After having written a similar list about Queen, I thought it was worth to dive into another ocean of bootlegs by another legendary band: Led Zeppelin.
It might seem easier in this case, because Led Zeppelin only toured for 11 years, while Queen did for 13 with less breaks, but Led Zeppelin improvised a lot more in their shows. This means that even two concerts played just a few days apart can be radically different. So, just like the previous list, I'll try to give you an overview considering audio quality, performance and setlist. There will be some obvious choices, but I'll try to dig a bit deeper..
Again, this will be in chronological order, so it's not a top 10 or anything like it. You can find pretty much all of these bootlegs on YouTube if you are really interested.
1 – Whisky A Go Go, West Hollywood, Los Angeles 05/01/1969
Their second earliest recording is already one of the most powerful. A great chance to hear them at the very beginning, playing songs like Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and covers like As Long As I Have You, Killing Floor (later The Lemon Song) and Yardbird's For Your Love. It's nearly an hour long and the sound, although a bit rough, is quite enjoyable. Highly recommended!
2 – Fillmore West, San Francisco 24/04/1969
Just a few months after the previous bootleg, this one is very interesting because most of it (not all of it, sadly) is a soundboard recording, so it sounds astonishingly good for a 1969 recording. You get Train Kept A-Rolling, a great How Many More Times, Pat's Delght (Bonham's solo before Moby Dick). The rest of it is mostly the same setlist as the prevoius one, but obviously the performance is different. This is more than two hours long but sadly, as I said, only part of it is a soundboard recording, so some songs are from an audience source and they don't sound very good. Still, you can't miss this one.
3 – Casino de Montreux, Montreux 07/03/1970
There are obviously many more recordings from 1969, but most of them has been officially released as part of the BBC Sessions, and there is also a very good show from 10/10/1969 at the Olympia in Paris released on a bonus CD in the 2014 remeaster of Led Zeppelin I. Also, I've skipped the famous 09/01/1970 Royal Albert Hall concert since it's been relased in its almost complete form on the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD. This concert in Monreux offers a similar setlist to the one in London, and it's one of those cases in which the audience recording sounds better than the soundboard! Luckily, combining those two sources we have a complete show which sounds even more energetic than the one at the Albert Hall. Also, here we can listen to a very early version of Since I've Been Loving You, Heartbreaker, Thank You, and we still have We're Gonna Groove as a killer opener. One of the best “obscure” bootlegs out there for sure. You can also look for Vancouver 21/03/1970 which is sadly incomplete, but it has nearly 40 minutes of a high quality soundboard recording that is wonderful.
4 – LA Forum, Inglewood 04/09/1970
Probably one of the most famous, if not the most famous, Led Zeppelin bootleg ever. Known as Live On Blueberry Hill, offers a very strong performance by everyone. Immigrant Song opens a show that offers a much more “formed” Since I've Been Loving You, rare performances of Out On The Tiles and Good Times Bad Times, and obviously a cover of Blueberry Hill that gave the name to the bootleg. There are multiple audience recordings of this one, so it's basically up to you to pick your favourite.
5 – Eddie Graham Sports Complex, Orlando 31/08/1971
We already have the great BBC Sessions from 1971, and I could even have suggested the bootleg version of those since the officially relased version is not 100% complete, but I think it's better to concentrate on different shows. This one is well worth it mainly because most of it is a soundboard recording, one of the few from this era. Nearly 20 minutes are missing and replaced by an audience recording, so we still get a full show anyway. Similar setlist to the BBC sessions, I think the only difference is Celebration Day instead of What Is And What Should Never Be, but obviously they sound way less nervous here. So overall this is a much more energetic show than the one for the BBC, even if obviously it doesn't sound as good.
6 - Berkley 14/09/1971
An audience recording this time, but one of their strongest and most inspired performance ever. It's not complete, it's just around an hour and a half long, but it has probably one of the best Whole Lotta Love medley I've ever heard. Jimmy Page in particular plays in a spectacular way, and his solo in Since I've Been Loving You is another definite highlight.
7 – Festival Hall, Osaka 29/09/1971
A soundboard recording from this show apparently exists (and a few tracks have surfaced), but for now we only have various audience recordings that, once combined, allow us to enjoy the whole concert. And what a concert it is! Their shows started to get longer and longer, going on for over three hours, thanks to extended tracks and medleys such as Dazed And Confused and Whole Lotta Love. The concert seems very relaxed and the band often jokes in between songs. It's one of the few occasions in which we can hear Tangerine played live, and the only time we can hear Friends. Even if Plant's voice was already changing, and various shrieks and breaks start to appear, it's still one of their best concerts ever in my opinion. The full Japanese tour exists in bootleg form, along with the 1972 one, so feel free to check out all the other dates if you feel like it!
8 – LA Forum, Inglewood 25/06/1972
Not much to say here, but since the officially released How The West Was Won offers an incomplete recording of this show, also with tracks from Long Beach, it's nice to hear the whole show unedited. Yes, the sound is not great, but we get Tangerine and Communication Breakdown! And since in its latest remastered version, HTWWW cuts the Whole Lotta Love medley even more than the previous version, which wasn't complete either, that's another reason to check out this bootleg.
9 – Southampton University, Southampton 22/01/1973
Not their best show, a bit rusty and with clear signs of Plant's voice deteriorating, but certainly the best sounding bootleg out there. The reason is because this was actually mixed professionally a few years ago from multitracks. In fact, for example, the Mellotron flute parts in Stairway To Heaven in How The West Was Won were taken from here, since in 1972 John Paul Jones didn't have a Mellotron yet and played that section on a Hammond organ. I'm pretty sure this show will get an official release some time in the future, if not this year, but nonetheless it's still a bootleg worth checking. Also with very early versions of The Song Remains The Same and The Rain Song, along with a surprise return of How Many More Times!
10 – Ortenauhalle, Offenburg 24/03/1973
Probably one of the best dates of the European tour. The sound is not perfect, and the setlist offers not many suprises, but it's certainly a very strong show. There are also other very good shows from this tour, like Vienna for example, and even if the setlist is shorter than usual, some people like this tour more than the following American one. So it's worth a listen.
11 – The Garden Tapes: Madison Square Garden, New York, 27-28-29/07/1973
Although there are some other very good shows from the 1973 American tour (like Providence, Inglewood and Seattle) I think these three dates at the Madison Square Garden are some of their best. All of these dates were recorded for The Song Remains The Same, which turns out to be a bit like a puzzle, with not only songs taken from different shows, but sometimes even single instruments and vocal tracks combined. So, to hear the real thing in both soundboard and audience recording quality, The Garden Tapes are highly recommended.
12 – Madison Square Garden, New York, 12/02/1975
The 1975 tour it's a hard one to chose from, so there will be quite a few bootlegs from then in this list. This tour was probably the worst for Plant's voice, and he almost sounds like a different person. On the other hand, some shows were killer musically, and there are a lot of great quality soundboard recordings. This one, again at the Madison Square Garden, is a perfect example, and certainly one of the best sounding ones.
13 – Vancouver 20/03/1975
Another great soundboard recording and a very strong concert. Even if the setlist is the same, is great to hear these different concerts because of songs like No Quarter and Dazed And Confused: definite highlights full of improvisations that can last up to or even more than thirty minutes.
14 – Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, 21/03/1975
Just a day after Vancouver and an even stronger show overall, with Plant sounding decent for once! It's probably my favourite concert from 1975 along with the dates at Earls Court, and it's also interesting because it's one of the few times in which they played Since I've Been Loving You in 1975. Also The Crunge is played almost entirely in Whole Lotta Love, Dazed And Confused is nearly forty minutes long, and the whole band is very tight. If you have to pick only one show from 1975, this is a very good candidate, along with something from…
15 – Earls Court, London 17-18-23-24-25/05/1975
A legendary series of concerts at the Earls Court in London, of which at least 3 dates (23-24-25) were professionally recorded and filmed. We have an audience recording of the first three and almost complete soundboard and video for the last two dates. So obviously the concerts from the 24th and the 25th are those I recommend the most, but the others are also very good (the 18th one is excellent, maybe the best overall musically), they just have a worse audio quality. The last concert is one of their longest ever, clocking at 3 hours 45 minutes with lots of encores. The acoustic set is back in all these dates, and my favourite version of Dazed And Confused is from the 24th. Some of the best versions of Trampled Underfoot are also from these dates, along with In My Time Of Dying. So, to narrow it down, it's a tie between the 24th and 25th, they are both worthwile. Look for the other three only if you want more.
16 – Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland 27/04/1977
Another very famous bootleg (known as Destroyer), it's not the best show from this tour, but being a decent quality soundboard it's woth mentioning it. Sadly a couple of songs fade in and we lose their beginning, but it's just a few minutes in nearly three hours. Great acoustic set in this tour, also with The Battle Of Evermore, sadly almost runed by John Paul Jones doing backing vocals. Robert Plant gets a lot better as the tour goes on, unlike Jimmy Page which, for the first time, sounds very sloppy at times.
17 – Madison Square Garden, New York 07/07/1977
Another one at the Madison Square Garden, and a much stronger show compared to the previous one. Again a soundboard recording, I really like this one overall, but sadly Kashmir sounds really bad due to an out of tune Mellotron. Still, worth checking.
17 Bis, UPDATE - Fort Worth 30/05/1977
This is something I've discovered just after I wrote this article, hence why it's here as a "17 Bis", just to not modify the other numbers. This is simply the best alternative to the Madison Square Garden one, and if you get over the cut right after the beginning of Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp, you get a better performance overall. The sound quality is great being a soundboard again, and if you are lucky enough to find some recent remastered version, it can be a beautiful listening experience.
18 – LA Forum, Inglewood 21-23-25- 27/06/1977
Without a doubt the best concerts from this tour, and it's entirely up to you to decide which one is the best between the four. The first one is probably the most famous, under the name of Listen To This Eddie, and the second one has Keith Moon guesting on a couple of tracks. The third one is simply a great show, probably Jimmy Page's best performance of 1977 and the fourth one is up there, just a bit more relaxed and with a bonus improvised Dancing Days in the acoustic set. A group of concerts that can literally change the image of a tour that is often considered as one of their worst. John Bonham is on fire, just listen to the opening of The Song Remains The Same from the 21st or Achilles Last Stand, John Paul Jones is always rock solid, and Robert Plant is probably at his best since 1972. All of these concerts are audience recordings by the late great Mike Millard, famous for his high quality recordings in the LA area, so the quality is obviously great. Do I need to say more?
19 – Falkoner Theatre, Copenhagen 23-24/07/1979
These were two warm up dates played to get ready for Knebworth. The fact is, I don't know if it's because they were more nervous due to a larger audience at Knebworth, but they all played much better in these Copenhagen dates. And yes, there are a few mistakes here and there, but Jimmy Page in particular sounds even better than the 1977 tour in some songs. The acoustic set is gone, as are all the long improvisations such as Dazed And Confused and Moby Dick. But we get songs like Celebration Day, The Rain Song, Misty Mountain Hop… I can't say which one of the two is better, they are very close. They also sound very good for being audience recordings. The two Knebworth concerts have pretty much the same setlist, but Jimmy Page in particular sounded worse, expecially on the second date. So, if you want to listen to a full concert from Knebworth, go for the 04/08/1979 one.
20 – Frankfurt 30/06/1980
I never got into the 1980 tour, but without a doubt this one is the best shows from that tour. The Berlin one is historically important being the last, but this one is certainly better. Jimmy Page is at his worst, John Bonham still holds up pretty well, but Plant and Jones literally hold the band together at this point. A good chance to hear All My Love live, which has been played only in this tour. Other than that, this is for completists only. Bonus points for it being a soundboard.
© 2018 Simone Ercole