Average: 4.8 (24 votes)

April 26, 1969

San Francisco, CA US

Winterland

Setlist:

1st set: Communication Breakdown, I Can't Quit You Baby, Dazed and Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times (medley incl. Roll Over Beethoven)

2nd set: White Summer / Black Mountainside, Killing Floor, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, Pat's Delight, As Long As I Have You (incl. Fresh Garbage, Shake, Mockingbird), Whole Lotta Love.

Notes:

Whole Lotta Love makes it's first public appearance.

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Comments

Submit your personal review of a particular show you attended, updates, corrections, etc., which will be considered for addition to the official online archive.You may also contact the webmaster at: webmaster@ledzeppelin.com

Winterland 4.26.69 audience tape

I have chased this recording for the best-sounding version for many years since I first heard a portion of it on a cassette purchased in 1986 in NYC's Greenwich Village mis-labelled as "Marquee 10-16-68". The tape's sound quality left something to be desired, but it was nothing in the face of the most incredible performance I ever heard. I later found out it was really from Winterland 4.26.69 and that the recording has the complete show. I've left no stone unturned in my search for the best I could find, which at this point is a great-sounding 2nd gen that I speed-corrected and immediately circulated.

The tape begins with two minutes of crowd anticipation during which the taper can be heard saying, "It's on!". Then the announcer (Bill Graham?) says, "One of England's major exports, let's welcome Led Zeppelin". The band immediately launches into a short jam on an E chord, winds down briefly, and Page leads into a furious "Communication Breakdown", a rare set opener at the time, but one of the very best versions ever. As with the previous night, no warm-up is required, just Zeppelin firing on all cylinders right from the first notes. Page is still using the Fender Telecaster, and it's bright tone pierces and slashes throughout the concert.

A short modulation leads into "I Can't Quit You Baby", where Robert Plant shows an incredibly powerful voice stretching up to a high E with no difficulty whatsoever. Page now incorporates the echoplex into his guitar signal unique to these San Francisco shows, giving the performance a heady psychedelic atmosphere, and he plays as if his life depends on it. This is still for me the best and most powerful version of this Willie Dixon song I've heard to date. Plant's range is insane, jumping from low notes to ultra-high notes so quickly it seems impossible that his vocal cords didn't snap, and Page matches him with ferocious flurries of notes. Even here though, the band still incorporates their unmatched sense of dynamics, dropping down low only to ravage the listener with thunderous highs.

"Dazed and Confused" is next. Anyone who saw the first tour and thought they knew what they were in for were certainly in for a surprise with this one. At fifteen minutes, it demonstrates in no uncertain terms why the band was labelled a "Heavy Metal" band. The quiet intro is rife with menace, Plant's vocal full of despair, and Page lurks around every corner with heavy riffs. The violin bow solo is inspired due to the echo effect, something Page would use every time not long from here, and again the dialogue between Page and Plant proves a trademark for the band. Once the group crashes into the main solo,and the taper can be heard expressing his disbelief at the power washing over him.
They show a bit of trouble getting back into the main theme, but in the face of such insanity, I can cut them a break. The coda shows another first for the band when Page starts to ravage a theramin, bringing wave after wave of space-age sound effects over the audience who I'm sure had no idea what the hell was happening. The final chords bring a closing to the ultimate early version of this true Zeppelin classic.

"You Shook Me" is another great version, that is tremendously well-received but not quite as brilliant as the previous night's version. "How Many More Times" starts with some distortion, but soon clears up, revealing another killer rendition. At this point, Page still pulled out the violin bow which is edited out of future versions after this tour, and this one features fanfare after fanfare, accented perfectly with the rest of the group. By the time Plant does his famous "Gunnnnn...." vocal climb from the studio version, it's almost anti-climactic as he's been demonstrating equally impressive vocal gymnastics for the previous hour. Thus wraps up the first set of one of the greatest rock concerts of all time.

The band returns with Page's "White Summer", which isn't one of the better versions due to the distorted guitar tone with works so perfectly with the bulk of their set. "Killing Floor" (aka the Lemon Song) follows and brings the band back to top level. It is introduced with a lengthy, rolling riff that I believe is the "Electric Mud" Muddy Waters riff that inspired John Paul Jones' "Black Dog" riff years later (and heard in early Faces shows and even Soundgarden's early "Ultramega OK" album). The breakdown here features Plant throwing in Elvis's first single, "That's All Right", as well as the classic "Lemon" lines, while Page soars over the top with his wah-wah and echo-drenched slide playing. It was futuristic but still tapping into the swampy delta all at the same time.

"Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Pat's Delight" (Bonham's early drum solo vehicle) are well-received, and serve as a respite from the onslaught, but the audience could not have been prepared for the brutal no-prisoners version of "As Long As I Have You". As with all the renditions of this early classic, it goes from the title song into Spirit's "Fresh Garbage" riff, into the old "Shake" segment where once again Page and Plant play in unison and then harmony with one another. Page then bursts into a frantic solo, and then it then goes wherever the band leads them, which could be anywhere. When one listens to each of the four versions of "As Long As I Have You" from these San Francisco shows (or any of the other tracks for that matter), it's absolutely amazing how different they are considering they're played back-to-back, night after night. These really show the impressive blues knowledge of Robert "the encyclopedia" Plant, who never fails to come up with reference after reference, almost never repeating himself. It also shows the tremendous imagination from the three instrumentalists.
After the "Shake" segment, the band stops while Page leans into his amp to give a feedback display, holding a note until it feeds back with a high, shrill tone. He finally breaks away and Plant lets loose with a blood-curdling scream that still sends chills down my spine twenty years after I first heard that NYC cassette. After all this time, nobody comes close to him when he was at his peak. Nobody.

The crowd demands an encore, and they're treated to the earliest "Whole Lotta Love" known to exist, only the title "WWL" doesn't appear, and instead Plant sings lines from "You Need Love", which the band was sued for much later when Willie Dixon's daughter recognised some of the lyrics from the studio version. It's really a shame, because bluesmen routinely borrowed from each other, and lyrics can be traced from one early record to another early record to another, and nobody worried about it. The real issue with Zeppelin was that they were making real money, otherwise nobody would've bothered to cash in. Most early bluesmen weren't good businessmen, and I can't help but wonder how much of Mr. Dixon's lyrics truly originated from him.
For my money, Plant could have been reading the lyrics from the phone book for all I care. The riff and his vocal delivery are what make this track, and it is never more powerful than the version experienced here. This is true early Heavy Metal, until the breakdown in the middle, where Page fills the middle section with spacey, wah-wha slide licks rather than the theramin treatment it's given in later versions. It returns to the ballsy riff and includes a tortured Plant treatment of his "Woman" breakdown before returning to the main riff for the climax.

This is simply one of the greatest concerts of all time from one of the greatest bands of all time when they were at their peak strength. The recording is amazingly good for the era, with very good detail from every member. There isn't a single moment on the official DVD even from the early footage that even hints at how unstoppable they were during this time. I suspect that the previous show in the same venue was even better, but this complete document stands as the very best of the very best, and at a time when creativitly on stage was expected.

I would encourage the Zeppelin organisation to release documents like this for posterity in a simlilar fashion as the Grateful Dead's "Dick's Picks" series. I know it's not official release quality, but it goes a long way to establishing how incredible this band was when it was creating the legend that lasts to this day. Nobody was ever this good. Period.

Jonathan Hathaway