Led Zeppelin – “214”

It’s been quiet, to say the least, on the Life in the Vinyl Lane front in 2022. There are a few reasons for that, and maybe at some point I’ll write about them. But for now let’s just say that, well, I haven’t felt like I had much to say. I’ve listened to a ton of new music, and caught up on even more older albums that previously eluded me, but nothing has compelled me to sit down at the keyboard.

Until this morning.

By way of some quick backstory, earlier this year I came into a large collection of live Led Zeppelin vinyl. Until that point I had successfully avoided going down any Led Zeppelin rabbit holes, something that required considerable effort considering how long I have loved the band. I have a few of the recent special edition re-releases, including the 2XLP version of Led Zeppelin III and the Led Zeppelin IV box set, but those came to me as gifts (for which I was grateful!), and generally speaking I’d resisted the urge to buy Zep vinyl primarily because I already had the entire catalogue on CD. But this group of live recordings was too hard to pass up.

Truth be told, the recording quality was pretty lackluster across most of the 16 live records. They’re more curiosities than things I’ll likely play repeatedly. Songs split across two sides… songs that sometimes simply cut off… bad balance… too heavy on the bass… sometimes all of the above brought together into one aural mudball. Still, I had fun working my way through them.

The real problem, however, wasn’t the recording quality. It was that I’d now opened Pandora’s Box. And when I looked inside that box I saw a rabbit hole. A Led Zeppelin rabbit hole that tugged on me like the gravity of a singularity, bending the space-time continuum around my credit card and Paypal account. Before I knew it I was buying. The 2XLP re-release of Led Zeppelin I with the second live record? Yes please. Other live pressings? Clearly I need these! Icelandic pressings? I’m an Icelandophile, so of course! All kinds of stuff. Which is how I came to pull the trigger on a copy of 214 on eBay.

I already had two live performances from my hometown of Seattle – the 5XLP/3XCD boxset Seattle Graffiti from the March 17, 1975 show and the 2XLP V 1/2 Performed Live In Seattle from July 17, 1973. Graffiti is pretty decent, while V 1/2 is a bit meh. Still, it’s cool to have stuff from local concerts. There are, of course, others, including different versions from these same dates – one thing about the world of unofficial live recordings is that they’ve been pressed and re-pressed, with unauthorized second generation copies being made from the original unauthorized version, etc. If you want to be a completist, you better have deep pockets.

For years and years, though, I’ve had my eye on 214, a 2XLP from the March 21, 1975 Seattle show. I’m not going to lie – this was partially because I thought the cover looked cool. But now that I had a burgeoning collection of live Zep records it only took a few Jack Daniels to convince me that I probably needed this show as well, and last week a copy arrived in the mail. I went into it with low expectations, but this morning was pleasantly surprised, nay almost shocked, when I dropped the needle (inadvertently starting on side C, since both records are labeled as A/B) – this sounds good. Really good. Really, really good. And what is this, Robert Plant pivoting in the midst of a rambling “Dazed and Confused” guitar solo and singing the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth”? Fantastic!

This record also came with an unexpected bonus. Hidden inside was a small square snapshot, the flash lighting up the closest people and leaving those further back in the shadows, the colors slightly faded, but… is that John Bonham behind the drum kit??? It sure looks like the kit show on the album’s back jacket, and that hair and mustache… Flipping over the pic, hand-written on the back is “Led Zeppelin”. Was this taken by the previous owner at the show? I’ve never head any reference to any inserts with this record, so I can only assume so. Super cool!

Discogs lists 21 different versions of the March 21, 1975 show. Of these, only two are on vinyl – this one and one entitled 207.19, which includes different songs from this set plus some songs from a show in Boston (a copy of which is currently listed on eBay for $273… which is a lot more than I spent on 214). Some of the CD versions refer to being “soundboard recordings”, which may explain why this one sounds so much better than most of the other live records. Regardless, if you are interested in testing live Led Zep waters, 214 is probably as good as anything you’re going to find in terms of vintage pressings, so buy with confidence! And don’t say I didn’t warn you if you find yourself staring down that rabbit hole…

Book Review – “Rusted Metal – A Guide to Heavy Metal and Hard Rock Music in the Pacific Northwest (1970 – 1995)”

How long have I been waiting for Rusted Metal to come out? I pre-ordered a copy as soon as I learned about it, and that was close to two years ago. But truth be told I’ve been waiting for a book like Rusted Metal for my entire life. If something like it had existed back when I was a teenager I probably would have spent even more time in my room than I already did, reading, re-reading, and digesting it, only stepping out into the daylight to foray out to used record stores in search of Iron Cross demo tapes.

In the 1980s it was the norm as a teen to define yourself by some kind of label. Jock. Prep. Stoner. Skater. If you were unfortunate you had such a label forced upon you against your will, like Dweeb or Nerd back when Nerd was not a badge of honor. I strove to apply one of these labels to myself back in those days. Rocker.

I wasn’t a rocker though. Not really. Yes, I loved the music – hard rock and heavy metal were the soundtrack to my high school years in the second half of the 80s, with grunge sneaking its way into the mix as Sub Pop 7″ singles started popping up at places like Bellevue’s Cellophane Square Records. And sure, I had a leather jacket, though one with faux sheepskin lining, which hardly screamed rock let alone metal. I had the mullet, but hadn’t truly embraced the full-on rocker long hair look. The bottom line is I aspired to be a rocker, but I wasn’t one.

So what does all this have to do with Rusted Metal? Well, this was the scene I wanted to be part of, and indeed some of the music I listened to is here. And I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like Soundgarden or Mudhoney or Nirvana, though certainly they’re included. I’m talking about bands like Fifth Angel and TKO and Wild Dogs. Bands like Wehrmacht, who were often blasting out of my buddy’s brother’s bedroom window when I pulled up, a speaker perched on the sill and pointing out at the neighborhood and blasting “Suck My Dick”.

James Beach and friends have created the ultimate Northwest rock and metal guide with Rusted Metal, the definitive textbook on those genres in the region, a 902-page slab that’s as heavy as the music it covers. The interviews alone would make the book worth the price, somewhere around a hundred of them spread throughout the tome. Musicians, promoters, studio engineers and producers all share their stories and memories, both of the music and about the characters who were part of the scene (“This is the guy who went to prison for putting a bomb in his girlfriend’s mailbox.”). And have no fear, friends, this isn’t just text. We’re treated to hundreds of photos, flyers, album covers, and other visual treats to help tell the stories.

The cornerstone of Rusted Metal is the section devoted to bands and musicians, over 600 pages of entries in an encyclopedia-like format providing basic info like location, years active, and members, followed by as much narrative as the guys could uncover. For a band like Portland’s High Flight the bio may only run a few sentence, but Beach still manages to connect its members to at least four other bands while also touching on their management and the venues they played. Well-known local acts like the previously mentioned Wehrmacht, on the other hand, earn a page or more, often with an accompanying interview such as the eight-pager with frontman Tito Matos, who later went on to become a very successful club DJ (a fact I definitely did not know).

The final third of the book is broken down into sections devoted to concert dates, venues, record labels, studios, and of course a discography, which given the obscurity of many of these bands is probably the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere, particularly when it comes to documenting demos. You’ll also find some of the guys’ own releases listed, because they’re partners in the NW Metalworx Music label that has been re-release some NW classics from bands like TKO, Heir Apparent, and Whiskey Stik, as well as a couple of great comps, most notably NW Metalworx Volume 2: Lake Hills Revisited. I’ve actually run into them a few times set up at record shows where they not only sell NW Metalworx releases but also tons of great NW classics. It’s an all-encompassing passion for this crew.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of Rusted Metal on my iPad and can’t wait for the print version to finally arrive in my mailbox in a few weeks. James and the guys did a terrific job on what is obviously a labor of love, and I applaud them for it because I know how taxing and all-consuming projects like this are. Rusted Metal will hold a place of honor on any music fan’s bookshelf, and I know I’ll be referencing it constantly. You can order your copy direct from NW Metalworx HERE, with a format and price for every music fan from the $9.95 e-book to the $34.95 trade paperback to the $125 limited edition and signed hardcover edition, so get your copy today.

Led Zeppelin – “Seattle Graffiti” Box Set (2012)

There are a number of terms used to describe releases such as Seattle Graffiti, often interchangeably. That being said, I think the tag of “unofficial” is probably the most accurate. “Bootleg” is generally reserved for an illegally made copy of an official release, whereas what we have here is a live recording that was never released by the band or the label. Maybe it’s just semantics. But either way, Seattle Graffiti is not part of the Led Zeppelin canon.

I was originally drawn to Seattle Graffiti for two pretty obvious reasons – I’m a big fan of Led Zeppelin, and I’ve spent most of my life in the Seattle area. I was too young to have seen the Mothership play here (or anywhere else for that matter) live, being not even 10 years old when the band broke up; I’m part of that very next generation of Zep fans, the first group who “discovered” them after they disbanded. Fortunately for me, though, there are a number of Zeppelin recordings from live shows in Seattle, and Seattle Graffiti may be the best of the bunch.

Before we get into the music, let’s talk about the physical object itself. The outer package is a sturdy and well-deigned box, just the right size to hold everything without bursting at the seems or having too much dead space inside. Apparently released in 2012, this version (there are any number of unofficial releases containing some or all of this show) is a limited edition of 500, each copy individually numbered on a sticker affixed to the box top and underneath the shrink – so you won’t lose your numbered sticker when you take the plastic off. Inside you get the complete show, all three hours and six minutes, on both CD and vinyl. The three CDs are in individual plastic sleeves attached to the inside of the box top, which has the benefit of keeping them from loosely moving around inside, but the downside, at least for my copy, is the adhesive used is tacky around the edges and some of it got on the insert. As for the insert itself, it’s fine but seems like a bit of an afterthought – a 12″ by 12″ fold-over, the front and back are basically the same as the front and back design of the box, while the inside is a collage of photos. Decent, but not really adding much. The vinyl is pressed on five records, each in a nice plastic-lined paper sleeve. The one copy of the box set I’ve seen inside had four records on blue vinyl with the fifth on white. I have no idea if that’s normal or if there are other color combinations.

While that’s great and all, what about the music? Well, as I mentioned, you’ve got just over three hours of live Zep at arguably their peak – Plant references their just-released double album Physical Graffiti a few times, an album that was arguably their catalog’s watershed. Of the band’s six albums up to this point, only Led Zeppelin III is not represented with at least one song on Seattle Graffiti, the other five all fairly evenly represented. Most of the classics are here – “Dazed And Confused”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir”, “Stairway To Heaven”… from my personal perspective the most obscure track and the only one I couldn’t immediately call to mind simply by the title is “Sick Again”. As for the quality, well, it’s pretty damn good. Overall the sound is clean, though there are a few passages that get a bit warbly, suggesting the master tape itself may be slightly damaged. But even that doesn’t detract much from your enjoyment, because unlike so many unofficial live releases it doesn’t sound muffled or obscured with too much crowd noise. I’m not a connoisseur of these kinds of live recordings, but it’s probably the best one I’ve ever heard.

As an unofficial release, my understanding is that it’s legality sort of depends on where in the world you are – I believe in the EU these kinds of things are allowed so long as royalties are paid, but I certainly could be wrong. In the last couple of years Discogs has blocked the sale of unofficial releases like Seattle Graffiti, but you’ll still see it from time to time on other sites like eBay. At the time I wrote this, there was an open copy for sale there for $169, which may seem steep but is not bad considering it’s five records plus the whole thing on CD as well.

Overall this is probably only going to appeal to the Zeppelin die-hard, though if you’re only going to dip your toes into the gray parts of the live catalog this is probably the high point given the sound quality.

Book Review – “Sing Backwards And Weep – A Memoir” by Mark Lanegan

I kind of went back-and-forth when considering writing about Mark Lanegan’s new memoir, Sing Backwards And Weep. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it was trying to find some balance between the book’s stark and direct portrayal of addiction and generally bad behavior (by a whole lot of of people) and, well, the fact that Lanegan comes across as a pretty unlikeable human being. There are points in Sing Backwards And Weep when you pretty much stop rooting for Lanegan, finding yourself hoping he gets what he has coming to him for the way he treated someone. And to be fair, sometimes he does, whether it’s getting ripped off by Amsterdam drug dealers twice in the same night while desperately fighting heroin withdrawal or the perceived betrayal this friend Slayer “steal” one of Lanegan’s best customers when the singer was dealing to support his habit (something Lanegan does to someone else in an example of role reversal later in the book). Ultimately Lanegan’s seeming honesty wins out. I say “seeming” because we only get Mark’s side of the story, though more often than not he comes away looking much worse than anyone else involved so it feels like at the very least we’re getting his honest recollections and perceptions of events, even if others might have different takes. Plus at times he’s brutally self-aware, clearly recognizing not only his role in events but also that, to be blunt, often he was the asshole.

Those moments of acknowledgement, while sprinkled throughout the book, are often not in the places you’d expect, sometimes leaving the reader wondering, “so if he doesn’t acknowledge how bad this particular thing is, but he does acknowledge how bad other things are, how does he really feel about this event?” And that was certainly part of my struggle in coming to grips with how I felt about the Mark Lanegan described in Sing Backwards. But to be fair, if Lanegan deeply regretted even half the things he tells us he did the book would be unreadable, nothing more than a repetitive mea culpa mantra that would have been both annoying and come across as ingenuine. Sometimes, though, you’re left unsure. Does Lanegan have any regrets about being part of the scheme to steal some of Sub Pop co-founder Jon Poneman’s record collection, which was sold to buy drugs? At the time Lanegan saw it as payback for Poneman going back on a promise made regarding the photo to be used on the cover of Lanegan’s solo debut, 1990s The Winding Sheet. I also wonder if former Poison Idea drummer Steve Hanford (♠) knew he was going to be named as the guy who physically stole Poneman’s records while Hanford was, ironically, helping the former record label exec organize his record collection. A lot of people are named in Sing Backwards, many of them in unflattering situations, and at least a few of them aren’t happy about it, such has Lanegan’s former Screaming Trees bandmate Gary Lee Conner and Oasis member Liam Gallagher, both who have gone online (Facebook and Twitter respectively) with responses.

The two most interesting threads were those around Lanegan’s relationships with a pair of fellow vocalists, Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley, both who also suffered under and eventually passed in part due to their addictions. Lanegan heaped praise on both, referring to Pierce as his favorite vocalist, though was also frank when relating some of the more frightening and sobering interactions he had with each, such as the incomprehensible message Pierce left on his answering machine shortly before he died and Staley being convinced that spiders exited an abscess in his arm and were hiding in his bathroom wall. Lanegan never shies away, his storytelling almost brutal in its directness.

If I’m being completely honest, I couldn’t put down Sing Backwards And Weep. Lanegan’s matter-of-fact, conversational writing style and knack for storytelling make it an effortless read. Sure the subject matter was often dark, and more than once I found myself shaking my head as the singer sank to a new low, but the tale is powerful and harrowing even if you do become a bit numb to the squalor after so many tales of depravity. The one thing missing is the rest of the story, as it were, the book ending abruptly with Lanegan receiving a phone call in 2002 informing him of Staley’s death. I was left wondering how Mark would describe his life after kicking dope; we didn’t get the redemption part of the story. Hopefully he’ll share it with us someday.

() I wrote the first draft of this post on May 17, and planned on posting it today. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to learn that Steve Handford died yesterday morning. RIP Steve.

Young Executives – “Honey, I’m Home!” (1982)

Young Executives, both with their band name and the title of their four-song EP Honey, I’m Home, captured the suburbian homogeneity that was (and to some extent still is…) Bellevue, Washington in the early 1980s. On the other shore of Lake Washington, across from its big sister Seattle, Bellevue managed to fully capture the dullness of non-urban residential enclaves. It had a notable mall (two if you count the older Crossroads) where is where we usually wanted to be taken by our parents. It also had the roller rink that was home to a lot of live shows by local rock and metal bands, kids looking for ways to alleviate the boredom of living on “the Eastside”. I never actually lived in Bellevue, though I did go to high school there for three years, right across the street from the mall, a school comprised of a hodge-podge of buildings, none of which were in great shape and which was eventually torn down and replaced with a nice park, which was a win all the way around. If I ever get lung disease, it will be from the three years I spent in those ancient buildings with their crumbling ceilings.

Honey, I’m Home opens with the ska-meets-Elvis-Costello-ish “Original Sin”, an upbeat jam expressing the desire to break free from what is expected, to do what you want to do. That’s followed by the early-new-wavish “Ice Age”, a fairly sharp change in direction – clearly Young Executives aren’t going to be boxed in by a specific genre or style. The B side opener “Body Waves” stays on the new wave side of the spectrum, flirting with post-punk, particularly in the chorus. The closer, “She Don’t Want It”, brings a different vocal cadence, a sort of staccato as the lyrics “She don’t want it” are repeated over and over.

This is one of the better early-to-mid 1980s Seattle-area private press records I’ve heard.