Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, USA – June 11, 1977
Disc 1 (77:49) Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, The Rover / Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, In My Time Of Dying, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter
Disc 2 (51:31) MC, Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, White Summer / Black Mountain Side, Kashmir
Disc 3 (54:28) Out On The Tiles / Moby Dick, Guitar Solo, Achilles Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Heartbreaker
Disc 4 (73:35) The Song Remains The Same, In My Time Of Dying, No Quarter, Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Stairway To Heaven
My first taste of Led Zeppelin’s six night run at Madison Square Gardens in New York did not contain any music played during the concerts themselves but came in the form of an interview Jimmy did with DJ Scott Muni. The story goes Jimmy showed up at WNEW-FM, THE prominent rock radio station in NYC and had a near 40 minute chat with Muni talking about various subjects. Portions of this interview were chopped up for one of those music and interview radio shows called Jimmy Page A Day On The Radio, something I recorded from the radio onto cassette, it then became a popular listen among my friends and we were heavily into the music by this time. Back in the early 80’s I had no real idea about bootlegs but knew I loved live music and regularly used to tape anything Zeppelin related so I had some of the 69 and 71 Zep BBC recordings and the Song Remains The Same soundtrack, but exotic locations like Madison Square Garden and the music played within these houses of the holy would remain in my pipe dreams for another few years.
I never bought any of the early releases of several of the 1977 MSG shows on the TDOLZ label, most described the recordings as fair and poor, in those days I was collecting on a dime and went with more of the sure thing. That brings us to this new title, having only the first and last nights in my collection I jumped on this new title by the Graf Zeppelin folks who present the fourth night in the Garden and boast the most complete version to date. There are five know documents from this concert, three audience recordings, one soundboard recording and one 8mm video source, none of which are complete. Back in 2012 the Scorpio label was the first to release an amalgamation of two audience sources to present as complete a document as possible. Fourth Night In The Garden (Scorpio LZ-09033) uses source 2 as its foundation and uses source 1 for the Kashmir to Heartbreaker and put the soundboard recording on the fourth disc. Last year Wendy released Absence (Wendy WECD 341/342/343), a title that uses the first and most complete source as a basis and uses fragments of sources 2 and 3 plus the SB to fill in gaps and from all accounts, is a mess.
Graf Zeppelin takes a similar road as Scorpio by utilizing the best sounding recording, source 2 as its foundation. Sadly this recording is only the first 126 minutes, from The Song Remains The Same through Kashmir with the cut in No Quarter filled with source 1. A small piece of source 3 is used in Kashmir then source 1 is used for the rest of the concert save for a 40 second snippet of the end of Heartbreaker taken from the 8mm video source, a rare video source with sound. Source 2 has very good to near excellent sound, all instruments and vocals are perfect in the mix and the taper must have been fairly close to the stage as he captured a perfect blend of music and atmosphere. Like most recordings from this era, there are hints of distortion with the only real drawback being occasional conversations between the taper and his girlfriend, even that’s not really a drawback, instead it gives us insight into these events. Source 1 is a solid “good”, taped a bit farther back it has that Garden echo sound like distant audience recordings from this venue have. The distance also makes for a recording that lacks the clarity of source 2 but thankfully the instruments and vocals are clear in the mix but has a more powerful bottom end to it and compliments the main source nicely.
In the past couple of years I have been spending time listening to more 1977 Zeppelin, the audience sources. Like most, much of my 1977 collection is made up from the soundboards and the LA concerts, something that has skewed my appreciation of this tour. After listening to the Chicago, Louisville, Detroit, and Birmingham tapes, has given me new appreciation for the tour and really priming me for more 1977 Zep. The MSG run will never be looked upon in reverence like the LA gigs, sadly as when I listen to the first night soundboard, the final night audience source and now this concert, I come to the same conclusion as others. The Madison Square Garden run in 1977 was on par with the LA run in terms of performance and exceeds it in pure audience adoration of the band. New York City crowds are insane in their devotion, the atmosphere inside The Garden is incredible, I like to picture the live audience shots in The Song Remains The Same movie, when I listen to this concert that is the image that comes to mind.
The fourth night is a very well played concert, a great audience recording will always beat a soundboard, Jimmy’s guitar needs the expanse of the venue to give such a full live sound, something that gets lost on the soundboards. The audience anticipation just prior to The Song Remains The Same is electric, the lights are down as the band take the stage and the opening salvo of Song into Sick Again is slick and powerful. In My Time Of Dying features superb vocals by Robert, he seems in full command of his voice and delivers “Pleeease Lord” with conviction, hence the title of this bootleg.
By the time the band break into Since I’ve Been Loving You, the feeling that is conveyed is lusty. There is something sexy about Jimmy’s playing of the blues classic on this tour, not as intense as earlier version yet as much effective. No Quarter is the centerpiece, the patch at 17:41 to 18:09 is very smooth and well handled. Our hero is a bit chatty at times during Battle Of Evermore and Going To California, the latter finds the intimacy of the performance attacked by a barrage of firecrackers early on. White Summer and Black Mountain Side are well played, certainly far from the intense 1969 versions, this more competent. The transition into Kashmir is very dramatic and washes over the audience like a huge wave, catching the taper and his girlfriend unaware.
Page’s fascination with electronic music makes for an interesting but tedious beginning to his solo segment, one can guess that you had to be there. Once he gets into the bow interlude it becomes more atmospheric as he conjures up sounds summoned from the depths of Boleskine House rising into the laser pyramid over his head, heavy stuff indeed. There are times Jimmy’s Les Paul sounds out of tune during Achilles, it’s just him playing on the edge and the song has a brilliant ending. The first nine minutes are source 3, its sound is in the good range, a bit more muddy than source 1 but clear enough that the instruments and vocals can be clearly heard. Of course Stairway To Heaven is massive as one would expect, the culmination of the concert, Page is fluid in his delivery which is always a good thing. One can only assume the first two encores of Whole Lotta Love and Rock And Roll were played but are not present on any of the circulating sources. The sole encore is an incomplete version of Heartbreaker, the first five minutes are source 1, the last 40 seconds comes from the 8mm video feed and is very good, clear and detailed just a notch below source 2.
The last disc is made up of some interesting material from the other sources not used on the main three discs. The first two songs are mixes of source 2 and 3 with source 3 being the primary source and the 2nd is used to fill the gaps. Shame that source 3 is so fragmentary as it is actually a really nice recording that almost rivals source 2. The next three songs is the 45 minute soundboard fragment with small cuts filled with source 2. The soundboard fragment has circulated for ages on such titles as Silver Coated Rails (Toasted Condor 1981), For Badgeholders Only (Balboa BP95007/8/9), Coast To Coast (Celebration CDM-004LTD), Fourth Night In The Garden (Scorpio LZ-09033), Strange Tales From The Road (The Godfatherecords G.R.365), and most recently as The Last Adieu (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSDB180713-1/2) bonus disc from the 1977 Soundboard Collection box set and its copy The Last Adieu (Eelgrass EGL20270/271).
Graf uses source 2 for the first 3:41 of No Quarter and for the ending of Battle Of Evermore beginning at 5:15 and lasting throughout Robert’s introduction of John Paul Jones singing. I like Graf’s treatment of the soundboard, to my ears it is a bit more pleasing than the Godfather or EV / Eelgrass, and liked that they used source 2 to complete No Quarter. The last song is the source 3 incomplete version of Stairway To Heaven clocking in at 4:37, since they would not have been able to complete it due to disc time, they leave it alone and I prefer it that way.
The packaging is simple yet effective, full color inserts with well known pictures of the band with Jimmy being the focus of the front and back. The CD’s have the same picture of the New York skyline in a different color hue and my edition came with a numbered sticker. For those who already have the Scorpio title, no real need to invest in this title since it covers the same ground in similar sound quality, for completists and those who do not, this title is most appealing.