Led Zeppelin – Toccata And Fugue Helsinki 1970 (No Label)

Toccata And Fugue Helsinki 1970 (No Label)

Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki, Finland – February 23, 1970

Disc 1 (61:33) We’re Gonna Groove, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed And Confused, Heartbreaker, White Summer incl. Black Mountain Side, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Organ Solo, Thank You

Disc 2 (50:56) MC, Moby Dick, How Many More Times, Whole Lotta Love

We seem to be in an age where many releases are remasters or slight upgrades to common recordings, so it’s nice when something different comes out, a recent No Label release, Toccata And Fugue Helsinki 1970, is one such title. Zeppelin collectors know it due to its rarity, the band’s only performance in Finland, also the first show of the 1970 European tour in March of that year. The recording has circulated for years but doesn’t get the attention due to the quality of the recording. There have been three titles over the past twenty years, Valhalla I Am Coming (Mandala Records MA2112-1,2), Toccata & Fugue (Tarantura TF-001,002), and Fixin’ To Die (Gold Standard FIX 1/2).

I can remember finding two old double disc sets at a reasonable price, Valhalla I Am Coming (Mandala Records MA2112-1,2) and Hard Company (My Phoenix Co.), both of which were my first experience with recordings that were less than average. I devoured them both and such would begin the transition from regular hearing to developing “bootleg ears”. I upgraded later to the Fixin’ To Die (Gold Standard FIX 1/2) title which has been my go to title when I dig into the 1970 European Tour. Needless to say I was excited to see this concert get some love and it was on my “buy” list, I ordered soon after reading the Bootledz evaluation. For this review I am digging deep in my shelf, pulling out the title that started it all, Valhalla I Am Coming (Mandala Records MA2112-1,2) as well as Fixin’ To Die (Gold Standard FIX 1/2).

Mandala has a thick layer of tape hiss that makes for a difficult listen, Gold Standard is much better, the hiss level was much lower and was much easier on the ears than the old Mandala. This new No Label title with mastering by Graf Zeppelin easily trumps them both, slightly louder than the Gold Standard title, clearer and more detailed as well. These factors make for a much easier listen than all older titles, so much it really makes you reassess this performance. You can easily hear Robert and the drums and bass are clean in the mix, overall a very nice upgrade. As fans know this is a clear recording, it lacks balance though. The taper was positioned directly in front of Jimmy’s amp so the guitar over powers the other instruments and vocals. If the balance was better this recording would be among the tours best.

The band takes the stage with We’re Gonna Groove, the opening which made its debut at the beginning of the 1970 UK tour. This is the third known recording and is typically heavy and aggressive, certainly unknown to most at the time, Jimmy’s guitar is dominant and it sounds almost instrumental. The song segues into I Can’t Quit You Baby, this song is in its last stages of main set inclusion, sadly being dropped after a few dates in the American Tour in March 1970. Robert gives a nice opening introduction to the respectful Finnish audience, the next song is Dazed And Confused. It’s obvious that Jimmy is having guitar issues, the band continue as he gets the issue together, the bow solo is dramatic however once they get into the fast section that follows, Jimmy has to tune his guitar, once ready he simply levels the place. Heartbreaker is quickly becoming an audience favorite, the band play a very strong version to a receptive audience.

Robert gets into a weird introduction to White Summer / Black Mountain Side, the song is excellent, Page flies throughout the intricate movements of the song, the Indian influence switches dramatically as he gets into Black Mountain Side. Both tunes feature the same tuning and blend perfectly together, funny enough one almost waits for Kashmir to come bursting out, instead a fierce interlude follows and Bonzo joins in as well, listen closely at the 7:58 mark for a part of what would become Swan Song and eventually Midnight Moonlight. One forgets how beautifully constructed and well played these 1969-70 versions of these songs are, a far cry from the 1977 versions. The second known version of Since I’ve Been Loving follows, it takes some focus to fully enjoy as the drums, organ, and vocals are very low in the mix. Sounds like a good take, these early 1970 versions lack the intensity of later ones, the audience enjoy it and give a huge ovation. Plant introduces Thank You and Jimmy does a little tuning as Jones soundchecks the organ. Thank You gives a dramatic feel to the concert, quite powerful in lyric and playing, Jimmy plays some very expressionistic leads, quite beautiful.

Moby Dick is the only song cut but still clocks in at 14 minutes, there is a tape disturbance after Page and Jones leave the stage and Bonham begins, like a portion of the tape was recorded over by a short conversation, it soon switches back to Bonzo’s solo. The audience seems duly impressed and cheers and claps during parts of the solo, 14 minutes long is perfect, short and sweet. The band get into a Jazzy intro to How Many More Times, it’s interesting to hear Jimmy’s noodling so clearly, not overpowering Robert as he introduces the group. Jimmy plays some interesting leads 7:30 in lasting for a couple minutes eventually leading into Rosie and The Hunter. Plant mumbles a line from Cocaine Blues before and after Boogie Chillun’, CC Rider is difficult to discern, the Lemon Song definitely isn’t. The band basically wait for Robert to figure out what’s next, he goes into Be-Bop-A-Lula and it’s excellent, Page gets into almost Country influenced licks which is a pure delight. Jimmy’s guitar is devastating as the band transition to the end of How Many More Times, it’s simply crushing the audience and listener alike. An announcer comes on to rile up the audience to chant along with a “Come Back…Come Back…” chant which is very nice. As soon as Page breaks into Whole Lotta Love the audience cheer but the instrumental onslaught quickly drowns them out. Page sounds a bit out of tune during the middle section, perhaps on purpose, the section is not effective in this recording due to the balance of sound, once the band get back in it’s very heavy, a perfect ending to this rare performance.

The packaging is very nice, the photos used for the inserts, CD’s, and sticker are taken from the actual performance, so major props from me. This recording is not for everyone as it does have the main flaw of guitar dominance, but for those who can adjust to such defects, this is an excellent and quite enjoyable performance. Now if we could get a nice version of the March 9, 1970 Vienna concert as it is in need of a definitive version.   

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