Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (2003)


The introduction of Led Zeppelin into 5.1 Surround DVD-Audio was a highly anticipated event. Of course, the real anticipation is the like of LZIV or Houses of the Holy but this release of How the West Was Won is a great place to start. Fans of Led Zeppelin will take the Hi-Res plunge if just to experience Led Zeppelin in 5.1, a long awaited perception of cosmic euphoria that would wash over the masses cleansing them of the sins of late adoption.
With How The West Was Won ending an official drought of Led Zeppelin product and its coverage of the band in their environment (live), one would have to be very careful with their given name to avoid derision or even death by misadventure.

Led Zeppelin has climbed their own Stairway to Heaven. The hordes of fans salivated at the very hint of this title’s release as well this 5.1 issue. Coupled with the spectacular Led Zeppelin DVD, fans are likely feeling blessed. And while this review, like others, is unlikely to change to minds of anyone wanting, or not wanting, to purchase this DVD-Audio set, we can at least provide our thoughts on the phenomenon known as Led Zeppelin. Kick the tires so to speak.

This 2 DVD-A set is the result of recorded concert tapes located by Jimmy Page as he was putting together the DVD. Recorded from LA Forum and Long Beach Arena shows in 1972, the set is a weave not only of monolithic songs becoming medleys but also of the two shows sequenced interchangeably. The end result? An ass-kicking document of what many refer to as one of the greatest bands in rock history. But why did it take so long? The answer to that question is one of professionalism. First off, The Song Remains The Same, the band’s other live set, is a carefully thought out and well engineered adventure that showcases the height of the band and their placement in time.

The second approach is simply this, why not now? The band has been out of commission for many years. This recording and the release of the Led Zeppelin DVD bolster their high profile. This becomes especially true if they plan on reforming. This is called shrewd marketing and is used by labels to keep an artist on the sales chart long after their recording output has ceased. Think Elvis and The Beatles. Think of an upcoming and unknowing generation of kids. They have to be educated.

The songs on this set are representative of their career, covering all of the great moments. The fact that they extend some songs to excess and that some are folded into medleys only highlight the prolific talents of the band and their instrumental workmanship. And this is a 2 DVD-A set. Imagine how Led Zeppelin really needs to be displayed in order to truly provide a firm grasp of their live prowess. In short, 3 or even 4 discs aren’t enough.

How the West Was Won is a great set that is unbridled by fantasy and is packed with the real deal. Unleashed Zep at their finest. And while I found a vocal track or two to be a little too restrained (Immigrant Song, for example), overall, the set is pure. There is nothing here that won’t satisfy fans. There is “Black Dog”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Rock and Roll”, “Dazed and Confused”, and “Over The Hills and Far Away”. And it doesn’t stop there.

“Going to California” is a very entrancing performance, one that is defining of the broad range of the band’s talents. It’s followed by a perfect rendition of “That’s The Way”. The medley bits like “Hello Marylou” that are given the LedZep treatment are well executed and seamless as they moved between each other.

The DVD-Audio quality of sound on this set is a mixed bag. Given the fact that we have a live element here certainly vexes the overall fidelity. There is a lot to clean up here. The mix is not perfect but what do you expect from old analogue tapes that contain live recordings versus multi-tracks that can be individually cleaned up? There is some muddiness of the sound. You can’t expect the best. Having said that, is this set a worthy pickup for the expected plunge? You bet it is.

Let’s look at the menu first. The first thing that pops up is the album cover art with menu highlighted, kind of clunky and useless when it could have gone straight to the menu. Again, no real matter, just nitpicky stuff. You then can choose from the song playlist of that which is the current disc and audio options. Audio options give you the ability to choose 5.1 Surround or Stereo.

The Stereo option is clearly the way to go. “Black Dog” comes blasting out with Page’s guitar showing off every nuance of it’s play. Bonham’s drums and percussion are clearly defined as is Plant’s vocals. If anything could be said to take a hit, it’s Jones’ bass which gets a bit buried in all this. On “Stairway to Heaven”, Plant’s vocals get muddied by the blend of all the instruments as the performance heats up. But you pop over to “Going to California” and the clarity is perfection in every way as is “That’s The Way”.

But this is a live setting, things like this are easily forgiven if you can get a spectacular performance that warms the heart and brings back the memories. How the West Was Won does just that. Yes, one could settle for the 3CD set and that’s fine. Purists want the whole thing though. HiRes fans will not be disappointed. Those that are should wait for the band’s eventual conversion and release of LedZep’s classic library.

The 5.1 puts you in the middle of the stage with vocals sharing fronts and backs. They stick with the stage positioning of Page and Jones in their respective standing points. The Advanced Resolution mix of the Stereo output is a clean representation of the arena shows. You can tell where you are. It also bears to be mentioned that these mixes are 48kHz/24bit.

There is no booklet included in this set. The discs are housed in a digipak that opens bookstyle. Credits are under the two discs with the song list on the back of the pack.

What is really needed is a live album that spans the entire career including the under-rated In Through The Out Door. But that may be 20 years down the road.

The tires have been kicked and they hold up extremely well. As if you really needed me to tell you this. Regardless, it’s been a long time, been a long time…

May 14, 2010 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won |

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: