You’re all in for a treat today, a pure Holen MaGroin review. Knowing him there’s two ways this could go.
The concert that Jimmy Page can’t stop re-releasing. Seems strange since the band has lukewarm feelings about it. Rather than giving us the tapes from all three nights, he’s decided to remix/re-master it, and then re-master that remixed re-master again in 2018. Not only was the 2007 version remixed by Kevin Shirley, different takes from different nights were used than those utilized on the original soundtrack album mix done by Eddie Kramer. As with every version, different nights were spliced together for different sections of the songs. In the Shirley mix, they would take a vocal from one night and put it over a backing track from another and so on, but on the original the technology wasn’t there yet, so they just spliced each night together with the performances intact.
The original soundtrack recording was just nine songs, but still a double album. After the first side no song runs under ten minutes. Indulgent? Absolutely. Though I can’t help but love this incredibly diluted portrait of ‘70s excess from the kings themselves. Their studio albums may contain a brevity lost in this setting, but the experimentation sometimes yields fantastic results, such as the definitive version of “No Quarter” which contains one of Page’s best solos. Of course the Shirley version, the CD is the same as the film soundtrack, so it contains all the edits found in the film version. That means “No Quarter” and several other songs are butchered and edited. The original soundtrack album is what I’ve played into the ground, and therefore it’s the version that is being reviewed here.
Page hadn’t reached the pioneering levels of sloppiness he’d sink to on the 1979 tour yet. The rest of the band has always been pretty tight, with John Paul Jones being an utter profesional. Plant’s screech has degraded here, he sings many songs an octave lower in the more traditional rock and roll voice he’d adopt for the rest of his career. The lower vocals sit well with my ears. They’re not as primal, but they sound much less strained. It sounds like Robert’s having more fun singing when he’s not staying up in the fifth octave.
The extended runtimes mean that you have to be along for the ride when listening to this one. It’s best to just give in to the excess and see where they want to take you. Sometimes I think that they don’t even know, but most of the time it’s still a fascinating journey to watch. Despite the edits, it’s also a rather faithful live outing. The only time the cutting is really obvious is on the opening song “Rock and Roll” in which the drum sound and the panning of the guitar changes depending on the show being used. The rest of the set is much more consistent sounding, and “The Rain Song” is even unedited from a single take on the second night. You can tell no real effort was made to clean up the recordings after the fact, because honestly how much tighter could Jimmy Page actually play even in the studio? The Eddie Kramer mix is warm and pleasant on the ears, with Bonzo sounding as bombastic as he ever would on record. The whole thing sounds lively, as if you were actually there instead of like a slaved over concoction. It feels much more organic than the more polished and compressed Shirley mix.
While a couple of requisite tunes are missing here on the soundtrack, the extended sections of what they do play never leave you yearning for more. Many of these are arguably better listens than their studio counterparts, particularly “No Quarter” and the song barred from all guitar shops across the nation “Stairway to Heaven”. Plant dodging the highest of the high notes during the climax helps the whole thing garner a consistency, a more melodic one. Page has a few moments of brilliance in the solo as well, amidst the missed notes and amateur noodling. The lively Kramer production is what really puts a lot of these songs over the top in my eyes. They just have so much more weight and warmth that the comparatively shrill studio counterparts. The low-end in this recording really thumps in a way none of their studio records did, with the exception of the floor shaking Led Zeppelin II, also recorded by Kramer.
While I’m sure few would argue the Madison Square Garden shows were the band’s best live performances, they’re an interesting document of a band at the height of its popularity. It’s an account of the hubris that came with that time, for better and worse. Every song on this record has become a classic, and listening to the band power through extended versions of them can be rewarding and laborious, depending on the cut. The Barry Diament double CD sounds great, and if you have any interest in the band at all, you’d be remiss not to explore the boundless wankery of the obligatory ‘70s double live excursion.
4/5 Note Success Rate from Jimmy Page