Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Yardbirds—
Live Yardbirds! Feat. Jimmy Page


Released 1971 on Epic
The Seth Man, March 2001ce
“Jimmy Page...plays guitar on this album like you would not believe.” -Lenny Kaye (from the original liner notes)


Recorded live a few blocks away from The Fillmore East at the Anderson Theatre in New York City on March 30th, 1968, this album was released three years after it was initially recorded by inept Epic Records sound recordists. It was revealed in several articles and interviews that the engineers’ previous experience were in recording Mantovani LPs but sound effect records were probably closer to their specialty as insanely inappropriate bullfighting cheers and supper club murmuring were added whenever Jimmy Page took a solo or there was a quiet moment that needed to be ‘filled.’ It’s by far even faker sounding than “Got Live if You Want it!” or The Seeds’ “Raw And Alive.” But perhaps the most ornery thing about “Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page” besides this (and the mistaken microphone placement in front of Pagey’s monitor, not stage amplifier which renders his guitar signal -- especially on the wah-wah parts -- akin to a strangulated/squonking noise half its real strength but fantastic noise just the same) was its obvious cash-in on Led Zeppelin’s then-gigantic popularity. The inclusion of “White Summer” and “I’m Confused” (itself the Jake Holmes-penned predecessor to Zeppelin’s own “Dazed And Confused”) must have been temptation enough for die-hard Zep heads who purchased it quickly, for it was immediately met with legal injunctions from Page himself and whisked off the market within a week of its release. And when Columbia Special Products saw fit to re-release it in 1976, it was once again met with legal action from Page and subsequently re-deleted.

But despite the legal and aesthetic ramifications, it’s fantastic all the same. Because although The Yardbirds’ other live outings (“Five Live Yardbirds” and “Live With Sonny Boy Williamson”) weren’t exactly sonic or mojo-swilling achievements that demand instant unswerving aural fealty, The Yardbirds were an incredibly powerful live act once Beck joined up and became the absolute progenitors of proto-Zeppelin rawk(us)’n’rollin’ to the extreme. And doubly when Page joined him on the oft-vaunted (for good reason) twin-guitar attack of, well, count ‘em: “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” “Psycho Daisies,” “Stroll On” and a silly commercial jingle for “Great Shakes” before Beck went bye-bye due to temper/mental musical differences. Page stayed on, but in the studio was shackled to fall just short of magnificence, due to producer Mickie Most forcing them to record maudlin, dopey dross the like of “Ha Ha Said The Clown,” “Goodnight Sweet Josephine” and “Ten Little Indians” (Although they did sneak in the classic psychedelic gem “Glimpses” on their “Little Games” album and committed a slice of insanity to their last single: the B-side, “Think About It.”)

But on this record, Most and his syrupy baton are gone, and Pagey is blasting out at full velocity, so all is right with the world. Backed by ex-rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja bumped over on bass, Jim McCarty on stiff though effective drumming while vocalist Keith Relf seems content to emcee the crowd dazed and confused for the majority of the programme. Dreja valiantly keeps his head JUST about water with his Samwell-Smith learnt ‘rave-up’ bass lines, but McCarty and Relf both seem more content on keeping everything ticking along like vintage Crawdaddy Club (although at this point both Relf and McCarty were newly-converted to ALL THINGS psychedelic.) Relf’s voice cracks and sometimes his harmonica blasts are ill-timed and shrill but it’s important to note that despite this (or maybe, because of it) it makes for a compelling contrast backing “Jimmy “Magic Fingers, Grand Sorcerer of the Magic Guitar” because he tears loose with the abandon of a session man’s ultimate revenge: not served as cold as the poet would prefer, but hotter than all Hell and busting out all over the place like he was already in Led Zeppelin. It seems as though as The Yardbirds had put both Clapton and Beck through their paces, now their new guitarist would in turn do to them.

So mote be it, and all that...

A P.A. announcement opens the show, and the first of many post-production roars of approval ensue. You’d think it was Zeppelin onstage that night or something, and wouldn’tja know it -- when Pagey slams out the opening chords to “Train Kept-A-Rollin’” it sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin. That is, until McCarty’s draggy tom-tom rolls are an instant reminder that no Bonzo-ism will be forthcoming on this platter. Which is A-OK, because they tear through their hits melting with sweat: “Shapes of Things”; a mini-medley of “Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I” / “Heart Full of Soul”; “Over, Under, Sideways Down”; and “I’m A Man.” Unfortunately, a lame rendition of “My Baby” ends side one instead of another earth-shaking epic like “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” or “I’m Not Talking,” but again, that’s OK, because it’s totally crazy, anyway, ‘specially with all the silver-mirrored Barrettonian Telecaster-ing from the sensitive and velvet-encrusted persona of James Patrick Page, as he always injects some sting-raying wah-wah for good measure when needed.

Special attention should be paid to “I’m Confused,” as it reveals how to large extent it was Page’s ideas of arrangement that transformed the Jake Holmes acoustic number into the ‘light/heavy’ drug numb-out that would be unveiled forevermore as “Dazed And Confused.” The creeping malaise intro, violin bow solo, the rave-up and the return flight path are all in attendance, backed by a band who were giving it all they could and were still being outclassed by a guitarist who was firing all cylinders with a demented precision and blistering abandon. Even Relf’s high-pitched, bleating harmonica fills cannot compete and even though his voice cracks on the sloppy and feverishly rocking “Over Under Sideways Down” does not matter one bit for Dreja’s got the bass zooming part down and it elegantly entangles within Page’s proto-metallic/psychedelic Richter-dwarfing riffing. And the gargantuan wah-wah fluttering in “Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I” is no sop to psychedelia but a hardened-to-perfection exploration of mind destruction that turns the corner immediately into the alarming fuzz/distortion banked guitar when they change gears into “Heart Full Of Soul.”

Page also turns in another pre-Zep number, the acoustic “White Summer” from The Yardbirds’ last studio album, “Little Games” (itself a re-write of Davey Graham’s “She Walks Through The Fair.”) Then Relf expresses consideration towards the re-creation of the solo for “Shapes Of Things,” adding: “Well, we’ll have a good try, at least...” Well, Howlin’ Relf needn’t had bothered, as Page detonates it all with just as much if not more mastery than Beck’s original solo, and that’s pretty frightening an achievement in itself (despite the squelchy sounding though rib-tickling wah-wah, due to the technical errors that abound on this recording.) The finale is their hoary ’65 showstopper, “I’m A Man,” though given an extended 11 minutes plus psychedelic workout that builds with further improvisations Page would later re-work into live versions of “Dazed And Confused” with Led Zeppelin, as further violin bow, wah-wah, fuzz and the whole early ZOSO bag of tricks gets dumped onstage with controlled, all-seeing/blind fury...amidst, of course: roaring cries of approval taken directly off a bullfight ring sound effects record.

A fascinating live album whose energy isn’t the least bit dissipated by its overdubbed stupidity. It’s practically Led Zeppelin: but before their total components of power, mystery and the hammer of the gods were fully in place.