Plays Black Beauty (Tarantura TCD-228 Stage Edition)
Carnegie Hall, New York City, NY, USA – October 17, 1969
Disc 1 (78:04) Introduction, Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown, Tune Up, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Heartbreaker, Dazed And Confused, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, How Many More Times
Disc 2 (78:04) Introduction, Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown, Tune Up, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Heartbreaker, Dazed And Confused, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, What Is And What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, How Many More Times
Plays Black Beauty is the Tarantura labels version of The Dogs of Doom Liberation Series Volume 22, Led Zeppelin’s famous concert at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall. There have been several titles released featuring the singular incomplete audience recording of the first of two concerts played to start the Fourth tour of North America in the fall of 1969. This new recording has certainly garnered a lot of attention with all the major players getting into the mix releasing the following titles, At Carnegie Hall (Wendy WECD-401/402), Carnegie Hall 1969 (No Label), Carnegie Hall 1969 (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-1582) and its budget reissue Empire State Of Mind (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-ALIAS-048/049), Black Beauty Carnegie Hall 1969 Early Show (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-1017A/B), and Starting Show Of North American Tour Autumn 1969 (Wisteria Records WISCD-012).
Tarantura has followed the format used by Graf Zeppelin by releasing the recording as a two disc set, the first disc is the raw version, the second is a remastered version. I’ll once again be using my Graf Zeppelin Black Beauty Carnegie Hall 1969 Early Show (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-1017A/B) title for comparison. The first CD of the Graf title and first disc of this new set from Tarantura sound quite similar and well represent the original tape source. The second disc of both set is where we hear the differences in mastering. Both labels went for the same idea, boost the highs and try and reduce the boominess of the original recording. The Tarantura title is a bit clearer and less distorted but the upper frequencies at times are too thin, the Graf Zeppelin has a warmer feel with a tad more of the lower frequencies giving it an edge with a more natural sound. This is certainly a personal preference as the Tarantura sounds really, really good, the mastering by Enigma is up to their high standards.
To play a venue like Carnegie Hall was a big honor and a huge accomplishment for the band, Robert had this to say “It is a big prestige thing, being asked to play there. You have to wait until you’re asked to play at the hall by a committee that runs the place. I don’t know why they asked us. Could they think us a nice group?”. A virtual who’s who of popular music in the Forties and Fifties have played there, the 2,800 seat Hall was certainly considered hallowed ground for drummer John Bonham who reportedly said “This is it lads, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, they’ve all played here so I’d better be good tonight”. The invitation to play Carnegie Hall is what prompted Peter Grant to set up the three week tour, there was certainly a demand for the group, such was the whirlwind year of 1969.
“Oh wow look at those pants” is either the taper or his wingman’s response to the band taking the stage, Jimmy had on some shiny silver pants and a pink shirt, or was it salmon color. The band receive a huge ovation, Robert greets them with “How are you?” and there is a tape cut followed by Robert explaining the need for a tune up, he has to play a note on his harmonica to assist Jimmy. They finally get going and tear into the Good Times Bad Times opening segue to Communication Breakdown, the middle section of the latter has Jimmy play a bit of what very closely sounds like Hendrix’ Third Stone From The Sun, at times almost seems like he is listening to the tuning of his guitar being not quite right. After the song there is a long pause while he again tunes his guitar and Robert says “Thank you something wrong with the PA which would explain…We’d like to with something off our first album written by Willie Dixon. This is called I Can’t Quit You…sorry about the delay”. The story went that the band was late getting into NYC and some of their gear was rented, certainly not Jimmy’ guitar. After a minute and a half they get it together for a crushing version of I Can’t Quit You, Jimmy rips into his leads, extremely fluent and quite fast.
More tuning follows as does a devastating version of Heartbreaker that sounds quite like the studio version except with an incredible guitar solo and a small bit of tuning, Jimmy is taking no prisoners and is almost relentless in his attack. Once Jimmy gets tuned again Dazed And Confused begins proper, the audience give his Wah effects pedal a massive ovation, they know what is coming, Jimmy’s Tour De Force. The song is well played, much has been said about his guitar tone in this recording, this song is one such example. There is just the right amount of distortion present that gives it a nasty yet ominous sound, late 1969 versions of Dazed are excellent, very focused with Page changing the mood at will. This version starts off rather standard, it does not end that way, Jimmy uses the light and shade concept to create a tense feel, your waiting for him to explode yet he keeps it toned back, the tension remains until the end.
White Summer / Black Mountain Side is very well captured in this recording, without the full band playing the instrumental piece takes full advantage of the venues acoustics, you even pick up a bit of hall echo. About 9:36 in Jimmy plays a small bit of what would become part of his Swan Song instrumental which eventually morphed into Midnight Moonlight. The audience is quiet at the beginning of What Is And What Should Never Be, like Heartbreaker is close to the studio version, at this time still days away from being released. This version finds Robert’s vocals mellow, singing versus going for that early raw power. Even Jimmy’s slide solo gives that mellow feel, killer version. The taper managed to capture John Bonham’s complete drum solo, Moby Dick, and it’s a testament to his quote earlier in this review, he rises to the occasion and plays not only a bombastic solo, but a well paced course in rhythmic percussion. The instrumental intro is a bit off kilter, certainly new to the repertoire the band struggle a bit with the timing, brought a smile to my face thinking of them thinking “how does this go again?”. John has the audience eating out of his hand, they are very into it and respond constantly as if telling him “Yeah Bonzo Yeah”, he gets some pretty complimentary whistles as well, a real joy to listen too. As mentioned How Many More Times cuts at the 3:25 mark, a bummer as by this time your ready to continue the ride.
Tarantura employs their standard gatefold sleeve and uses two different artwork selections, a stage edition and a blimp edition, I went for the live shot “Stage” edition, each cover is a limited edition of 69 numbered copies, mine is 68. The interior has live shots from Carnegie Hall, the rear cover has the ad placed for Jimmy’s missing Black Beauty Les Paul after it went missing during the Fifth American tour in April 1970. These limited edition Tarantura titles sell out very quickly and for good reason, the sound quality and packaging are excellent which equates to another excellent Led Zeppelin title from the premier Japanese label.