City Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne and Wear, UK – June 20, 1969
Disc 1 (45:31) Introduction, The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Unknown Music Featuring Robert Plant’s Harmonica, You Shook Me
Disc 2 (56:05) Pat’s Delight, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown. Mothers, Birmingham, West Midlands, UK – March 22, 1969: The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused. Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD, USA – May 25, 1969: Whole Lotta Love
Disc 3 (45:12) Led Zeppelin US Promo White Label LP – Good Times Bad Times, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, You Shook Me, Dazed And Confused, Your Time Is Gonna Come, Black Mountain Side, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, How Many More Times
The City of Newcastle upon Tyne had a special place in the history of Led Zeppelin, the band played their first UK gig there in October 1968, before even having a record contract. The band played in the city every year until 1972 and from the tapes from the years, seems like they were well received in the city that spawned Newcastle Brown Ale. The earliest known recording from the venerable city took place in the summer of 1969, the band played seven concerts, recorded three BBC sessions, a TV Broadcast and spent time in the recording studio working on musical ideas for their second LP, all in the span of the month of June.
This release from Graf Zeppelin, actually a second press, collects several live recordings from the time period. First is the recording from Newcastle. The audience source is fair, overloaded, distorted, and hissy yet is thankfully clear enough to decipher what is going on. This is a recording that needs bootlegs ears, once I put it on, I found it strangely listenable and after several listens I had no issue. The performance is excellent, in fact the distorted sound makes it even more heavy, the live sound of the band pummels the tape recorder! There have been two other releases of this concert, Blighty (Tarantura 2000 TCD-13-1/2), and A Decree Of Love (Wendy 126/127).
The recording begins with Robert asking everybody to relax and enjoy it followed by John Bonham’s drum count in leading into The Train Kept A Rollin’, the first 30 seconds are the worst, after that it distorts less. Train is powerful and the band clicks from the word go, it segues into the slow blues of I Can’t Quit You. Page seems to solo effortlessly, I love the way he goes from solo to heavy riff into a slow blues all within seconds. The distortion follows John Paul Jones’ bass runs, you get a feel for how important the strong bass was to the British electric blues. Dazed and Confused is excellent, I have not listened to any early Zeppelin in some time, you forget how powerful a 12 minute Dazed can be. Plant and Page’s call and response is clear and enjoyable, the bow solo just gets right into it and the fast section is incredible, four musicians locked in at a furious pace, typically great 1969 version of the song.
Robert introduces Clive Coulson all the way from New Zealand to a nice round of applause, he had just come to England and began working for the band. Jimmy’s tour de force White Summer / Black Mountain Side follows, Page is typically excellent on these early versions, I love the pacing especially the part where he would later break into Kashmir, he understood the dynamic of speed then abrupt stoppage. Robert asks for a Harmonica from the audience, once one is secured he tries it then Bonzo gets right on it and the band play a quick ditty. You Shook Me is devastating and it sounds like Page is trying to mimic bird calls with his wah pedal, quite interesting. I like the versions with bass versus organ, Plant makes good use of the borrowed harp as well.
Plant’s introduction for Bonham’s drum solo, Pat’s Delight is on the tail end of the first disc as well as the beginning of the second. The intro sounds a bit like Page was not paying attention, the drums sound distant for the solo and Bonzo succeeds to getting the audience into it, they cheer loudly several times during his 12 minute featurette. How Many More Times is a typical set highlight, this version certainly meets that bill. The band introductions make the group feel welcome, the response is deafening. The medley is short yet features a couple unique and rare songs bits, first is a reference to the Yardbird’s Over Under Sideways Down, followed by a little three way call and response between Jimmy, Robert and Bonzo that leads into Donovan’s There Is A Mountain. The boogie that follows is totally distorted and difficult to discern and leads into Rosie then the Hunter. The final crescendo has the audience screaming for more, Robert tells the audience of the hard work they have done in America and tells the audience he thinks it’s the best gig they have done in England and the audience response is deafening. The band hammer into a high voltage bit of rock and roll with Communication Breakdown, the song has the funky middle part where they get into James Brown’s It’s Your Thing, something they would also do a few days later for their hour long BBC session. Really good performance if you can get past the sound.
The next 12 minutes is from a hometown gig for Robert and Bonzo at the famous Mother’s Club in Birmingham, England. It is an audience source of very good quality especially for being early 1969. The instruments and vocals are very clear and detailed although Robert’s vocals sound like he is in a chamber, the small venue certainly plays a part. There has also been only two prior releases of this tape, Blighty (Tarantura 2000 TCD-13-1/2), and A Decree Of Love (Wendy 126/127), these two 1969 tapes appeared around the same time and makes sense to combine them. The recording begins with Train already in progress although very little is lost, the song grabs the listener like these early versions do and the transition into I Can’t Quit You Baby sounds as if the band is in isolation, there is no audience reaction at all. There is only 2:35 of Dazed And Confused, sadly there is no more of the recording and it’s hard to get a gauge due to its fragmentary nature.
The final song of the second disc is the Whole Lotta Love fragment from the Merriweather Post in May 1969. The band was opening for The Who and the song is the only one recorded by the taper, thankfully so. The recording is a distant recording that has some distortion in the bass frequencies yet is clear, the drums are buried as well. There have been a few releases of the song, Red Snapper Deluxe (Balboa BP-95010/11), Anybody Got A Les Paul? (Equinox EX-00-020), Miami Image Club (Wendy-263-264), A Decree Of Love (Wendy 126/127), and Whole Lotta Love (Tarantura 25-3-69). I have the old Balboa title and after putting it on, this Graf Zeppelin sounds better and does not suffer the drop outs the Balboa does, big surprise.
There is a bonus disc in the set, a needle drop of a white label promo copy of the first record. I don’t buy needle drops as it’s just not my thing, but it sounds great as one would expect. I did also throw on my 2014 remaster and that sounds damn good also.
The packaging is color inserts featuring a colorized version of the famous Hindenburg disaster as well as small pictures of a ticket stub and poster for the Newcastle gig and Merriweather gig poster as well. There is an insert for the bonus LZ I record showing the white label marked “sample copy not for sale”. All three discs are housed in a fat boy jewel case. Recordings like this are for the serious collector, for those who dare you get a collection of rare material not commonly found, and for me filled a gap in my collection.