Led Zeppelin - How The West Was Won
Released on May 26 2003, the 2xDVD release of Led Zeppelin brought as much visual footage as was available out of the archives but fans of the band had for years wondered how many concerts had been recorded and how much of this would be officially sanctioned for release by Jimmy Page. If this 3xCD live album is anything to go by, Led Zeppelin would appear to have a significant amount of material locked in the vaults and which one hopes Page is continuing to work on.
By all accounts, Page's band were truly exceptional when performing live but nothing in their catalogue had genuinely captured the grunt of live Zeppelin - The Song Remains The Same was decent if not exactly enthralling and the BBC Sessions only contained the sound of live studio recordings. How The West Was Won, however, bearing a title all too typical of Zeppelin's lack of humility, tells of the years spent touring the US playing in every arena that would hold their amped-up bluster. In this case, the discs offer an excellent archive of the band performing live at the LA Forum and the Long Beach Arena in 1972, following the previous year's release of IV but before Houses Of The Holy.
As with their studio albums, How The West Was Won contains frantic bursts of guitar rock, extended onstage jams and slow burning blues as well as a short acoustic set. Indeed, Disc One sees this level of variation throughout, going from the fourteen seconds of feedback and guitar hum that opens the album, named LA Drone, to three acoustic songs that complete the set. On the way, Zeppelin take in the heavy rock of Immigrant Song and Black Dog, for which they were best known, the slow blues of Since I've Been Loving You and their signature song, Stairway To Heaven. With nothing lasting longer than ten minutes - most are actually much shorter - this is the most dazzling example of Zeppelin live, with Stairway To Heaven in particular, regardless of your actual feelings as regards the song, showing the band's abilities off to best effect, though the last track on this disc, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp illustrates a very different side from the thunder of Zeppelin's rock.
Disc Two opens with the descending riff that slowly introduces Dazed And Confused, the burning blues that soaked up a fair bit of space on I but which was used when played live as a means for Page to showcase his guitar skills, including taking to it with a violin bow. This recording does not disappoint with the familiar sound of bow-on-Les Paul appearing just six minutes into a running time of just over twenty-five, which also includes snatches of Walter's Walk and the funky The Crunge. Next up are the shorter, more muscular sounds of What Is And What Never Should Be, which is alternately taut rock and electric folk, and the dizzying, tripped-up riff of Dancing Days that recalls Plant's pre-Zeppelin days in the dance halls of his hometown of Birmingham.
The final track on this disc may wish to be avoided by those whose interest is challenged by the sound of snare drums being slapped, for Moby Dick sees Page and Jones bowing out after the first minute to allow Bonham his solo turn. Just over seven minutes in and the sticks are downed, inducing cheering in a small number of hardy souls in the audience that night at the LA Forum. The tenth minute sees the use of the gong but it is not until the seventeenth that Page and Jones make a welcome appearance.
The final disc in the set comprises Whole Lotta Love, itself including a medley of John Lee Hooker's Boogie Chillun, Let's Have A Party, Hello Marylou and Going Down Slow, as well as Rock And Roll, The Ocean from that year's Houses Of The Holy and the chugging blues of Willie Dixon's Bring It On Home, here reworked as heavy rock song complete with Plant on blues harp.
How The West Was Won finally adds to the Led Zeppelin catalogue what it always missed - a great live album and despite this release only taking us up to 1972, one suspects that like Page's breaking of a best-of into Early Days and Latter Days, he is currently is preparing subsequent releases for the post-72 era of Zeppelin including those concerts that followed the release of Physical Graffiti.