FAR FUCKING OUT—The Led Zeppelin Reissues & A Concert Memory

Led Zeppelin

Our reviewer gives the once-over to the remastered/expanded deluxe editions of the first three Zep albums, while our editor experiences a non-chemically induced flashback to 1970.

BY RON HART & FRED MILLS

When you get into a band as deeply as I and at least three generations of teens had gotten into Led Zeppelin back in our reckless youngling days, it’s only natural to abandon the records on which you were weaned.

If I wanna rock some Zep these days, I’d be more apt to break out Jimmy Page’s experimental soundtrack to the Kenneth Anger film Lucifer Rising or my copy of the beloved 1977 boot Listen To This, Eddie before any of their nine proper studio albums that I played ad infinitum in my youth (truth be told, I’m currently in the throes of a massive Robert Plant ‘80s solo record kick). So with that said, it has been a long stretch since I last gave Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II or Led Zeppelin III any kind of significant time on my stereo.

Yet, like a coven of long, lost friends who show up at your door with beer, blues and barbiturates in tow, Led Zeppelin’s first three albums, originally released in ’69 and ’70, have returned to remind us of the fun we used to have together in the form of these long-awaited deluxe editions courtesy of Rhino Records. 

Of course, for those who played these albums endlessly the first time around, the gravitation of your re-listening to these youth-worn rock classics might pull toward deeper cuts like Jimmy Page’s Jansch-ian instrumental “Black Mountain Side” off Led Zeppelin, the second album’s hammering closer “Bring It On Home” and III’s ode to English folk icon Roy Harper “Hats Off To (Roy Harper)”, though the hits (“Communication Breakdown”, “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Immigrant Song”) that provided the soundtrack to the teenage years of so many of us raised on AOR radio remain great all the same.

 

Led Zep product shot
However, one key issue with the new remastered/expanded reissues falls in the realm of the bonus material. Not in terms of quality, mind you, as all three albums are accompanied by second discs containing masterfully cleaned up versions of long booted studio outtakes like instrumental versions of such II faves as “Living Loving Maid” and “Thank You,” and a heady medley of the previously unreleased jam “Jennings Farm Blues” and Charlie Segar’s blues standard “Key to the Highway” from III.

But with both of those titles clocking in at a little over 40 minutes apiece, they could have included the studio stuff on the first disc to make room for more like the material included as the companion to the first Zeppelin LP: a boffo live set from the band’s October 10, 1969 show at The Olympia in Paris, France. Comprising the entirety of the deluxe edition’s bonus CD, the concert fills up two bonus LPs if you purchase the vinyl edition of Led Zeppelin. It’s highlighted, in particular, by a mindboggling 15-minute rendition of “Dazed and Confused”. There are plenty of quality soundboards from both periods that could have made handsome additions to these sets, namely the incredible soundboard captures of the group’s April 1969 gig at the Fillmore West and their 1970 show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Or, in the case of III, Page’s supplementary acoustic workouts from the band’s time in that cottage dubbed Bron-Yr-Aur on the beautiful English countryside.

Yet regardless of any fanboy foibles, it really is a long overdue treat to see these first three Zep LPs get the individual reissue treatments they so richly deserve. Indeed it will be quite interesting to see what gets dug out from the vaults for the next wave in this campaign. Coming, presumably in time for the Christmas shopping season: 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV aka Zoso) and 1973’s Houses of the Holy. —RON HART

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Led Zep Charlotte 4-7-70

On April 7, 1970, not long after I’d turned 15, I went with my best friend to see Led Zeppelin at the Charlotte (NC) Coliseum, which was your basic Sixties-era cantaloupe-shaped venue typically used for basketball, ice hockey and the circus in addition to the occasional concert. At the time, Led Zeppelin II was riding high in the charts—“No. 1 Album In the Country” is how local newspaper ads for the concert billed it, additionally citing LZII songs “Whole Lotta Love” and “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” along with the first album’s “Good Times, Bad Times” as hits for the band.

See them perform a full two hour concert—making their 1st Southern appearance!” read the ads.

Ticket prices were a whopping $4, $5 and $6, or if you wanted to pony up the princely sum of $7 you could score the limited “special VIP front orchestra seats,” which I suppose was the 1970 version of the Gold Circle. If memory serves we had previously purchased tickets (probably the $4 or $5) at the Hi-Fi Camera Center, although it’s possible that we did it via mail order since our hometown was about an hour away. And as neither of us could drive yet, we had to get his mom to drive us to the concert; after dropping us off safely in front of the Coliseum’s main entrance around 7:30 she would go to the nearby Shoney’s restaurant, smoking and drinking coffee and reading magazines for the “full two hour” duration.

This was to be our very first rock concert—busting the proverbial musical cherry. Still, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the evening; to date my exposure to rock culture, hippies, etc. had been mostly limited to accounts in Life or Look magazine (for example, I remember the former had published a special Woodstock edition that I poured over endlessly, staring at the beautiful flower child gals in their colorful peasant blouses and long, daisy-adorned hair). Nor had I turned on yet—that would come later. But I was definitely curious, and had already been soaking in the underground sounds of the day, graduating from pop and soul 45s to full-length albums by the Stones, Steppenwolf, Cream, Hendrix, CSN and of course Led Zeppelin. We lived in a small Southern textile town, but both the five-and-dime store and one of the local pharmacies had small record bins that occasionally yielded the proverbial “acid rock” artifact, so each week after getting my allowance from my parents I’d ride my bike uptown to see if anything new and exotic had come in.

My friend and I had also taken close stock of our situation and determined that, although we felt culturally semi-attuned, we both looked helplessly square. By way of remedy, we decided that since we couldn’t possibly hope to have our hair grow out much past the tops of our ears by the day of the concert, we would take scissors to the ends of our pants legs and our shirtsleeves, thinking that by “shredding” them a few inches or so we would gain the necessary visual panache to fit in among the hirsute, hip, flower power’d masses. I’m guessing that maybe one of us had seen a fringed leather jacket or vest (maybe a photo of Roger Daltrey at Woodstock?) and thought that it might be possible to reproduce that look on checked sports pants and button-down powder blue short sleeved shirts… my face is getting red at the memory… I suppose it was marginally hipper than when another, younger friend of ours went with us to see Steppenwolf and he opted to wear his dad’s big olive green army hat, subsequently drawing numerous, “Hey Smokey the Bear, I can’t see over your head!” catcalls during the show. It came in handy when, due to the extreme heat in the venue, he threw up. But I digress.

I sorta remember the concert, although I think I actually remember more just being in the crowd, absorbing the light show, shouting at each other over the music to look at that, no, look at that! and staring nonstop at the mass of long-haired, dancing beauties and their long-haired, bearded boyfriends and… sniffing the air and slowly glomming on to the fact that it’s not all incense I’m smelling… That night, more than just my musical cherry got busted. It’s no exaggeration to say that I had my mind blown in a major way, viscerally feeling the tug onto a particular cultural path that I would continue to wander down for years to come. Far fucking out.

For the record, here’s what Led Zeppelin played, courtesy the Led Zep setlist site:

We’re Gonna Groove,  Dazed and Confused, Heartbreaker, Bring It On Home, White Summer / Black Mountainside, Since I’ve Been Loving You,  organ solo / Thank You, What Is and What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love.

There would be a number of other Led Zep shows for me in the future. Among them, a June ’72 Charlotte concert during the tour for Zoso and a sold-out Greensboro, NC, appearance in ‘75 that proved particularly memorable, as it basically started in the parking lot around 3pm with the chemically-enhanced crowd of fans, eager to make the most of the festival seating potential, gradually becoming unruly enough to draw the police, in turn sparking a number of confrontations (this all before the concert even started). But the Charlotte ’70 event was where it all began, ultimately igniting my teenage imagination and setting the stage for a life lived in music. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Robert, Jimmy, John and Bonzo. —FRED MILLS

 

 

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