Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Yardbirds 2: Live Yardbirds

Once Led Zeppelin had become a worldwide sensation, Epic Records realized they had a live recording of the Yardbirds’ final incarnation as a quartet from 1968 sitting in their vaults. After beefing up the mix with unconvincing audience atmosphere (according to legend, from a sound effects LP featuring ambience from a bullfight), the concert was released as Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page, to the guitarist’s immediate displeasure—partially because the fourth Zep LP was due out shortly. This and any subsequent reissues were quickly recalled, making actual copies rare, but commonly pirated and bootlegged. Its mass unavailability was a shame, because what one could hear of the show was quite entertaining, the band mixing some of their hits with a couple of tunes from the recent flop Little Games.
Beginning with a welcome from singer Keith Relf and a riff soon famous from “Dazed And Confused”, they plow through “Train Kept A-Rollin’”, then manage to make a medley out of “You’re A Better Man Than I” and “Heart Full Of Soul”. What comes next is likely what most worried Page: the Yardbirds version of a song they then called “I’m Confused” to differentiate it from the song it was stolen from, but still maintaining many of the elements of the track that would close side one of the first Zeppelin album. “My Baby” was a mild hit a couple of years earlier for soul shouter Garnet Mimms, and would be later recorded by Janis Joplin; here it’s an exercise in staying in sync with the time changes.
Relf asks the crowd to help out with the “heys” on “Over Under Sideways Down”; whether they comply is hard to tell under all the fake applause. “Drinking Muddy Water” is prefaced by an explanation of the detuned guitar, and a similar boast sets up “Shapes Of Things”, wherein Page replicates Jeff Beck’s original solo while sneaking in his own flourishes. He plays “White Summer” mostly by himself, the rhythm section joining in ably here and there. Finally, “I’m A Man” is dragged out to twelve minutes, incorporating the riff from “Over Under Sideways Down” and a violin bow solo, and Relf muttering some mystical lyrics (“Deep within the turning sands of inspiration…”?) before the drone goes back to the main riff via a detour that today sounds like parts of “How Many More Times”.
Besides being historic, captured a mere five months before Led Zeppelin as we know it was formed, Live Yardbirds! was still a fine showcase for the man Keith Relf dubbed “Jimmy Magic Fingers, the Grand Sorcerer of the Magic Guitar.” The band was pretty good, too, when you could hear them.
And only a half-century later, one could. Soon after Jimmy managed to expand the Zeppelin catalog in record time, he and the surviving Yardbirds approved an officially restored version of the album without the extra sound effects, but also with some of Keith Relf’s stage patter removed. Packaged as a double album, even though it could have fit on a single CD, and extravagantly priced accordingly, Yardbirds ‘68 also included about 20 minutes of previously booted “studio sketches”, including an early version of what would one day be better known as “Tangerine”.

The Yardbirds Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page (1971)—3
2017 Yardbirds ‘68: “same” as 1971, plus 8 extra tracks

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