Led Zeppelin – Maple Leaf Gardens (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-971A/B/C/D)

Maple Leaf Gardens (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-971A/B/C/D)

Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada – September 4, 1971

Disc 1 (69:45) Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day, That’s The Way, Going To California

Disc 2 (54:36) What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown, Organ Solo, Thank You

Disc 3 (71:52) Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick (fragment), Since I’ve Been Loving You (Outro edit), Black Dog (Intro edit)

Disc 4 (60:29) Stairway To Heaven, Celebration Day, That’s The Way, Going To California, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick. Stereo Matrix Version: Celebration Day, Celebration Day, Celebration Day

Back in the very early 90s, I, like many others, picked up copies of two bootlegs from the Scorpio label, Studio Daze and Jennings Farm Blues. These titles were my first taste of high quality Led Zeppelin studio outtakes plus a couple live soundboard fragments. The longer of these two soundboard fragments came from the September 4, 1971 concert at Toronto’s famed Maple Leaf Gardens, the quality was excellent and equaled the Cleveland 77 soundboard in terms of quality. These two CDs by Scorpio were and still are great titles to own. It was years later before I got Maple Leaf on the Baby Face label and was able to listen to the (nearly) complete Toronto concert thanks to the very good audience recording. Over the years there would be other titles to feature the Toronto audience and soundboard recordings, the latest is the Graf Zeppelin label who present the most comprehensive release of all three known recordings in one package.

The first two discs contain the longer and better audience recording, it is a very good audience source that is clear and detailed albeit just slightly distant from the stage. All the instruments and vocals are clear in the mix and there is the occasional bit of distortion in the lower frequencies and just a bit of tape hiss. The recording is incomplete, the taper paused his tape machine between songs and there are gaps in Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dazed And Confused, Moby Dick, and in the Organ Solo and Thank You encore. This recording has been released on a few titles over the years, Live From The Midnight Sun (The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin TDOLZ 189701/2), Maple Leaf (Baby Face BF-9601-A/B), and Mid Summer Nights Dream (Wendy WECD 358/359/360) all contain this recording. Empress Valley was the first label to utilize the second audience recording and the soundboard to present the most complete version of the concert yet, Maple Leaf Gardens (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD 408/9) was issued in 2007 and 2009 and renamed again in 2013 as Maple Leaf Gold, all releases sharing the same matrix number.

First off I listened to the Babyface title, the sound level is lower as is the tape hiss but the sound is very clear, less bottom end, Baby Face only released four titles and its surprising how well they have aged. The Empress Valley is louder and still maintains the clarity but when I compare this to the Graf Zeppelin it sounds similar in volume but is flat sounding, the Graf Zeppelin has a much better frequency range, more depth and sounds just better than both Baby Face and Empress Valley. Graf has filled the cuts in Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dazed And Confused, and What Is And What Should Never Be with source 2, the patches are seamless and well done. Their mastering is also well done, enhancing without over doing it, the premium labels should certain take a listen to how things should sound.

The third disc is the second audience source making its inaugural appearance on CD in its complete form. The recording is approximately 58 minutes long, it falls into the good range, it’s more distant than the first source and while it is clear enough with the guitar and vocals well defined, the bass tends to muddy the drums although you can hear them. This source has been used to fill small gaps in Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dazed And Confused, and What Is And What Should Never Be on discs one and two of this set as well as the gaps on the first disc of the Empress Valley titles. Like the first recording, the taper paused between songs and made good work on filling up what I can assume was a 60 minute tape. The last two tracks on CD feature Since I’ve Been Loving You with a couple seconds of audience noise added to the end of the song from source 1 to make the original tape cut sound not as jarring. They also added about 3.5 seconds of source 1 for the beginning of Black Dog to complete the song.

The fourth CD features the excellent soundboard recording that originally surfaced in 1990 on the (still) excellent Jennings Farm Blues (Scorpio JFB 64-10-170) title. The soundboard has made appearances on other titles such as Zoso’s Back To Rock And Roll (Oh Boy 2-9095), Hampton In Your Palm (Wendy WECD-96/97), High Heeled Sneakers (The Godfatherecords G.R. 352/353), Madison Square Garden 1971 (Neverland NL-011/012/013/014), and the Empress Valley Maple Leaf Gardens and Maple Leaf Gold titles (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD 408/9). When I compare the Graf Zeppelin to both the Scorpio and Empress Valley it is Graf who easily comes out on top. The sound is cleaner with a much better top end giving it a much needed slightly brighter sound, the overall depth of the sound sounds much better as well. The notes on the rear cover states this version was a remastered version from the original Scorpio title, amazing job! The last three songs are matrix versions of Celebration Day. The first two versions feature the first two audience recordings, the sound is really nice and the use of both tapes in the matrix gives them more depth and dimension not found on the singular sources, both feature source 1 with slightly different levels of source 2 added. The last version is both audience sources matrix with the soundboard, to me this version has too much of the audience sources, it tends to overtake the soundboard.

The date in Toronto comes a day after the infamous evening at Madison Square Garden where the crazed NYC audience could not contain themselves with many trying to get onstage at the concerts end. Led Zeppelin had issues with crowds on many of their tours, so after a crazy night in New York, they can relax in the home of the famed NHL team the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the band’s playing is not quite as intense as the NYC show, it is an excellent performance in its own right. Prior to the Toronto concert, the band received Gold album awards for Canadian sales of Led Zeppelin III, Rock Journalist and Led Zeppelin supporter Ritchie York would MC the concert and write this review:

The small sleek jet zooming Led Zeppelin into Toronto for a one-nighter was almost two hours late. When the jet finally touched down on Canadian soil, after a 55-minute flight from New York, there was less an hour to hustle through customs, climb into two chauffeured limousines and whisk through 15 miles of congested traffic before arriving at the backstage doors at the huge Maple Leaf Gardens. The private jet waited on the tarmac in Toronto while the group swept superbly through more than two hours of concert and then rushed back to the airport to fly on to Chicago. Less than five hours on Canadian soil for a fee of more than $50,000.

The latest Led Zeppelin tour – their fifth – includes only 20 gigs, but it will gross in excess of a million dollars. It will also substantially help to sell at least two million copies of the band’s new album which will be released within four weeks and is NOT called “Led Zeppelin 4”.

Before over 17,000 fans at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, the group performed three of the cuts from their new LP and they were all well received. But it was the familiar material – the rock classics such as You Shook Me, Communication Breakdown, Dazed and Confused, and the masterpiece Whole Lotta Love – which drew the heftiest applause. Despite the oft-heralded downfall of hard rock, Led Zeppelin is living, loving proof that although James Taylor is doing fine, he has quite a way to go before reaching the superstar success level of Zep or their U.S. counterparts, Grand Funk. Led Zeppelin drew their reportedly largest rock crowd (over 20,000) in Vancouver’s history a week before; they sold out Madison Square Garden in New York and they smashed box office records across the continent, proving yet again that the current scene has no act to come within a country mile of their popularity. We eventually arrived at the Gardens half an hour late, and Page was clearly concerned about the group’s lack of punctuality. People were pouring into the dressing room and talking louder and louder as Page tried to tune his axe to John Paul Jones’ bass. The noise had reached a distinct drone when Page suddenly turned around and told everyone to please leave. The road managers hustled around and cleared the room of all but a couple of people, which didn’t include a photographer who came down to snap the group receiving numerous Canadian gold disc awards. When Page and Jones completed their tuning, Bonham changed clothes and swigged from a bottle of beer, Plant downed a couple of lemon teas and squeezed into an embroidered vest which barely covered the upper half of his mid riff. Then surrounded by Police and security men, they hastened out of the dressing room and climbed up on to the nine foot stage which was presumably designed to keep the faithful at bay. After two encores and 140 minutes of music, the group climbed off stage, and jumped into the limousines and sped back to their jet.
(Ritchie Yorke, Sept. 1971)

The performance in Toronto, as many others have said, is certainly not as intense as let’s say Los Angeles, New York City, or Berkeley but it is still a well played concert. The opening of Immigrant Song and Heartbreaker are fluent and very exciting. Since I’ve Been Loving You is good, not great and features a mournful rendition from Robert, there’s times his vocals sound exactly like the last Osaka date, again nothing shocking there. Dazed And Confused is really good, the band just do not really push it at anytime, and Robert sings a really nice version of Stairway, the first half of Jimmy’s solo is great but it finishes on an average note.

It’s very difficult to tell the atmosphere inside The Garden, with all the cuts between songs it is almost impossible to gauge the audiences reactions, although judging by Robert’s introduction to That’s The Way, it sounds like they are rather noisy making for again, just an average acoustic set. Led Zeppelin played incredibly well in 1971 so it’s hard to say their playing is bad, it’s not, it’s overall really good. Certainly the events in New York have worn on them, and there would be more to come once the band returns to Boston. Curiously the only time you really get a feel of the audience is during Whole Lotta Love, there are a couple places where the crowd makes their presence felt. Like I said, I have not heard a 1971 concert I have not liked, perhaps Milan and that is mainly due to the really fragmented recording. If I was to rank the LA, NYC, and Berkeley shows as 10s, this one would be an 7.5, if the crowd noise was present you would think that the number would even rise.

Graf Zeppelin has packaged all four CDs in a fat boy jewel case featuring artwork adorned with pictures of Led Zeppelin circa 1971, the cover and interior rear tray shots are from the actual Toronto show which is very nice. The CDs all share a common photo with the cover of the set, the rear inner tray features a reproduction of the concert advertisement as well as a newspaper review, and let’s not forget the numbered sticker. This title is not only a very nice upgrade over the older sources, it is a comprehensive overview of all three sources available for the Toronto 1971 show and should be considered the last word on this concert…an excellent release.

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