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…