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Led Zeppelin – Long Beach 1975 1st Night (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-311A/B/C/D/E)

Long Beach 1975 1st Night (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-311A/B/C/D/E)

Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA, USA – March 11, 1975

Disc 1 (56:03) Introduction, Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir

Disc 2 (55:07) MC, No Quarter, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 3 (56:35) MC, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, The Crunge, Black Dog

Disc 4 (46:30) No Quarter (cuts in), Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick

Disc 5 (45:43) MC, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, The Crunge (cuts out)

Disc 0 (56:02) Bonus Disc: Introduction, Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir

Mike Millard’s recordings of Led Zeppelin are some of the most widely circulated of all his recordings and for good reason, they are all of excellent quality. When the collective referred to as JEMS made contact with Mike Millard’s good friend Jim R and the wonderful news that a portion of Millard’s master tapes as well as DATs of many others were in his possession certainly had many fans holding their collective breath. The story is Jim R kept in contact with Mike’s mother and eventually asked to make back up copies of his tapes as, with all analog tapes, time was the enemy of such media. She agreed and he borrowed the first batch and among them were the Zeppelin masters, these tapes were copied to DAT and returned to Mike’s mother, this took place sometime in the early 2000’s. JEMS worked tirelessly to bring these sources now with known lineages to the collecting community, and hence “The Lost and Found Mike the MICrophone Tapes” series was born thanks to a few well known torrent trackers. The first Led Zeppelin recording in the series came on Volume 37 and features Mike’s first Led Zeppelin recording, that of Long Beach Arena 3/11/1975. The notes that accompany the torrent share a plethora of information, some of this information is shared here for your reading enjoyment.

Led Zeppelin, Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA, March 11, 1975

The time has come.

We now know Mike Millard captured hundreds of great concerts, but without question Mike The Mike’s most famous works are his recordings of Led Zeppelin. Mike recorded his favorite band a total of ten times, five shows in 1975 and another five in 1977. His now legendary rig, AKG 451 microphones and Nakamichi 550 cassette deck, was purchased in early 1975 for the express purpose of recording the upcoming Zeppelin shows at the Long Beach Arena and The Forum. Mike wanted to upgrade his gear to get the best possible results. Did he ever.

He tested out his new rig at a March 5, 1975 show by Rod Stewart and Faces at the Forum, six days prior to Zeppelin’s first SoCal date in Long Beach. The new equipment passed with flying colors: The Faces tape (Vol. 13 in our series) is outstanding. Mike was ready for “the American return of Led Zeppelin” as the stage announcer says just before the band takes the stage. Since our Millard series resumed we’ve seen a few message board posts asking why we were waiting to do Mike’s Zeppelin tapes. The answer is we wanted to do them right, which isn’t as simple as it sounds as I will attempt to explain. All of Mike’s Zeppelin masters in our possession come from the first batch of tapes Rob S borrowed from Mike’s mother and transferred to DAT. It’s no surprise Rob started with Mike’s best-known recordings, but that means our source is a 1644 DAT, not the master cassettes themselves. The good news is Rob made excellent transfers from cassette to DAT, and while it would have been ideal to do azimuth correction on playback (as we do with all of Mike’s master cassettes), tape alignment doesn’t appear to be a material issue.

Mike’s Led Zeppelin recordings have been widely circulated for decades and exist in bootleg and download form in myriad versions, largely owning to the many remasters in circulation. The provenance of extant Millard Zeppelin recordings can be cloudy. Around 2010, JEMS transferred a verified, unmarked set of first generation cassettes made by Mike himself. These tapes were transferred Dolby On, though Millard almost certainly played back his masters Dolby Off, which was his standard practice when making copies: master off, copy on.

Where other sources originate is murkier, though we know some trace back to a set of VHS Hi-Fi tapes Mike made from his masters for a collector who sent him a VHS recorder to do the transfers. These VHS tapes were then converted to DAT and often circulate as first-gen sources. Anyone who has compared JEMS’ flat, Dolby-on transfers with the various remasters from other sources know they sound quite different. Many of us have grown accustomed to the remasters’ sound, which have often gone through a fair amount of processing to boost or drop frequencies, tame hiss, compress, expand, etc. That’s not a criticism of them, simply stating a fact. In fact, some of them are uncanny in terms of the fidelity they derived from the circulating sources.

Given that, the question I pondered about the transfers of Mike’s LZ cassette masters to DAT Rob made in the early 2000s is how would they compare to the remasters? Would they disappoint because the sound we are all used to is somewhat removed from the original sound? Or  would that one true generation closer make a difference? But a couple of months ago I decided to reach out to Dadgad, as I admired the work he had done on some key Zeppelin soundboards and the JEMS transfer of 6/27/77. Of the folks who had done a substantial number of Zep remasters, I liked what he and Winston did best. That’s my subjective opinion and it is a subject for which many collectors seem to have strong opinions.

So this is how the first version of the recording was torrented, and as many downloaded and began enjoying this new version, some asked if there was the ability to share a version with no mastering done, a flat transfer of Jim R’s DAT and after some pondering, JEMS uploaded just that.

While there are many positive comments on the mastered version, as predicted, some folks asked for the “flat” master to be posted. I understand the principled argument to do so (thank you Persic for your thoughtful comments), but it is worth pointing out that debates about mastering are highly subjective. Every rock album you’ve ever purchased was mastered by someone, who made choice about the final sound you hear when you play Nevermind, Abbey Road, Some Girls, In Through The Out Door, Tunnel of Love, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road or Power, Corruption and Lies. No one listens to unmastered, commercially released rock music and audience tapes have far more sonic challenges than studio recordings. Take that as you will, but I wanted to say it.

Some criticism leveled at the mastered edition may have more to do with the azimuth alignment on the first tape side than the mastering, though they are related. On two of the songs, “IMTOD” and “The Song Remains The Same,” the hi-hat is very forward and swirly at times. Proper playback azimuth adjustment (which aligns the playback head to the tape) dramatically affects the high end, and when it is off, this is what it can sound like. Does the mastering exacerbate the matter? Perhaps.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that some have said things clear up around “Kashmir,” because that’s the point where we flip to side two of the master, and the azimuth alignment, by good fortune, not adjustment, improves and the high-end clarity comes with it. So, in an attempt to please everyone, here’s the “flatest” version of March 11, 1975. This does not have Dadgad nor JEMS mastering other than what I wrote in the first paragraph.

Such is the excellent work done by the JEMS team to not only present Mike’s work, but to listen to feedback and share above and beyond what many would do in an attempt to do what is right by Mike Millard’s legacy. But these weekly torrents also feature antidotes by Jim R and others, and it is here we find more about Mike than we ever knew before. The notes for Volume 37 gave us wonderful insight on a couple Millard “legend” and he sets the record straight.

I attended the Led Zeppelin concert with Mike Millard on March 11th, 1975. It was at the Long Beach Arena. This was the beginning of the wheelchair era, which itself had two phases. Initially, a friend of ours named Mike L (who was partially paralyzed) offered to bring in Mike’s equipment using his personal wheelchair. Mike L got the gear in for this show but was extremely late the following night (3/12) which explains why Mike only got a partial recording of the second Long Beach show. More on that when we post the 3/12 recording. By the time Zep was back in LA for the start of the Forum run on March 24, Millard had gotten his own chair and I pushed him in. “If you want a job done right, you do it yourself.” We sat in Riser Section 20, Row B. One row up off the floor and even with about the 10th row of the floor. Definitely a PA recording.

During the show, you can hear Plant comment, “I see the front row is filling up slowly… bloody Atlantic Records.” It was opening night in the LA area, and because this was a highly anticipated show, the music industry had numerous ticket holds. Limited inventory due to those holds likely explains why Mike and I sat in the Risers. We had much better seats for the other nights; 5th row on the floor was our “worst” seat. On March 10, the night before Long Beach, Mike and I actually drove down to San Diego and timed that show for tape flips to make sure we didn’t miss a note in Long Beach. Which begs the question, why didn’t we record the first San Diego show? The answer is the San Diego show was general admission in a venue that was already acoustically challenged. Mike only wanted to record from his preferred locations, which is why we went to such lengths to get the seats he desired for Long Beach and Inglewood. Hard as it is to believe now, if Millard couldn’t record from the location he wanted, he would stand down, preferring no tape at all to a recording not up to his high standards.

Speaking of questions, we have seen a few message board posts inquiring if Mike ever met any rock stars. The answer is yes. Here’s one of those stories. Between the Long Beach and Forum shows there was a 12-day gap where the band performed in Seattle, Vancouver and a second San Diego concert (bizarrely there was no Bay Area stop on the ’75 tour). LA was their hub for all the West Coast dates. Knowing this, we checked the tour schedule, and on an off night took a drive to the Continental Riot House in Hollywood (Riot instead of Hyatt, as Plant had renamed it). As luck would have it, three of the four members of the group were in the lobby: Plant, Bonham and Jones. Page was presumably up in his room. I brought along printed photos from the Long Beach 3/12 show where I shot from the 3rd row. Mike and I got autographs from all three guys, who were cordial and liked the pictures. Bonham was especially boisterous and fun. We then followed them to the Rainbow Room where we watched them eat hamburgers.

Led Zeppelin was still near their peak for these ’75 shows. An electric buzz in the building. Awesome shows every night. Mike and I attended all seven Long Beach, LA Forum and San Diego performances. We couldn’t get enough Zep. But it still bugged Mike for years that he didn’t record the full 3/12 show. I hope you enjoy the March 11 recording. I’ve included some pictures from the show. Keep in mind my pictures from the other performances turned out much better since we had much closer seats.

Incredible, now we know why and when Mike started using a wheelchair and why the second night in Long Beach is not complete. When I first read this part, I, like many, could only have imagined if Mike had recorded the San Diego concert, since the singular source is merely average. Also the story of meeting 3/4 of Led Zeppelin is simply amazing, it’s easy to forget that these “Legends” were  people themselves, the story of watching them eat hamburgers was quite amusing.

Well that brings us to Mike’s recording of the first night in Long Beach on March 11, 1975. As noted above, Mike was well prepared, he tested his new rig weeks before and scouted Led Zeppelin the night before to get the timing right for tapes flips, all that was needed was to execute, and that’s exactly what he did. Mike’s recording of the first night is an amazing completely three dimensional stereo audience recording of the highest caliber. The instruments are vividly clear and perfectly balanced, and the mix of instruments and vocals is perfect, certainly due to the positioning of getting a nice piece of the PA system versus direct sound from the stage. It is recordings like this that makes one prefer an excellent audience source to a soundboard, the effect of being in the arena as the magic happened versus the mostly dry sterility of the soundboard.

This recording has been circulated in the bootleg world for years, first on vinyl as How Many More Times (Moby’s Dick LZ 31175 A-F), a title that ran 15-20% too fast. I first bought this set at a record convention sometime in the mid 80’s, thankfully I had a friend with a stereo system where you could adjust the turntable speed, I messed with the speed till I got what sounded good to my ears and copied to cassette. Needless to say I listened a lot to those tapes, in fact I still have them. The era of compact discs solved that problem and quite a few releases feature Mike’s recording, in no particular order Long Beach Arena Complete (Confusion Records CONFUSE 001), California Graffiti (Masterport TSTC403090/1/2), Long Beach 1975 (Last Stand Disc LSD-31/32/33), Long Beach Arena 1975 Parts 1-3 (Flying Disc CD 6-827/828/829), Pussy And Cock (Tarantura T3CD-6), Long Beach Continuous Performances (Wendy Records WECD 115-117), Zeppelin L (Akashic AKA-7), and California Sunshine (Badgeholder BH008-01-02-03). When a second source began to circulate, a couple titles were released filling a few small gaps in Mike’s recording with the second source, In The Shadow Of Midnight (Empress Valley EVSD-294/295/296) and what many consider the best of the Long Beach releases Bootleg License: Acme Quaalude (Tarantura TCD-77-1,2,3). Since I did mention the soundboard, it should be noted that Empress Valley released this concert from the soundboard as Long Beach Californication (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-523/524/525), a title that was quickly copied by Eelgrass as Long Beach Californication (Eelgrass EGL20232/33/34), The Beachcombers (Scorpio-53), and The American Return (Godfather Records G.F.478/479/480).

Since the JEMS upload, the first to release the new transfer was Long Beach Arena 1975 1st Night Mike Millard Master Cassettes (No Label), a 6 disc set featuring both flat and mastered versions. Moonchild released Cliches And All: Mike Millard Tapes (Moonchild MC-218) and finally the subject of this review, Long Beach 1975 1st Night by the Graf Zeppelin label. Graf decided to go with the flat transfer and do something different as they also present the second audience recording on discs 4-5 for the first time. As a bonus they have added disc 0, basically the first 55 minutes from the previously available first gen master sources. It should also be noted that Tarantura 2000 has released an updated version of their Bootleg License title with certainly one of the new transfer.

Graf Zeppelin have started with the flat transfer and applied just a bit of mastering to help with what they refer to as “digital odor” from Over The Hills And Far Away through The Rain Song as well as cleaning up a small portion of Moby Dick around the 13:18 mark. They also use the second source to fill the non music cuts after The Rain Song, Trampled Underfoot, and Dazed And Confused. The cuts are seamless and well handled, this type of editing does provide the longest source available but is certainly not a necessity. The only CD version of Millard’s recording I’ve got left is the EV title In The Shadow Of Midnight (Empress Valley EVSD-294/295/296) so I’ll use that for comparison. First off I think the original torrent notes by JEMS are an excellent assessment of the Millard recordings, that being is that we have all had quite a few versions of these tapes over the years and have gotten used to, and come to love these earlier transfers. When I compare this new Graf Zeppelin title to the EV I find that the sound is quite similar with the Graf Zeppelin being just a bit louder and has more depth and power coming from better bass frequencies with no increase in tape hiss, one can hear the results of a more modern transfer. It should be noted that this is not the monster upgrade one may expect, but is an upgrade nonetheless.

The first night in Long Beach gets a bit of flack for Plant’s banter and also for, at times, a bit of average playing. For one Page is noticeably out of tune during The Song Remains The Same and his fingers get sticky during Dazed And Confused but overall this is a well played and IMO a very enjoyable concert. Like the first night in LA days later, you get the sense of happiness to be back in Southern California, certainly beginning a tour of the United States in January, and the Midwest portion of the country first made for a cold start. Perhaps it’s just me but I have always liked Plant’s between song comments, my favorite being after The Rain Song, “Ladies and gentlemen, for the benefit of anybody who was making a bootleg there, the twelve string was out of tune on The Song Remains the Same. Hang on a tic. Is that gonna be alright? We gonna ah, we gonna continue with John Paul Jones trying to manipulate a mobile orchestra. John Paul Jones on mellotron. Who, I might add, is looking a little bit harassed by the sounds that are coming out of it. Harassed, excuse me. This song is ah, a song that we created, or it created itself, amongst a lot of chaos and change and yet the song is basically quite a very straight forward, straight thinking thing. Lateral thinking, as my friend James puts it. Ah, this is a song about the wasted land. The land that was once green and fertile. Kashmir.” Lateral Thinking indeed.

For me the highlights in a tasty Over The Hills And Far Away has the band getting into that groove that the song elicits, Jimmy plays a great solo to boot. In My Time Of Dying has become an extremely strong live favorite, Jones and Bonham’s rhythm is powerful only to be punctuated by Page’s incompatible slide playing. I prefer the 1975 versions of Kashmir, the use of the Les Paul over the Danelectro give it a harder edge and the band doesn’t miss the cues that they would during the 77 tour. No Quarter is rather light and while not as ominous as other versions is well played, for me Jones seems rather uninspired and it’s Page that hits it with his solo. Trampled Underfoot is an excellent workout, in fact it is the one song that seems to hit on the entire tour, power personified. My favorite part of this tape is why I first bought the vinyl all those years ago, The Crunge with vocals. This always stuck out to me as I was an attentive reader of the Robert Goodwin Illustrated Collector’s Guide To Led Zeppelin book series. As many times as I have listened to this concert I have not been able to verify The Los Angeles Times Robert Hilburn’s comment of “The music ends up as an empty exercise in sound”, in fact my cup runneth over in glorious sounds.

Another bonus with the Graf set versus the others is the inclusion of the second source as it has not been released on a silver disc prior, save the minor pieces used to fill the between song gaps in Millard’s recording. The sound falls into the very good range, it sounds like the taper was close to the stage as the balance and clarity of the instruments and vocals is really nice. It also has a nice frequency range, the highs are good with a really nice bottom end. Perhaps its biggest detriment is that the hiss is quite noticeable, yet once you adjust it’s easy to get by and overall a very enjoyable recording. Graf does fill a couple of cuts with Millard’s recording, one in No Quarter, two in Moby Dick.

This alternate recording adds a different perspective to the more famous Millard source, you get more of a feel of the depth of the Long Beach Arena as well as a bit more of the atmosphere of the event. The first hour of the concert is not present, the recording begins as John Paul Jones is beginning his piano solo in No Quarter. Listening to this reinforces the assessment of this being a good version of No Quarter, Page’s solo sounds darker in this recording and the song has more of that ominous tone. When Dazed And Confused begins there is a huge ovation that washes over the audience, again a different perspective to the Millard recording, that of a more lively atmosphere. When Plant is introducing Stairway To Heaven as something for those beyond the thrid row, a fan shouts “thank you” in response. After listening to this recording I can only summarize the crowd was way more into the concert than we could gather from Mike’s recording.

The bonus disc, disc 0, is the first hour of the concert from a verified 1st generation transfer, the purpose of this disc is that it does not have the “digital odor” found on the Master > DAT transfer done by Mike’s friend Jim R. This bonus disc does sound excellent and really showcases how good many of the previous transfer were. The sound on this disc rivals the new version, yet while I can hear the “digital odor” it’s not obtrusive to my ears and in all actuality doesn’t really bother me. Curious when I put this in my computer and start my windows media player, the disc title comes up as Acme Quaalude, perhaps this is sourced from the Tarantura Bootleg License? I do not own that title and cannot confirm.

The packaging is typical for Graf Zeppelin, black and white and full color live shots from the actual concert are used for the artwork and all the live shots, save the front cover, are taken from the photos Jim R took. I would have like to have seen more of Jim’s photos on this artwork, they are excellent shots and they also show the vantage point from which this famous recording was made. The first three CDs all have a picture of Page working the Theremin, discs 4 and 5 feature Robert and disc 0 features an alternate shot of Jimmy raising the bow, and the titles on all the discs is “Snowdonia”, consistent with several of the Graf titles, let’s not forget the numbered sticker. There are several version of the new transfer on the market, being a fan of Graf Zeppelin and their tasteful mastering and quality made it an easy decision on what version I was going to buy. After several listens and taking it all in, I feel I made the right choice, that being said I do have a copy of the updated TK Bootleg License coming and am looking forward to listening, and comparing that one as well.

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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