Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin DVD (2003)

Led_Zeppelin_-_Led_Zeppelin_(video)From blogcritics.org

The seventies had just ended, and being that I was a newly crowned teenager, I was just beginning to formulate my musical tastes. The old standbys on my turntable, such as Kiss, Aerosmith, and Ted Nugent, found themselves being replaced by more “deeper” bands such as Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Kansas. I remember hearing the entire Led Zeppelin II album, for the first time, during a hockey team party at the captain’s house. He had the ultimate stereo system, with the giant floor standing speakers, and when that powerful opening guitar riff from “Heartbreaker” shook the room, this was all it took for me. Zeppelin was now my religion.

When my hometown movie theater showed the just-released The Song Remains The Same concert movie, my best friend and I were the first ones in line. By then, we were already wanna-be guitarists and Jimmy Page disciples, so we were dizzy with anticipation to see our heroes on the big screen. The Song Remains The Same was shown in the “art” movie theater in town, which only had one giant screen and an awesome sound system. When the mighty Zeppelin stormed the Madison Square Garden stage that night, we were completely blown away. We were simply entranced by Jimmy Page’s coolness. The black magic wizard suite, the Gibson Les Paul slung down to his knees, the violin bow playing, the ZOSO symbol– the man was a God. We left that movie so spellbound that we both ran out and bought our first cheap electric guitars, the very next day. Mine was a used Les Paul knock-off, so I could play like Jimmy of course. I still have that guitar.

That was almost a quarter century ago and Led Zeppelin has remained one of my favorite bands. Their demise in 1979, because of John Bonham’s untimely death, was a tragedy. Oh, the things that could have been. As the only official document of the Led Zeppelin concert experience, at the time, The Song Remains The Same was a “must-have” for every fan, but was always somewhat unsatisfying. The Song Remains The Same concerts were not some of Zeppelin’s best performances, the song selections were not the best (and too few), and the concert footage was interrupted with annoying behind the scenes footage and fantasy sequences. I was resigned to the probability that this video was all we would ever get from Led Zeppelin, until a few years ago when the rumors of the new DVD project started to spread throughout the world. Lo-and-behold, the Led Zeppelin DVD was finally born, and thankfully it has exceeded most of our expectations.

Led Zeppelin DVD is a mammoth package featuring over five hours of material on two disks. The primary concert footage is taken from four separate shows at The Royal Albert Hall, Madison Square Garden, Earls Court, and Knebworth, and span nearly ten years. The Royal Albert Hall show is the earliest of the bunch, recorded in 1970, only months after releasing the Led Zeppelin II album, and they were already on their way to reaching superstar status. This show reminded me of when they showed Spinal Tap during their early, pre-heavy-metal-band TV performances when they still had short hair and wore cardigan sweaters. It wasn’t quite that funny though. Jimmy wasn’t yet wearing his trademark black, dragon-embroidered, bellbottoms and matching vest, but was dressed in some gay looking checkered sweater-vest. It was just very un-rock-star looking. He and Plant’s best mutton-chop sideburn contest was also pretty amusing. On the other hand, the music was incredible, and that is what matters the most.

The fantastic restoration of this early film footage is miraculous. The audio quality is better than most new DVDs currently being released. Hearing Jimmy’s bow playing jump from speaker to speaker during the phenomenal performance of “Dazed and Confused”, sent chills down my spine. Some of Zeppelin’s songs take a very different form live, and “How ManyMore Times” turned into an awesome extended jam during this particularshow. Jimmy’s guitar playing is so sloppy at times it made me cringe, butseconds later he would turn around and play something that makes your jaw hitthe floor. The sloppiness is just more noticeable now in the days of Vai,Satriani, and Petrucci, but then again how many of their riffs can you hum offthe top of your head, compared to Jimmy’s guitar riff encyclopedia. “Moby Dick” featured a 21 year old John Bonham performing his incredible drum solo, using both his hands and his drumsticks. The surround mix was especially effective during this song as different drums and cymbals emanated from different speakers and totally enveloped you. John Paul Jones was always the secret weapon for Led Zeppelin. He never received the notoriety or praise as the other three members, but he was probably the most accomplished musician of the three. His bass playing throughout this DVD was staggering, and the later shows will feature more of his keyboard and mandolin prowess as well. The middle section of “Communications Breakdown” had an extended blues jam that featured Jones’ impressive bass playing. Right down to the final smoking version of “How Many More Times”, featuring Plant wailing on the harmonica, the entire show was mesmerizing.

The 1973 Madison Square Garden songs were taken from previously unseen and restored footage from The Song Remains The Same movie. From the opening moments of “Black Dog” you get a sense of how much the band has changed in the three years since The Royal Albert Hall shows. They now exude that swagger of being the number one rock and roll band in the world. Jimmy is all decked out in his trademark concert attire, extra long hair, Les Paul slung way too low, and that constant look of ecstasy on his face as he rips through those legendary solos. The guy couldn’t have weighed more than a buck-o-five, thanks to a steady diet of Jack Daniels, heroin and sexual decadence. It’s miraculous the guy lived through the seventies. There were only four songs featured from this concert and they were all fantastic–finally a complete version of “Black Dog”. John Paul showed off his keyboard skills during one of my favorite Zep IV tunes, “Misty MountainHop”. He and Bonham locked into a monster groove throughout the song,demonstrating why they were the best rhythm section in rock back then. “The Ocean”! Holy shit this song RIPPED. “Laaa Laaa – La La La Laa – Laa La La La La La La La Laaaaaa”. Enough Said!

The 1975 Earls Court footage delved mostly into the acoustic, folk-rock side of Led Zeppelin. This side of the band is what separated them from the other blues-rock supergroups of the day. When they followed up the heavy-metal, riff-rock assault of Led Zeppelin II, with the acoustic-folk dominated Led Zeppelin III, people were dumbfounded. Page finger-picking an acoustic and using weird alternate tunings? Jones playing the mandolin? What the hell was going on? They were showing off their diverse musical influences and shoving them right in our faces, is what they were doing, and Earls Court highlights these moments in glorious detail. The first half of the show featured the band seated in chairs running through excellent versions of “Going To California”, “That’s The Way”, and “Bron Yr Aur Stomp”, which featured Jones on themandolin, and Page on the acoustic guitar. Plant was singing better than everhere. By now, the ultimate double album, “Physical Graffiti”, had been released and Zeppelin paid tribute with rousing performances of “In My Time Of Dying” and “Trampled Underfoot”. What a contrast from the acoustic set! Bonham’s thunderous drumming really shined on these two songs, and Jones carried “Trampled Underfoot” with his unique and powerful organ riffs. This incredible set was fittingly closed with a great performance of “Stairway To Heaven”. Page actually nailed his famous guitar solo, which is kinda rare for him, before following with some nice improvisation. This epic masterpiece just never gets tiring. They must have sold their souls to the devil to get handed that song.

The 1979 Knebworth footage is from the last live concert performance Zeppelin ever did. This makes it the most special part of the DVD for me. They tear through some of their newer material from the Presence and In Through The Out Door albums, which demonstrate how much they have evolved in just a few years. “Achilles Last Stand” was a thunderous rock and roll assault, and Page was notably in the zone during that song. This was his best performance of the entire DVD. (Dream Theater plays a great cover of “Achilles” on their Change Of Seasons CD – check it out). “In the Evening” was powerful. I always wondered how Page got the guitar sound on that song, and now I know. He yanks the shit out of the whammy bar throughout the entire song. Theyclosed with rousing version of “Whole Lotta Love”, which after three sweat-soaked hours, dazzling the 300,000 fans into the wee hours of the morning, had morphed into a funky improvised jam.

Jimmy Page and the people who helped him restore, remaster, and produce this masterpiece deserve an award. The restoration quality of these 1970’s, 16mm film segments is miraculous. The DTS and Dolby 5.1 surround mixes were even more astounding. They literally blow away many of the new DVD concerts, which were recorded and produced THIS CENTURY! I have focused primarily on the four main concert performance in this review, but this DVD package also contains tons of other footage including performances on French, Danish, and British TV shows in 1969. There is also a version of “Immigrant Song” that was a digitized mix of two separate performances in 1972. This should have been left off the DVD. Sure there were a few other things to complain about. Sometimes, the footage goes into still shots, or slow motion shots, or speeds up, and other annoying camera tricks were used, but this was done very sparingly and was not a major distraction. I will definitely not fault them for putting out ALL of the footage they could find on the DVD.

I only wish there were more.

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February 28, 2013 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin DVD | ,

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