The Awesome Foursome (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-523A/B/C/D/E/F)
Earls Court Arena, London, U.K. – May 23, 1975
Disc 1 (58:48) Introduction, Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir
Disc 2 (63:20) MC, No Quarter, Tangerine, Going To California, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Trampled Under Foot
Disc 3 (58:04) MC, Moby Dick, Dazed And Confused
Disc 4 (78:36) MC, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog. Extra Trax: Alternate Mono Recording: Tangerine, Going To California, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog
Disc 5 (74:30) Rock And Roll, Sick Again, Over The Hills And Far Away, In My Time Of Dying, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir, Tangerine, Going To California, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Disc 6 (63:20) MC, Trampled Under Foot, Dazed And Confused, Applause / MC, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog
This review has been in the works for a few weeks now, there is a book that I used in reference for this show and will continue to use for the foreseeable future, the book is Evenings With Led Zeppelin by Dave Lewis and Mark Tremaglio, the new revised edition. I have been readings Dave’s books since I first got The Final Acclaim back in the late 80’s and have enjoyed many, The Concert File, Then As It Was, and A Feather In The Wind to name a few. Not only are these books filled with a wealth of information on the band and their music, but there is a passion within the words that comes through. Perhaps his greatest achievement (to date) is the Evenings With Led Zeppelin book, 624 pages of their entire touring history complete with reviews, venue information, and a bootleg reference. A stunning tome and one that people who read this site will certainly enjoy. The information in this book is equaled to the inspiration it gives me, in this season of giving, I want to give my thanks and praise to this book, Dave and Mark…Eye Thank Yew!
The five night run at Earl’s Court Arena is considered the pinnacle of the band in the United Kingdom, all five nights were sold out 17,000 fans per concert all to see the mighty Led Zeppelin. The band spared no expense for the shows bringing over their staging and light show from North America and the massive Showco sound system, making money was not the goal, giving the best presentation of their music was. The Earl’s Court Arena was a notoriously difficult venue to stage concerts due to its poor acoustics, although based upon the recordings of Pink Floyd’s 1973 concerts, they had no problem. The recordings from Led Zeppelin’s run range from average to excellent, all seem to have the same sound of venue acoustics, even the soundboards. When you hear the audience applause between songs, you know it’s an Earl’s Court recording.
Before the soundboards surfaced of the fourth and fifth nights, all we had were the audience recordings. One of the first complete concerts to circulate was the third night thanks to a wonderful 4LP box set entitled The Awesome Foursome (The World Joker JMP 9 A-H), this deluxe release even came with a replica of the original program. This release was culled from source 1, a very good to excellent audience recording, this same recording was used for the majority of the compact disc editions including Arabesque & Baroque The Third Night (Antrabata Reference Master ARM 230575), Physical Express (Jelly Roll JR 16/17/18/19), Express (Scorpio LZ-09033-01/02/03/04), Thunderstorm (Tarantura T4CD-5-1-4), Welcome To The Show (The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin TDOLZ Vol. 79), Complete Earl’s Court Arena Tapes III (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-101/102/103/104), Earl’s Court The Final Option – Awesome Foursome (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-882/883/884/885), and La Dolce Vita (Wendy Records WECD-316/317/318/319). There are two other sources, source 2 clocks in at 140 minutes and was used as the basis for the two releases from Tarantura, The Rites Of Manhood (Tarantura TCD-112-1/2/3/4), and Five Glorious Daze: Please Welcome To Earl’s Court (Tarantura TCD-163-1/2/3/4). The third recording, referred to as source 3 is a very good audience source and is the longest and most complete recording of the three and has never been released, until now.
This new release from Graf Zeppelin is another packed release with the first four discs being source 1 with gaps filled by source 2 and 3 presenting the complete performance. Filler on CD 4 is a 51 minute portion of source three and the last two CDs are the complete source two recording. I have two releases of this concert, Arabesque & Baroque The Third Night (Antrabata Reference Master ARM 230575) has been in my collection for nearly twenty years. I also have Awesome Foursome (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-882/883/884/885), part of the massive Empress Valley 31 disc box set covering all five Earl’s Court concerts. The sound comparison for the main source 1 will be easy, of my two older versions, the Antrabata is clearly the superior version as EV tweaked their version for the top end too much. This new Graf Zeppelin title is a significant upgrade in sound over both Antrabata and Empress Valley, the Graf title is louder, clearer with the individual instruments more defined in the mix, the recording has a punch to it now and the dynamics of the music shines through. This recording maintains excellent sound throughout, all the instruments are clearly heard and defined in the mix.
The band start off in strong form with powerful renditions of their standard opening salvo of Rock And Roll followed by Sick Again, Robert’s voice is in good shape but typically doesn’t push the start, his posturing fills in the gaps. Jimmy is playing well, his solos are decently fluent and the rhythm section is spot on, the band aims to please. The recording begins a bit bass heavy but quickly clears and levels off nicely. “Good evening… I said good evening! Last weekend we did a couple of warm up gigs for these three this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We believe that these were the first three gigs to be sold out…yeah? So these must be the ones, these must be the ones with the most energy stored up, right? You’ve been waiting, so we intend to tell you a little story about what’s been going on since we were babies, and the story starts as we look Over the Hills and Far Away”. The band play one of the better versions of this song from this run, Jimmy’s solo is excellent, even better than the more famous version from the next night. The recording is really astounding, even from the very start.
Robert is harassed by a noisy amplifier as he is introducing In My Time Of Dying, referring to it as an “Earth tune”. The instrumental parts of this version are excellent, all three musicians play with a loose yet confined area, Jones’ bass runs are quite tasty and John seems to be having a lot of fun all while Jimmy is busy with his slide meanderings, they even get into the You Shook Me snippet towards the end, would love to hear a bit more of it, the slide always seem to give that a cool vibe. Very nice versions of The Song Remains The Same and The Rain Song, the latter sounds very intimate certainly due to the closeness of the recording and the hall echo, nonetheless well played. I much prefer the 1975 versions of Kashmir to the 77-80 ones, Page used a Les Paul which gives the piece a heavier more dense feel that lends itself to the mystical nature the song invokes, the keyboards don’t sound so wimpy either.
John Paul Jones is referred to as the “Maestro”, his piano at the beginning of No Quarter is very quiet in the mix for the first 1:45 before it appears back in the mix, Jimmy’s guitar is front and center which sounds great, a fair trade in my book. Jones’ piano solo is wonderful, it’s easy to sometimes forget how talented he truly is, he works his way through touching on several themes without straying far from the eeriness of No Quarter. Once Bonzo and Jimmy join in the tempo increases until Page takes over the center spot, his solo is wonderfully played, slow and building in its journey without getting too intense, that he will save for the following evenings version. He certainly has perfected the use of the Theremin, it adds to the atmosphere as they break back into the song proper. I have always love the 1975 versions of No Quarter, the Earls Court stand being among the very best.
Robert’s introduction to Tangerine has him speaking of love, very heartfelt as the bands families were in attendance, the version of the song is superb, the full versions are lush sounding compared to their 1972 acoustic counterparts, Robert gives a shout out for their four part harmonies, they are indeed superb. Robert speaks of Wales as the band readies Going To California, the atmosphere is one of intimacy and joy, the music they play in this three song acoustic set is the most tranquil of the night, no overplaying or nonsense, just the beautiful interplay of guitar, mandolin, and vocal melodies. After the pastoral That’s The Way and hoe down Rockabilly of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp the band go electric for a devastatingly powerful version of Trampled Under Foot. The energy is bristling also adding a bit of distortion to the recording to wonderful effect. There is a punch to the sound and a swing to the band’s step, Jonsey takes the first solo while Jimmy and Bonzo lock in for a bit of metalized Funk, this takes a back seat while Jimmy begins to solo and the real groove starts, the song is a serious show stopper.
Robert gives a heartfelt introduction to Mr. Bonham prior to Moby Dick; “A man I’ve known most of my life…A friend…A truly great percussionist…A man with a big heart…John Bonham, Moby Dick”, his solo is an excellent example of why he is considered one of the best drummers to have ever played. At nearly 25 minutes it never gets boring, the rhythms have depth and texture to them, his hi-hat consistently in use keeping the pace amid the flourishes. A glorious 31 minute version of Dazed And Confused follows, Robert references Scott McKenzie during the introduction certainly knowing he would pay homage with San Francisco during the oriental riffs sections. This is a sublime version of Dazed, exquisitely played, visually and aurally. This is high drama and comes close to being as good as the following evening which certainly has one of the best Dazed, Jimmy’s playing is excellent, focused and fluent. The bow solo is mysterious and eerie and is perfectly captured in this recording, the final part of Mars is like a symphony of evil bowed and orchestrated by Master Page. The synergy of the musicians during the fast section is of one mind, each one trying to set the pace all knowing that the pace has been set. The band get a bit jammy after the return to the song, Page does a brilliant outro while Robert’s voice accented scatting is perfection. No Confusion here, simply an outstanding version of Dazed.
Plant references Charles Shaar Murray as he introduces Stairway To Heaven in reference to his review of the May 18, 1975 performance from New Musical Express. The review is found in the excellent Evenings With Led Zeppelin book by Dave Lewis and Mark Tremaglio. The review is mostly positive but felt the performance was too polished and lacked spontaneity, I guess Charles didn’t get off or kissed. Continuing the energy level from Dazed the band turn in a passionate version of Stairway To Heaven, nothing over done or excessive, just incredible playing, and of course singing. The ovation is massive…”Thank you very much for your constant support…and thanks for a good night”.
The encores are standard, Whole Lotta Love features an excellent Crunge jam that is just intense, percussive, funky, and psychedelic while never getting pretentious, instead of heading into the Whole Lotta Love coda they blast into the Out On The Tiles intro to Black Dog. The song is very heavy and tight while never losing its lusty swagger, a perfect ending to a brilliant concert that rivals May 24 as being the best of the five Earls Court performances. After the bombast of the first recording, we get a 51 minute piece of source 3 and it’s quite a difference in its timbre but the quality of the performance shines through, as does the audiences reaction and enjoyment of it. Source 3 is more distant than the first source so one gets more of the feeling of being in the audience, probably seated towards the back. The audience is near the taper so there is certainly more audience sounds in this source, quiet conversations, clapping etc. This recording does capture the atmosphere from a different perspective and is a very enjoyable recording, my first time hearing it. The last two discs are from source 2, the sound is near excellent, more distant than the first source yet much closer than the third. It is missing No Quarter, Tangerine, and Stairway, and is missing more than half of Dazed. The recording is very clear and does pick up that famous Earls Court echo, like the other two recordings on this set, captures the atmosphere from its perspective perfectly.
For the packaging Graf Zeppelin utilizes a cover that is base upon the old Awesome Foursome vinyl box set, a very nice homage to the classic vinyl title. The interior trays are filled with live shots from the Earl’s Court run, the first four discs have the same shot of Page and Plant as the cover, the last two discs have a live shot of the whole band. Once again, Graf Zeppelin have set the standard for Led Zeppelin bootlegs, an excellent overview of the third night at Earl’s Court in best ever sound quality. The additional bonus material makes this set even more enticing, to have a complete version of source two is very nice.