nail it, the audience seemed impressed with the song and it garners a nice round of applause.

The acoustic section is again very intimate and again we can enjoy the beautiful playing of Jones and Page, That’s The Way is one of my favorite acoustic songs, it always seems to retain that innocence and Plant’s vocals are so passionate. With so many cuts on this tape, the introduction to Going To California is complete “This is, quite a moving night for me. And this is also another sitting down song, and we don’t really like people squeaking too much, but it’s cool. This is a thing that got together on a, I was gonna say the Scottish Highlands. I was gonna say the Welsh mountains but I think it was something like The Gorhman Hotel, West 37th street in New York. Here’s to the days when things were really nice and simple and everything was far out all the time.” Obviously Robert liked to play the West Coast as much of the music resonated with him years before he actually had been there. Whole Lotta Love is a bit more expanded than the previous night, 25 minutes of Rock And Roll goodness, Hello Mary Lou, Elvis’ My Baby Left Me and Mess O’ Blues, another nice and slow You Shook Me featuring the squeeze my lemon lyrics before the Whole Lotta Love reprise…inspired stuff.

The packaging is quite nice, the front and rear cover being the vinyl TMQ William Stout bootleg featuring the Zep riding Dumbo, the inner tray front has the Mammary vinyl cover with the rear tray featuring GLC and generic TMQ covers as well as the number of the copy, mine being 153. There is an insert mini cover reproduction of the original cover and when you open it up it looks like the inside showing the records. A mini poster featuring the original cover on one side, the William Stout cover on the other is included as is a small TMQ sticker and lets not forget the CD’s all have the Stout artwork on them, all this is housed in a fat boy jewel case. Needless to say this is a definite version of these two concerts in terms of superb sound, completeness, and mastering with impeccable packaging.

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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