This two-CD set captures a 1968 concert taped at the Anderson Theater in New York City, roughly three months before the Yardbirds folded. This show was briefly released as an LP in 1971, but pulled off the market after legal action over its poor audio quality. Now substantially improved here, there’s also a second CD of studio outtakes to fill out the set.
With Jeff Beck long gone from the band, guitar duties fell to the 24-year-old Jimmy Page, accompanied by bassist Chris Dreja, Keith Relf on vocals and harp, and drummer Jim McCarty. It’s fascinating to hear the Yardbirds’ already-dated British R&B contrasted against the modern axemanship of Page, busy crafting riffs that would serve him down the road in Led Zeppelin. It’s a strange marriage, but somehow it works. And the updated audio is great – notably the sound of Page’s fat Telecaster, ripe with fuzz and a newfangled wah pedal.
The concert opens with “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” a holdover from the Beck era that cooks with Jimmy’s frenetic lead. The older cut “Mister, You’re A Better Man Than I” still shows life with distortion, fast pull-offs, and Indian raga licks. “Dazed And Confused” is illuminated with Page’s radical violin-bowing technique, though it’s amusing to hear it over choppy, Brit-pop drumming and Relf’s pedestrian blues harmonica.
From the Yardsbirds’ just-released Little Games LP, we can hear Page’s dubious reformulation of the blues staple “Rollin’ And Tumblin’.” No surprise, Jimmy’s take on “I’m A Man” can’t touch the white-hot inferno of Beck’s 1965 assault, yet he still delivers fierce licks aplenty.
According to the liner notes the Yardbirds were, strangely enough, avid Velvet Underground fans, interested in garage rock and the rising American underground scene. That’s evident in the studio-CD cut “Avron Knows,” which snarls like a London punk anthem a decade later. Page’s faux flamenco acoustic chops are highlighted in “Spanish Blood,” while “Know That I’m Losing You” is an early version of Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine,” replete with that soulful bottleneck break.
In all, this is a glimpse of the band’s final U.S. tour and, thanks to expert studio touch-ups, offers a compelling live-album experience. While the Yardbirds were on the way out, Page brought plenty of firepower to the party and it’s hard to miss the future Zeppelinisms all over the place. Less than five months after this New York gig, Jimmy convened a jam session with blokes by the names of Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. Rock and roll was never the same again.
This article originally appeared in VG April 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.