Musikhalle, Hamburg, West Germany – March 21, 1973
Disc 1 (57:17) 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 (73:08) Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, The Ocean
The German dates of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 European tour draw rave reviews from collectors for good reason, the playing is unbelievably tight and inspired, many times to audiences who were indifferent to what they were hearing. Plant describes the focus of the band during this period in an interview conducted at the end of the European tour in Paris, “It’s easy to get stale, and some bands reach a peak and that’s it. The old country house bit and a year off. It doesn’t work that way. There’s only one way to function and that’s onstage. We’ve reached a high and we ain’t going to lose it”.
There are two known recordings from this concert, a near complete good audience recording and while the sound is muffled, is clear enough so all instruments and vocals come through clean in the mix, this recording has seen a prior release on Suspended Animation (Image Quality IQ-75/76). The second is an excellent sounding 56 minute soundboard fragment of Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, and Whole Lotta Love. This recording has been released on April Fools Day (LZ-05), Fallin’ In Love With The Fallin’ Angel (Led Note LCD 1507), and A Soundboard Platter (Scorpio LZ-07005-01/04). Back in 2010 the No Label company released Mercy On Me (No Label), an edit using both sources to provide the most complete and best sounding title to date and at the time the best version of the concert.
For this latest version of the Hamburg concert, No Label revisited their original edit in hopes of improving on it. In the eight years since Mercy On Me, there has been no real upgrades or alternative recordings so with the mix of the two known source tapes, there is no real upgrade here, just very slight minimal improvements. To my ears the most notable improvement comes from the soundboard, when comparing this title to Mercy On Me you can here that the latter had been tampered with to lessen the hiss, this new version is just a tad bit more natural sounding, in fact that statement can be used to describe this entire release. The seam from audience to soundboard is very well done and while the sources are very different, this ease of transition makes for a nice listening experience.
Both Luis Rey and Gerard Sparaco rave about this concert for good reason, the latter describes it as “heaviest, darkest, meanest, and most brutal”, the playing is indeed as described. Page is at his most fluent from the opening chords of Rock And Roll, he effortlessly goes from riff to solo and back. This concerts brutality does not all fall entirely upon Page, John Bonham’s drumming is superlative and seems to grind the audience and listener to a pulp underneath his bass drum and floor toms. Even with its muffled sound you can pick out the idiosyncrasies of John Paul Jones bass playing, he is certainly not just playing standard rhythm, he adds many flourishes during Over The Hills And Far Away and leads the devastation during Black Dog. The final piece of the puzzle was most certainly the volume, a newspaper review described the event, “Tints subsided in the deafening noise. The phonetic level of Led Zeppelin music would have been enough for a 20,000-man stadium? In the relatively small music hall, the sound level was well above the pain threshold for most pieces. Nevertheless, the youthful audience thanked each piece with much applause. Joyful applause greeted the first bars of every Led Zeppelin hit. After all, most of them, who sometimes kept their ears to it, knew the true sound of this music, at least from records”. Curious as the review describes the volume as being enough for a 20,000 stadium packed into the confines of the 2,000 capacity Muskhalle.
The band do play in isolation, Plant’s efforts to engage the crowd in Black Dog falls upon deaf ears so the band seem content to simply hammer the set out in spectacular fashion. Misty Mountain Hop is the light, the intense Since I’ve Been Loving You is the shade. The barrier between audience and performer seems to fall with Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, as soon as the band break into the song the audience claps along in true Hoe-down style. At the 3:45 mark, Page gets into a snippet of Tangerine, Plant reciprocates with a soft moan but it goes no further and they move back into Stomp…Stryder! Things begin to heat up and after a beautifully gentle version of Rain Song the audience clammer for more, their reward will be an incredible Dazed And Confused, Jones’ opening bass notes are met with adulation. The soundboard makes its first appearance 4:39 into the song as Page and Bonham are into some fast rhythmic playing while Plant sings “Cold Sweat” repeatedly, San Francisco is haunting but seems like Bonzo is ready to go and is pushing Page, only the bow solo will curtail him, but not for long. After the bow segment the pair pick up where they left off, each trying to outpace the other to no avail, they match each other at every twist and turn with Jones keeping pace as well, 26 minutes of musical bliss.
Whole Lotta Love seems to pick up where Dazed left off, Page using the boogies to lead the rhythm section through the paces. The medley is pretty standard for this part of the tour, yet the playing is simply out of this world, Boogie Chillun is incredible and the Elvis songs (You’re so Square) Baby I Don’t Care and Let’s Have A Party finds Bonzo so inspired and grooving he grunts at Plant several times. I Can’t Quit You slows down the pace and the performance loses a bit of momentum, the band go back into Whole Lotta Love and Plant ‘s “Thank you very much…Guten Tag” is met with a nice round of applause. The Ocean gets the encore nod over the more standard Heartbreaker. The song had not been played since the Copenhagen March 6 concert and brings to an end one of the best concerts of the tour.
The packaging is typical No Label, inserts adorned with pictures from the actual Hamburg concert, mostly in black and white with a couple in colour. Of course you have picture discs and some dealers offer the numbered sticker as well. While those who own Mercy On Me may not find need for this new version, those with older versions like the IQ or LZ titles will find this an upgrade and a worthwhile investment.