Sunday, March 17, 2002

Crystal clear

On this day in 1973, Led Zeppelin spent the evening of St. Patrick's Day playing a concert at the Olympiahalle in Munich, West Germany.

Of the 12 shows played on that tour, seven of them were in West Germany. Led Zeppelin's performances in the six cities of Essen, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Offenburg and West Berlin contained some of the band's finest moments, many of which were captured in gorgeous audio by pristine soundboard recordings. Low-generation copies of these soundboard tape fragments have found their way into trading circles over the years.

Audience noise is minimal even between songs. What is more audible between songs is the chatter onstage. At times, the loud voice of John Bonham is heard feeding lines for Robert Plant to announce to the audience. Sometimes, jokes and laughter between the band members are heard. And every once in a while, Jimmy Page will use his guitar to play a line of Italian opera and follow it up in a full tenor voice.

But to say that the most creative music actually took place between songs would be overlooking some brilliant interplay on "Dazed and Confused." In fact, the marathon versions of that song recorded in March 1973 are widely recognized as the best ever renditions. Most notably, author Luis Rey sketched an outline of the song's movements, using March 1973 versions as the basis. But not every move was predictable. These are the prime cases of when Led Zeppelin was, as John Paul Jones says, "the band of nods." A funky drum pattern from Bonham could signal the beginning of "The Crunge" within "Dazed and Confused," but Bonham, Jones and Page could just as easily segue into a pattern more like "Walter's Walk." These are the ultimate versions of the song.

Furthermore, Led Zeppelin's onstage creativity was not limited to just that. "Whole Lotta Love" also had its moments, both in and out of a medley. Page's Theremin produces some hectic sounds in the instrumental section. But the medleys that followed it read like a great radio station with the best of blues, rockabilly, soul and rock. Plant could sing like John Lee Hooker, Elvis Presley, James Brown or himself all within the span of a few minutes.

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