Led Zeppelin Review
The story is that when Jimmy Page asked The Who's drummer Keith Moon to join his new band - provisionally named The New Yardbirds - during the studio session booked to record Jeff Beck's Beck's Bolero, Moon joked that Page's band wouldn't just go down like a lead balloon but like a lead zeppelin. Clearly, that comment stuck in Page's mind and with a lineup of Page, a fellow session musician on bass, John Paul Jones, a singer and a drummer from Birmingham and an old-school manager in the formidable shape of Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin were complete. In case you're wondering, Grant dropped the 'a'. With a few gigs completed on a Scandinavian tour and a homecoming concert at Surrey University, Led Zeppelin had arrived.
During their lifetime (1968-1980, ending with the death of Bonham) Led Zeppelin released nine albums, ten if you count the final roundup of studio material compiled after Bonham's death. Beginning in 1969 with I, recorded in somewhere between fifteen to thirty-six hours, Zeppelin opened their recorded output with a furious debut, from the proto-punk of Communication Breakdown to the experimental rock blues of Dazed And Confused, the latter complete with phased middle section, I signaled a new direction even if Page had really done little more than cobble many of his old studio tricks and a bag of blues riffs onto a single album. II, on the other hand, was written and recorded on tour in North America and dropped a few of the studio gimmicks of the first album in favour of weighty riffs inspired by their name - Heartbreaker, Moby Dick and Whole Lotta Love - this was music created on the run with scrounged studio time and although rushed, II crunched out the true sound of Zeppelin.
III is a neglected gem inspired by a holiday in a cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur in 1970 and although containing Immigrant Song and Celebration Day, is a more acoustic release that either I or II. To be fair, acoustic Zeppelin still includes Friends and Gallows Pole, the latter a reworking of Leadbelly's Gallis Tree. Still, the relative failure of III ensured that Zeppelin bunkered down to make their most successful album, 1971's IV. Upset by the reaction to III, IV shipped without the name of the band anywhere on the sleeve, replaced by four runic symbols to represent each band member (itself appropriated by Sonic Youth for their superb Daydream Nation) and, backing up the claim that the music would speak for itself, it contains seven incredible songs including Rock And Roll, When The Levee Breaks, Misty Mountain Hop and Battle Of Evermore. Oh yeah, it also contains Stairway To Heaven, a rather overrated song that represents the worst of Zeppelin - overlong and overblown. Not for nothing is Stairway To Heaven Zeppelin's theme song, being a musical silk purse fashioned out of a sow's ear of a tune but from its debut in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, it has captured the public's interest.
After IV, Zeppelin reverted to album titles for 1973's Houses Of The Holy, which although not quite on a par with any of the earlier albums, still contains No Quarter, Dancing Days and The Rain Song, managing to capture the hopefulness, tenderness and lightness of touch from III with the electric crash of IV. Still, with 1975's double, and their greatest work, Physical Graffiti, it was back to II's leaden riffs with In My Time Of Dying Of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Custard Pie and, stomping like a dinosaur, Kashmir in which Zeppelin recounted a driving trip through India against an innovative and wonderful space-rock.
After Physical Graffiti, most of Zeppelin's earlier material had been mopped up, worked up into material worthy of a commercial release and, as a result, there was little left in the vaults. After Plant's car crash on Rhodes, Page flew out to see him through recovery and ended up writing most of Presence whilst there. As soon as Plant was ready to go back into a studio, Zeppelin got back together to record their seventh album with lyrics less mystical than before as they stared down at the world from the hazy atmosphere of their private jet. They still managed, however, to include some of their best work, despite criticism leveled at them by the burgeoning punk movement to write and record Achilles' Last Stand and Nobody's Fault But Mine. After Presence, it was one monumental rock folly - the live album/film, The Song Remains The Same - as well as one final studio album, In Through The Out Door and, following Bonham's death, a final album that collates whatever was left after Physical Graffiti, Coda. Not one of the last three albums was capable of standing up against anything recorded beforehand but there are individual moments of greatness including In The Evening, All My Love and Wearing And Tearing but quite rightfully, after losing the greatest drummer in the world to an alcohol-induced death, Page decided to call a halt to the band, retreating into the studio to finish Coda and take up his role as guardian of Zeppelin's own brand of faith.
What Page's decision meant was that, in addition to the jobbing roles picked up as sidemen to Plant-a-likes such as David Coverdale, he regularly returned to the studio to remaster Zeppelin's studio albums, complete the Remasters and Led Zeppelin boxsets, work with the BBC to get Zeppelin's BBC Sessions released and, in the last couple of years, compile the Early Days and Latter Days. Finally, this meant spending the last few years tracking down video footage and accompanying audio tracks to complete Led Zeppelin, their second DVD release to date (the first being the DVD release of The Song Remains The Same) with a simultaneous live album, How The West Was Won.
If there's a story in the footage contained here, it's the growth of a band from relatively humble roots, permitting Page and Jones' session background, to a continent-straddling phenomenon complete with bullying manager, scores of groupies in tow and a private jet - Starship. It is this sense of unlimited confidence that makes the Zeppelin footage, presented in chronological order, so compelling. The early footage, essentially most of Disc One, is of a band with hair grown long over their faces, huddling together on stage and appearing in the type of clothes most likely put on that morning. Whilst the music is often exceptional, both in the studio including the mimed Communication Breakdown and on the live recordings, Zeppelin are not showing the kind of on-stage confidence they would later demonstrate effortlessly.
Between 1970 and 1973, however, something happened within Zeppelin and the transformation between the band members over the two discs is extraordinary. Whilst Jones and Bonham only exhibit very slight changes and Plant loses his habit of wearing grandad shirts for none at all, Page packs away the diamond-patterned tank-top as worn in the Royal Albert Hall footage and puts together his archetypal style - flared silk suit with embroidered symbols/dragons with a low-slung Gibson Les Paul. The photographs taken from this time of Zeppelin on-stage are some of the most electrifying examples of rock photography taken anywhere and the footage on Disc Two from 1973 is astonishingly good. Then again, even the early footage taken from Supershow, a British music show from the late-60's, complete with staggering cameramen is wonderful, able to capture the band as their confidence grew from show to show.
The final footage available, from Led Zeppelin's 1979 concerts at Knebworth, are of a band with not a lot left to prove and they look relaxed on-stage without any of the extravagant showmanship of earlier years. Where the 1973 footage was dependent on only five albums, recorded prior to the release of Physical Graffiti, the Knebworth concerts allow Zeppelin to run through a set of greatest hits, albeit from a band that never actually had a conventional hit on 7" vinyl. Subsequently, Zeppelin simply let the music speak for them with a final run of four songs - Achilles' Last Stand, In The Evening, Kashmir and Whole Lotta Love - that wrap up both the early days and the latter days.
Little did they know it then but the death of Bonham soon after would ensure that Zeppelin were over, Knebworth was the last time the band would play together for a large audience and that from here on it, Zeppelin would finally be able to get their wish - that all along, it was only ever about the music.
Listed below are the main features included on the DVD, being principally four concerts filmed over a nine-year period, from the Royal Albert Hall concert in 1970, around the point in time when II was released, to the Knebworth concerts after the release of In Through The Out Door.
Royal Albert Hall (102m00s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic): Having been recorded so early in Led Zeppelin's life, the footage from the Royal Albert Hall is of a band who are certainly confident of their musical abilities but lacking in presence. Not to worry, however, because the music is fantastic, with the DTS Surround remixes on Dazed And Confused and Whole Lotta Love being particular highlights, with the ambient middle sections on each giving Page the space to open up the sound across all five speakers:
- We're Gonna Groove (3m13s)
- I Can't Quit You Baby (6m55s)
- Dazed And Confused (15m34s)
- White Summer (12m22s)
- What Is And What Never Should Be (4m40s)
- How Many More Times (20m18s)
- Moby Dick (15m22s)
- Whole Lotta Love (6m24s)
- Communication Breakdown (4m15s)
- C'mon Everybody (2m31s)
- Something Else (2m11s)
- Bring It On Home (7m43s)
As is typical of Zeppelin, they included a number of cover versions including Eddie Cochran's C'mon Everybody, Ben E. King's We're Gonna Groove and ending with Willie Dixon's Bring It On Home. Otherwise, and for Zeppelin at least, it's a furious run through highlights from their early pair of albums with only the extended Moby Dick causing a dip in quality. That's no fault of Bonham's abilities - he was a superb drummer - but simply that drum solos, as also heard on Cream's Toad performed by Ginger Baker, can stretch the tolerance of even the most fanatical audience. White Summer, on the other hand, is pretty much a solo Page number and the skill he demonstrates will surely have all but the most accomplished guitarists gazing wistfully at the tools of their trade in a most disheartening manner.
The menu footage is constructed around Zeppelin's 1970 trip to Iceland, showing the band arriving at what one can only assume to be Keflavik airport outside Rekjavik.
Using menu footage of Zeppelin onstage with Page bowing his Les Paul, Disc Two begins with a version of III's Immigrant Song (4m03s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic), written after their earlier trip to Iceland and surely Zeppelin's most self-mocking song, this matches chopped-up live footage from one concert with a recording of the song from another. It sounds as though it's not going to work but the editing is so fast that you'll barely notice the mismatched audio and video tracks. Otherwise, the sound is fantastic in DTS.
Madison Square Garden (23m24s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic): Including footage cut from The Song Remains The Same, the concert sequence from the 1973 concerts at Madison Square Garden is the most vibrant example of live Zeppelin included here. Whilst the band is superb, Page is mesmerising and at the top of his form, playing his preferred Les Paul and even getting Black Dog down without a misstep, something not even managed on the studio album:
For any viewers seeking further footage from this concert, it is also present in the DVD release of The Song Remains The Same. That film, however, also includes footage of Plant saving a damsel in distress, Jones riding a horse, Page turning into a wizard, Grant as a gangster and Bonham driving a tractor. With every pleasure, there is also pain...
Earl's Court (49m00s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic): The Earl's Court footage, if looking a little flat, was worth including for allowing three acoustic songs to be contained within this set, namely Going To California, That's The Way and Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp. However, it does also include Zeppelin's funniest song - the car/sex analogy of Trampled Underfoot that is both lyrically and musically a cut above the lumpen copies peddled by every metal band from then on. Still, when Jimmy Page straps on a double-necked 12/6 Gibson SG, you know it's time for Stairway To Heaven, which completes this set.
- Going To California (4m48s)
- That's The Way (6m18s)
- Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp (6m07s)
- In My Time Of Dying (11m28s)
- Trampled Underfoot (9m01s)
- Stairway To Heaven (10m26s)
Knebworth (50m11s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic): After an intro featuring the 'beautiful people' of 1979 with nary a punk to be seen, the DVD set is completed with footage from the concerts where Zeppelin performed in front of 260,000 over two days. Musically, it's superb, including Achilles' Last Stand, In The Evening and Kashmir and demonstrating a maturity that is contrasted with the earlier Rock And Roll and Whole Lotta Love but visually, Page is past his best, dressed more like an accountant than a rock guitarist and Plant is beginning to sound less like himself and more like one of the singers he influenced, becoming almost a parody of himself.
As the last song included in the main features, Whole Lotta Love is funkier than Zeppelin usually managed to be. Typically, Bonham's drumming and Jones bass/keyboards were the only concessions Zeppelin made to funk with Page's playing being fractured stop-start riffs but on Whole Lotta Love, they close with a much more relaxed version to that contained within the Royal Albert Hall footage on Disc One.
As Zeppelin bow and walk offstage for the very last time, the Led Zeppelin DVD draws a line under the live performances of this incredible band. With Bonham's death, this would be the last time Zeppelin would appear together on stage and with the footage assembled by Page, opening on Disc One with the band walking onstage to the closing moments on Disc Two, walking off, the stage life of Led Zeppelin is complete - wonderful stuff.
In keeping with his role of archiving all of Zeppelin's back catalogue, Jimmy Page has been the driving force behind the production of this DVD tracking down footage from Scandinavia, television companies in the UK, Warners Studio at Burbank in Hollywood and even offering an amnesty on bootleggers to come forward with 8mm film captured at various concerts. What Page and his assistant, Dick Carruthers, have achieved is frankly amazing with the concert sequences dominated by material either sourced from 16mm film, 35mm film (the 1973 Madison Square Garden concert) or video recordings but occasionally grabbing still images or grainy 8mm clips to energise the available footage, giving the impression of a band on the run, moving quickly and carefree.
During the time the band was in existence, Led Zeppelin were rather more keen on spreading the word via albums and concerts that singles or television shows and Page has admitted that not only is there very little footage ever having been recorded but what there is here was difficult to obtain. It's likely that he has exhausted all potential sources of footage so this, in conjunction with The Song Remains The Same, will no doubt form all that there will ever be.
If you've heard any of Page's remastered versions of the original albums then you'll know that not only does he have the ability to works wonders, he also has the backing of Warners and Atlantic to take his time and get it right. It will be no surprise then to hear that Led Zeppelin is an absolutely stunning release, remastered by Jimmy Page from the original live recordings and capable of justifying the purchase of this disc regardless of the visual content.
All of the live footage from the main feature has been included with three soundtracks - PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS Surround. The Stereo track is bright and immediate yet warm and well-rounded. The DD 5.1 Surround track is slightly too thin at high frequencies with a low-frequency component that is a little overpowering but the DTS Surround track is wonderful - perfectly balanced with a rich LF track and excellent use of the surround speakers.
Strangely for a band so well known for thunderous riffing, Zeppelin allowed for a considerable amount of space in their music, particularly on Dazed And Confused or Whole Lotta Love and Page relishes spinning the guitar track around the room as well as using each speaker to ensure the drums sit centrally with the viewer, hanging in the air and ensuring Bonham's drums heaved space around him.
It goes without saying that Page has ensured each audio track is free of noise, crackle and other audio blemishes. Otherwise, all of the bonus features have been provided with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that are just a little harsher compared to the DD 5.1 and DTS soundtracks but are still considerably better than most music DVD's.
Communication Breakdown (2m24s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is an early video clip for Led Zeppelin's opening song on I and its unsatisfactory appearance when compared to their live performances is likely to have convinced Zeppelin not to bother doing any more. This is presented in very basic black-and-white footage and is obviously mimed.
Danmarks Radio (31m24s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Jones, on one of the accompanying booklets, mentions that this was the only television show in Denmark that could provide an outlet for Zeppelin to publicise their album and the band subsequently crunch through four early classics with ease:
- Communication Breakdown (2m45s)
- Dazed And Confused (9m13s)
- Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You (6m50s)
- How Many More Times (12m08s)
The footage is in black-and-white, restored well and features the band on good form.
Supershow (7m31s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Other than their concert film, The Song Remains The Same, and some footage from the Knebworth gigs, this is the most famous Zeppelin footage, being a colour clip of the band playing Dazed And Confused in a studio surrounded by kids sitting cross-legged or at bar tables. The performance is great but this is one of the last times Page would be seen playing a Fender Telecaster, swapping it from here on in for a Gibson Les Paul and whilst the sound is good, Dazed And Confused seems a little weaker than it would be performed in later years.
Tous En Scene (9m01s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Not even Page's work in the studio could rescue the audio track here as Zeppelin perform the following songs in a studio they were incapable of filling:
- Communication Breakdown (3m00s)
- Dazed And Confused (5m29s)
The performance is lacklustre but this is hardly assisted by the lack of monitors making it difficult for the band to maintain their usual standard. Apparently, this was a popular light-entertainment variety show in France so it's hardly surprising that Zeppelin struggled with their own brand of heavy blues.
NYC Press Conference 1970 (3m27s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Given Page and Plant's facial hair, this was recorded around the time of III and features the singer and guitarist in a short interview prior to a number of concerts in New York. It's a typical press conference with a series of dumb questions given short shrift by a surprisingly well-spoken pairing of the two.
Down Under 1972 (5m17s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features some fantastic black-and-white footage of Led Zeppelin performing Rock And Roll on stage followed by some candid footage shot at an after-show party with Bonham and Jones talking about the previous year's IV.
The Old Grey Whistle Test (3m47s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Featuring Bob Harris in conversation with Robert Plant, this feature finds the singer talking about Physical Graffiti, then only just completed, as well as solo albums, singles and Zeppelin's label, Swan Song.
Promo - Over The Hills And Far Away (4m49s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): The song was released at the same time as Remasters and the Led Zeppelin boxset, but the video has been spliced together from a lot of concert footage in such a heavily affected manner as was no doubt popular in 1990. Video effects software? Clearly only a new toy back then.
Promo - Travelling Riverside Blues (4m12s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Dating from the same time as the Over The Hills And Far Away promo, this cover of a Robert Johnson blues song includes the rather famous line, "Squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg". The video itself is made up of concert footage, clips from The Song Remains The Same and stock footage of...uh, rivers. Imaginative, huh?
Both discs have songwriting credits listed silently over a black screen and a DVD credits extra that lists those involved in the making of this set over a live performance of Heartbreaker (2m04s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo) that includes a series of clips from various concerts and footage from The Song Remains The Same. Finally, Disc Two features Intro, Outro and Behind The Scenes footage that can be accessed off the main menu but not in the main feature, including shots of Starship, Zeppelin's private jet.
As a closing not on this section, the DVD is actually encoded to cover Regions 2-6 but does not include Region 1.
How The West Was Won
This DVD was simultaneously released with a 3xCD live album compiled from new material, which answered the one complaint Led Zeppelin had regarding their back catalogue - a good live album. Whilst The Song Remains The Same was decent if ultimately not exactly enthralling and the BBC Sessions only contained the sound of live studio recordings, there was nothing to genuinely contain the bluster of live Zeppelin. How The West Was Won, a title all too typical of Zeppelin's lack of humility, ensured fans now had an excellent audio archive of the band performing live at the LA Forum and the Long Beach Arena in 1972. As with their studio albums, How The West Was Won contains frantic bursts of guitar rock, slow burning blues and a short acoustic set. As ever, with early Zeppelin, also evidenced on the 2xDVD set, there are the extended early songs including Dazed and Confused, Whole Lotta Love and Moby Dick but better still are the shorter, more muscular later songs including Black Dog and Rock And Roll as well as two songs that would not appear on a studio album until the next year's Houses Of The Holy - The Ocean and Dancing Days.
Given this collection only records live Zeppelin up to 1972, one can only assume that Page is preparing subsequent releases for the post-72 era of Zeppelin including concerts following Physical Graffiti.
Despite a number of questions on duplication, there is no material included on How The West Was Won that is also on the DVD set so fans should have no concerns about paying twice for the same content but on different formats.
Despite subsequent reunions following Bonham's death, sometimes including Jones, sometimes not, Led Zeppelin live were a distant proposition. Being born at the time of IV and ignoring Zeppelin for many years due to a preference for punk, new wave and noisy rock, I came late to discovering them but over the last five years or so, culminating in this release, Zeppelin are playing an ever increasing part in my album collection. I'd say buy a best-of but, really, buy the lot even In Through The Out Door and Coda for, unlike many other bands, Zeppelin ended before they tailed off into forgettable albums and have, in Jimmy Page, an artist capable of ensuring that his band's legacy remains intact.
This DVD release, much as with Anthology by The Beatles, sees Page document all the footage that exists of Zeppelin including television shows, concerts and simple recordings of events from behind-the-scenes, combining official and unofficial shots of the band to complete a two-disc set that really out to send many other bands back into production suites just to try and keep up with it. For Zeppelin fans, this is essential; for anyone else this is still recommended as the best example yet of a band making the most of the format.