Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, UK – 5 December, 2007
Disc 1: Introduction, Good Times, Bad Times, Ramble On, Black Dog, In My Time Of Dying, For Your Life, Trampled Under Foot, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, No Quarter
Disc 2: Since I’ve Been Loving You, Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven, The Song Remains The Same, Misty Mountain Hop, Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll
With The Show Of The Century Rehearsals, Godfather presents us with its version of the “dress rehearsal” for Led Zeppelin’s 2007 O2 Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert. Rehearsals for the show, which was originally planned for 26 November but postponed due due Jimmy Page’s finger injury, had been quite extensive, though their exact duration is disputed. Dan Daley, writes on the website of Performing Musician magazine, that “four weeks of rehearsals preceded the show. The first couple were done on a sound stage at Black Island Studios in London…That was followed by two weeks of the fully staged set assembled at Shepperton Studios.” However, Mark Cunningham, on the website of Total Production International magazine suggests that the process was longer drawn-out. He quotes Jim Baggott, a member of the show’s production management team working for Harvey Goldsmith, as saying: “They started rehearsing in late June at Black Island Studios in Acton, and it was then that they realised this gig was possible. A lot of the programming was done at Elstree and then we moved to Shepperton on November 26.”
Jules McTrainspotter writes at some length of the history of the tape of this rehearsal on the Underground Uprising website as part of a review of the Empress Valley version: “The full and uncut dress rehearsal held at Shepperton Studios on 5th December 2007, just five days before the concert has been hoarded for quite a long time. An edited version, with No Quarter and Misty Mountain Hop both butchered has been in the hands of a few ‘chosen ones’ since the end of 2010. And four songs in lossy MP3 were leaked all over the Internet some months ago. This edited version was subsequently leaked out in the Summer of 2011, and Tarantura released this version (NOT sourced from the download), in a 2 CD package called ‘The Triumph Rehearsals.’ The total running time for this title is 100 minutes and 10 seconds. The Empress Valley version is 108 minutes and 44 seconds. So about 8 minutes was butchered out of the ‘leaked’ release. Of course when that version hit the Internet download sites, and news about Tarantura releasing it as well was known, Empress Valley put out the full unedited version. the hoarder who had been sitting on this for ages sold the complete version to Empress Valley. For a very tidy sum no doubt.”
The initially-leaked quartet of songs (Good Times Bad Times, For Your Life, Since I’ve Been Loving You and Rock And Roll) appear on two silver releases: on their own on Empress Valley’s The Last Shepperton Rehearsals and with other material on Boogie Mama’s Countdown, the latter already reviewed by gsparaco. The Tarantura version, with No Quarter and Misty Mountain Hop incomplete, has also been reviewed by gsparaco. The complete Empress Valley version comes as part of a four-disc set together with an audience recording of the concert itself. The in-concert discs have been advertised as a “special bonus,” though, as jbrum77634 points out elsewhere on CMR, “if it is a genuine bonus (i.e. free) why is the EV nearly double the price of the Tarantura?” Tmoq is also unimpressed, commenting, “hey EV-it’s not a bonus when you have to shell out over $40 a disc for your 4cd set!!!”
This rehearsal was designed to be a preliminary run-through of the concert itself and it therefore begins, as did the actual show, with the news clip about the record-setting 1973 gig in Tampa, before the band plays the setlist in the same order as at the event. A thumping Good Times, Bad Times makes for a splendid set opener. Zep Head, writing on the forum of the band’s official website contends that, “Jason [Bonham] does a great job on the backing vocals for Good Times, Bad Times.” The band then treats us to a most enjoyable rendition of Ramble On, a song which had not previously been played live in its entirety at any Led Zeppelin show. This is succeeded by a searingly heavy version of Black Dog, though the first real highlight of the set is a superb In My Time Of Dying. A witness to the rehearsal quoted in Godfather’s booklet, having already praised Jimmy Page’s tendency to experiment in No Quarter (performed later), then contends that, “the slide solo during ‘In My Time Of Dying’ was different too.” During the song’s blistering loud section, Plant shouts, “just want to have some fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!” and he also later sings, “still feels pretty good up here.” This effectively illustrates the positive mood felt by the band members. Godfather’s booklet quotes a spectator (possibly the same one quoted above), who states, “the mood on stage was so light and smiley. The whole band was laughing and having a real blast while Robert was the typical clown and kept cracking his jokes.” Unfortunately however, between-song banter is almost entirely absent here.
Next up is For Your Life, which, like Ramble On, was on the verge of its first public performance. It seems to have divided opinion. Godfather’s booklet states that, “‘For Your Life,’ performed for the first time, sounds good.” Gsparaco, however, maintains that, “For Your Life sounds more tentative than the others with noticeable hesitation in one of the transitions.” I would suggest that the performance may lack something due to the fact that is is far from being one of Led Zeppelin’s better songs. Zep41, on the The Gear Page website, is clearly impressed by Plant’s vocal performance in this song, responding to some criticisms of Plant’s singing, by stating, “listen to ‘For Your Life’ from this 2007 rehearsal take. Then listen to For Your Life from Presence, which was recorded in 1975. He sound pretty damn good considering we are talking about a 30 year difference.”
There has been frequent mention of tuning down to accommodate the sexagenarian Plant’s vocal range. Godfather’s booklet states that, “there were…differences in playing and many of the songs were played in much lower keys than the original versions (most likely because [of] Plant’s vocal current [sic] abilities).” Kevin Shirley, writing on the website of Guitar International magazine, states that, “he is helped by the general tuning down of the entire set.” However, Zep41, writing on the The Gear Page website, points out that, “not every single song was tuned down at the O2 show on ’07 – just a little more than half of them.” In my opinion, this is not necessarily a bad thing and I have greatly enjoyed Plant’s recent vocal performances with Alison Krauss and the Band Of Joy. Consequently, I would tend to agree with Cunningham’s view that Plant’s “skilful handling of his narrower vocal range gave a warmer and more emotional hue to some of the classics.”
Then comes the hugely energetic “semi-funk riff,” as Wikipedia puts it, of Trampled Under Foot, and this is followed by the traditional blues number recorded for Presence, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, with its harmonica part from Plant. The final song on disc one, a superbly atmospheric No Quarter, is another true highlight of this release. Kevin Shirley, who was working on the band’s DVD when he became aware of plans for the O2 show, writes at length on the performance from the actual show and in my opinion the rehearsal performance is equally impressive: “‘No Quarter,’ you can’t take this away from Jonesy. It’s great. Amazing. He’s playing the keys with such grace, fluidity, pure class. A musician’s musician, he seems content to be a maestro in this gang of freakish talent. Robert is again perfect as he croons through the opening verse…The song is sublime and when the guitar takes up the wah-wah riff, it’s effortless…Jimmy…is stunningly together. Timing, sensitivity, placement, he is a star supporting the piece and then he backs out as Jonesy takes a slow keyboard solo…Jimmy enters for his accompanying solo, like a demon on the moors at midnight and is again totally amazing.” The witness to the rehearsal who comments on In My Time Of Dying is quoted as follows in Godfather’s booklet: “I think the part I loved the most was Jimmy’s experimenting with the ‘No Quarter’ lead. He was standing at the wha pedal and playing around with various leads for quite awhile [sic].” Zep Head writes of this rehearsal performance: “NQ is really awesome!”
Disc two kicks of with another highlight, a terrific version of Since I’ve Seen Loving You. Mojosozo, on the Youdopia website, writes that, “Since I’ve Been Loving You…is truly outstanding, with truly emotional playing from Jimmy Page.” Zep Head agrees with the latter point, stating, “Page played SIBLY very clean..It’s an overall great version of the song.” ZepRex, also on the band’s official site, adds, “Robert’s vocals on especially SIBLY are AMAZING!!” Zep Head also detects a nod to another Zeppelin number in the 2007 incarnation of the song: “What I find especially beautiful – even touching – is Jimmy’s solo on Since I’ve Been Loving You. He has often quoted himself in solos – inserting passages, licks and riffs from elsewhere in a new setting where they will sound different, so that the whole significance is altered. Now, if Tea For One was quite similar to Since I’ve Been Loving You, that was no accident because it was revisiting the latter song years later, when the band was going through some really trying experiences. Jimmy in that 2007 version quotes passages from Tea For One, selectively, and very effectively. The whole solo is well constructed, and it just seems appropriate that when they play Since I’ve Been Loving You decades later, the moment of Tea For One is not forgotten.” Less charitably, andrekp, on the The Gear Page website reckons, “he can’t even remember whether he’s playing Since I’ve Been Loving You or Tea For One.” Mind you, this is the opinion of someone who believes the band have “become a parody of themselves” since 1980. (Incidentally, after Tea For One was released on Presence, Jimmy Page said that it, “was the only time I think we’ve ever gotten close to repeating the mood of another of our numbers.”)
According to Godfather’s booklet, “‘Dazed And Confused’ sounds just as botched here as when they played it at the Arena a few days later.” This is rather harsh, though I found it to be neither an inspired or an inspiring performance and Page’s violin bow section is a disappointment; only the faster instrumental section comes off really well. The next two songs are Stairway To Heaven and The Song Remains The Same. 3hrsoflunacy, on the official Led Zeppelin website, comments that, “STH, TSRTS are both much better that I expected.” No reason is given for any expectation of disappointment, though one may surmise that Plant’s well known dislike of the former song may have prompted such a feeling. (In an interview published in the Los Angeles Times in 1988, he stated: “I’d break out in hives if I had to sing [Stairway to Heaven] in every show. I wrote those lyrics and found that song to be of some importance and consequence in 1971, but 17 years later, I don’t know. It’s just not for me. I sang it at the Atlantic Records show because I’m an old softie and it was my way of saying thank you to Atlantic because I’ve been with them for 20 years. But no more of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for me.”) In truth, this rendition of Stairway To Heaven sounds somewhat mundane, a duty for the band rather than a pleasure. The faster sections of the following song, The Song Remains The Same, are pleasingly energetic and vibrant, characteristics also to be found in the succeeding number Misty Mountain Hop, though I feel that the slower section of the former song come across rather awkwardly.
The performance of Kashmir is, according to Godfather’s booklet, another one of the rehearsal’s “errors and cringe moments,” and it states that, “the band completely gets lost in ‘Kashmir’ at some point.” This has not gone unnoticed elsewhere. 3hrsoflunacy comments that, “they seem to get lost in Kashmir for a little bit.” SteveAJones, also writing on the official Zeppelin site, adds “they got lost momentarily during Kashmir as usual (though they nailed it during the actual concert).”
As with Stairway To Heaven, the next song, Whole Lotta Love, which was played as the first encore number at the actual show, is a relative disappointment. Godfather’s booklet comments that, “‘Whole Lotta Love’ just sounds like its [sic] missing something.” Like Stairway To Heavan, this performance comes across as rather perfunctory. 3hrsoflunacy, more specifically states that, “WLL solo is a little weak.” After this, the rehearsal concludes with a rollicking Rock And Roll. Zep Head is more impressed here with Page than with Plant, writing, “Jimmy nails the Rock and Roll solo. Plant seems to struggle with the high notes in Rock and Roll.”
After the conclusion of Rock And Roll we hear applause and comments from the select few privileged enough to be present for this performance. The occasional voice can also be heard elsewhere during the set. There is some call-and-response with Plant during Black Dog and someone inserts the singer’s oft-used line, “does anyone remember laughter?” at the appropriate point in Stairway To Heaven. After the blistering climax of The Song Remains The Same someone is heard to say, “fucking hell!” which elicits laughter from those around him.
Of the performance as a whole, McTrainspotter concludes that, “on the night some songs came out a bit differently to the rehearsals, and there are a few mistakes, but all in all an excellent prelude to the concert itself.” Ledzepfilm, writing on the official Zeppelin website, praises the performance, though again points out that the performance was not perfect, contending that, “the band sounds strong except for minor mess ups.” FunkyPhantom, also on the band’s official site argues that, “the rehearsals are great and really interesting to listen to, but I feel that they lack the energy and anxiety of the actual O2 performance.” SteveAJones reckons that, “Robert definitely held back during this rehearsal.” Such comments are surely unsurprising; it is, after all, a rehearsal and one might expect a singer of Plant’s vintage to conserve his voice for the real thing. In my view, such reservations do not prevent the rehearsal from being an immensely enjoyable listen and Zep Head states that, “the rehearsals are awesome.”
As to considerations of sound quality, commentators have not been impressed with Empress Valley’s Swan Songs. Argenteum Astrum’s pointed comment on CMR reads, “sourced from shitty mp3 lossy source,” and on his Led Zeppelin database website he states, “once again the label used lossy format (No Quarter and Misty Mountain Hop) to produce its release.” McTrainspotter has criticized the sound of both the rehearsal discs and the bonus concert CDs: “As a bonus, EV has added a complete audience recording from the O2 arena. The sound is reasonable, but unfortunately the taper was surrounded by whoopers, talkers and various other imbeciles, so that is a disappointment…There are several tracks in both the Shepperton Rehearsals and in the actual concert that have been reported to have been sourced from a lossy (ie MP3) sources…However it looks as if the hoarder who butchered the master by removing the between song chatter, also thought it amusing to screw up a track or two of the Shepperton rehearsals by substituting an MP3 source instead…Why on earth the concert itself was also sabotaged in this way too, is beyond reason.”
Gsparaco writes in his review of Tarantura’s The Triumph Rehearsals that, “the sound on Tarantura is simply mind blowing and comes so close to being the definitive version of the tape.” After hearing the Tarantura release for the first time, my own comment in an email to gsparaco was the simpler but no less appreciative, “sounds great.”
The source for the Godfather release has been subject to some debate. The Led Zeppelin Database website states that, “this newest release by Godfather uses complete tape recently issued by EV…It is reported that the Godfather label used lossless source instead of lossy MP3 songs found on EV.” On CMR gsparaco initially commented that, “it’s essentially the same as the Empress Valley,” but modified this to, “the tape is not MP3 sourced. I think the label used the best sources available and created a two source edit.” In an email sent to me he confims this by stating, “Godfather used a combination of the Tarantura and EV tapes for the Zep rehearsal.” This is supported by the Godfather label itself: “We did not copy the tarantura but used the raw source they would have used too adding the 2 uncut songs from EVSD release.” The two incomplete songs are taken entirely from the Empress Valley discs; Godfather has not spliced together the two sources. These two songs sound a little less impressive that the rest, and I discerned a clear diminution in clarity and something of a harsh edge to the sound in Misty Mountain Hop; the difference in sound quality of No Quarter, however, is much less significant and could easily be overlooked. Elsewhere, the sound quality of this release is stunning. Perhaps the Tarantura version is a little punchier, though, to my ears, the sound on the Godfather version is a little cleaner and more well-defined, which enhances the listening experience. An enthusiastic kads argues elsewhere on CMR, that “this is A MAJOR UPGRADE OVER EVERY SINGLE RELEASE AROUND!!…A full sounding set with a broad sound spectrum with a nice mix.”
The two discs are contained in the Godfather label’s customary tri-fold sleeve, which shows numerous shots of the band, mostly in performance, in sepia tones. As alluded to above, there is also a foldover booklet, on thin card rather than the ususal paper, with notes by “Paul De Luxe.” As made clear above, these notes are refreshingly honest about the quality of the performance. The overall effect of the packaging is very pleasing. It is clear that this is a release which every Led Zeppelin fan will want to own; as gsparaco has already said, with their complete and great-sounding new issue Godfather has, “offered collectors the definitive version of this tape at a more than reasonable price.”