Led Zeppelin – Soars On Buffalo 1969 (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-1030A/B)

Soars On Buffalo 1969 (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-1030A/B)

Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, USA – October 30, 1969

Disc 1 (53:49) Introduction, Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Heartbreaker, Dazed And Confused, White Summer incl. Black Mountain Side, What Is And What Should Never Be

Disc 2 (68:56) MC, Moby Dick, How Many More Times. Bonus Trax: Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Kansas, USA – November 5, 1969: Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Heartbreaker, Dazed And Confused, How Many More Times

Led Zeppelin’s fourth American tour began on October 17, 1969 with two concerts at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City. The 15 date tour would see Zeppelin returning to the larger markets like New York City, Boston, Seattle, Toronto, and Detroit before ending proper in San Francisco. The tour also featured the band hitting smaller markets, Springfield, MA, Syracuse, NY, Kitchener, Ontario as well as Buffalo, NY and Kansas City. The tour would coincide with the release of the second album, Led Zeppelin II on October 22 and the band would feature two songs from the record in their sets. The tour was also notable for the inclusion of a few bars of Good Times Bad Times as a prelude to Communication Breakdown, an extremely dynamic and heavy way to open the concerts.

This new title from Graf Zeppelin explores two of these concerts featuring the singular incomplete recordings from the Buffalo and Kansas City stops, both recordings have been released before. First off is the Buffalo concert, approximately 81 minutes exist from this concert and in very good quality. The taper was reasonable close to the stage and the sound is clear and detailed with a bit of distortion and tape hiss. John Paul Jones’ bass is deep and rich in this recording and does cause a bit of the distortion, the atmosphere of the event is well captured, this is a very enjoyable concert. Titles featuring a portion of this concert are Pat’s Delight (Tecumseh TRC-001), Buffalo Sixtynine (New Plastic Records NP 55002), Long Tall Sally (Tarantura T2CD-3) and Headliner (Magnificent Disc MD-6901). The Tarantura 2K title When A Glass Was Thrown (Tarantura TCD-75-1,2) is the only title to feature the complete recording.

I’ve got Buffalo Sixtynine and When A Glass Was Thrown for comparison, I have not listened to the New Plastic Records version of the Buffalo tape in years. The volume is lower as are the bass frequencies as well as the tape hiss making for a thin listen. In fact much of the sound spectrum is reduced but overall is still more than listenable. The label cut out What Is And What Should Never Be and Moby Dick to allow it to fit on the single CD. The Tarantura title features the complete recording and sounds very good, the label applied a gentle mastering to reduce the tape hiss and bass frequencies just a bit. In comparison, this new Graf Zeppelin sounds most like the original tape, it has a bit more hiss than the Tarantura as well as the bass being deeper yet has a slightly fuller sound with a better punch so to speak, once the recording settles in it sounds better to my ears, but just marginally.

The concert itself is a superb example of late 1969 Led Zeppelin. As stated in almost every review of concerts from this period, the opening intro of Good Times Bad Times into Communication Breakdown is incredibly exciting. One could only image seeing the band walk onstage and plow into the simple yet heavy opening riff only to segue into a blistering Communication Breakdown, instead of light and shade, slow and fast, ying and yang. The one song that is an absolute necessity is I Can’t Quit You Baby, while the structure and length has not really differed over the year, the band play it as if they know it like the back of their hand, Page freely goes from riff to lead and back effortlessly and is a complete joy to listen to. This version is made famous by the punter who throws a glass and prompts a response from Robert that is priceless.

Heartbreaker made its live debut earlier in the month at the Paris show, the band stick to a version close to the one found on the LP, yet is primal in its fury and already a heavy, dynamic piece of music. Dazed And Confused is an incredible journey slammed into its 20 minutes, the bow solo is eerie with Plant moaning over Jimmy’s bowed effect and the fast section that follows is exhilarating in its speed and fluency. Jones and Bonham lock in tightly and at times their synchronicity leads to distortion in the best possible way. White Summer / Black Mountain Side is typically wonderful, you can hear a bit of Midnight Moonlight in the piece, Jimmy’s early tour de force. Like Heartbreaker, What Is And What Should Never Be sounds close to the recorded version, the band would never venture far from that structure.

The last song from Led Zeppelin II is Moby Dick, the intro of the drum solo is much improved over the previous one, Pat’s Delight, heavy and bludgeoning. It’s funny to hear Page never quite nailing a certain little part of the intro. The taper takes some time during the middle part to look over his equipment so about a minute of the sound is muffled and has some mic rustling going on. How Many More Times features the obligatory band introduction by Robert to introduce the piece, and the song is sadly cut about 12 minutes in so while we get a good chunk of How Many More Times the song, we do not get the medley save for a bit of The Hunter. Nonetheless, the Buffalo 1969 concert is a great document of Led Zeppelin in late 1969.

The recording from Kansas City is a lesser circulated tape, early versions of the recording were found on the titles Birth Of The Gods (BP-0001), Tales From 69 (Tarantura NO. 69-3-1-3), Centralien (Wendy WECD-212/213), and Image Club 1969 (Wendy WECD-263/264). I first heard this recording shortly after reading about it in Luis Rey’s Led Zeppelin Live The Final Edition. At the time I had two volumes of Mr. Rey’s book and from reading had known of Susan Hedricks who helmed the Oh! Jimmy fanzine and attended this concert. I had purchased the Birth Of The Gods title around this time and when I first heard the recording I actually felt bad, here the one concert you see by Zeppelin was recorded and it sounded like, well shit. The Birth Of The Gods is another title I had not listened to in a very long time, the Fillmore West tracks that made up the beginning of the disc had long been expanded and improved.

With what I assumed was below average, I never bothered to keep up on the Kansas City recording, and when I first heard the version found on this title I was quite shocked. This upgraded version of the tape actually sounds really good, it’s hard to believe it is the same recording. The Balboa sounds thin and shrill and suffers from sound fluctuations throughout. The vocals and guitar are clear in the mix with Jones’ bass a bit back and Bonham’s drums low in the mix. The version found on this new Graf Zeppelin title sounds very good, the frequency range is much better and the sound fluctuations are almost non existent. The sound is clearer as well, with the vocals, bass, and guitar clean in the mix, Bonham’s drums are at times inaudible and at times discernible. The sound, while still thin, no longer has that shrill hollow sound found on the Balboa title. It is not much easier on the ears but is really an enjoyable interesting 40 minute fragment.

I do not own any other version of this concert save for Balboa and cannot speak for the other titles listed. This concert is unique for a couple reasons, first off Bonzo was supposed to be really drunk during one of the Kansas City performances, it would be hard to tell if this is the once, the recording only provides glimpses into his playing. The band was also using rented gear as their instruments were shipped directly to San Francisco following their concert in what I would assume Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. That being said it is a testament that they sounded really well. The Balboa title states this concert was recorded from the fifth row on a Nagra reel to reel deck, while the sound does move around a bit it does pick up the atmosphere of the event quite well. There are cuts between songs as well.

The band played two shows that night and it is not known which one this is from, based upon information found on the Led Zeppelin Data Base website, there lists four opening acts so one wonders how long Led Zeppelin actually played for. We get a real meat and potatoes version of the performance, another great opening of Good Times Bad Times intro into Communication Breakdown into I Can’t Quit You followed by a bombastic Heartbreaker. Bonzo is not heard at the beginning of Dazed And Confused until he crashes in following Robert’s first set of lyrics, this makes for an interesting albeit unique start. The bow solo is very lackluster and sounds like Page did not have his arsenal of effects to utilize, it comes to an unceremonious close and a rather pregnant pause before Jones starts the fast section himself. The band play a short abridged 12 minute version of the song as they can’t seem to get it together properly. You can hear Bonzo a lot during How Many More Times although it gives the impression he is falling behind a bit and seems to take it out on his cymbals, perhaps the story of his intoxication are correct or perhaps it is the frustration of being on rented gear. We do get the entire abbreviated medley on this tape, The Hunter, Boogie Chillun’ and Move On Down The Line, and the whole song clocks in at just over 12 minutes. 

The packaging is typical for much of the Japanese titles, inserts adorned mostly posed shots of the band. There are a couple of live shots, the one of Robert looks to be from one of the Kansas City concerts. The standards are a numbered sticker and picture discs as well, the typical fare we all have come to love. For those who have the Tarantura version of Buffalo, there is probably no reason to invest in this title as the sound improvement is marginal and certainly a choice of taste. For those who do not have this concert in their collection, if you choose to get this title you will be in for a treat, it’s primal 1969 Led Zeppelin at their best.

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