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.