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.
Twenty-three years since they called it a day as a working band, heavy metal protagonists Led Zeppelin are still the hottest thing going. And little wonder, with their newly released live three-CD set How The West Was Won, as well as a two-DVD set running over 5-hours long, featuring the rather unimaginative title Led Zeppelin DVD, just hitting the shelves.
Both of these releases shot out of the gate last week to claim both the number one spots in Billboard’s Top 200 album charts and their Top Music Videos chart, respectively. As if those numbers weren’t impressive enough, the DVD shipped quadruple platinum upon the day of its release and the CD single platinum. Not bad for a band whose lifespan only lasted from 1969 to 1980, when the untimely accidental death of drummer John Bonham caused a premature end to a band just hitting their well-seasoned stride.
The DVD on the other hand, is an astounding collection of live performances that spans from when they buried their moniker as The New Yardbirds and took flight under the name Led Zeppelin in 1969 to one of their last, and most infamous, concerts at England’s Knebworth Festival in 1979. All of the footage featured here has never been officially released and has been seen by very few people outside of the Zeppelin camp. While some of this material has leaked out onto the bootleg market, the unbelievable quality in both sound and vision is nothing short of breathtaking. Under the personal supervision of Jimmy Page and director Dick Carruthers, the material has been painstakingly restored, remixed and remastered in Dolby 5.1 Surround, DTS and PM Two-Channel Stereo. Of course, if that’s all Greek to you, it won’t matter, because it’ll all make complete sense once you pop either of these gems into your DVD player and pump up the volume.
Disc One documents the band in their infancy between 1969 and 1970 – a time when they conquered entire countries with each invading tour. The bulk of this disc features an amazing concert from London’s Royal Albert Hall which shows Zeppelin as a young, hungry rock band on the rise. On the strength of their second album Led Zeppelin II the band tore through early favorites “Whole Lotta Love,” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and “Bring It On Home,” which showcased Plant as a worthy blues harpist. Page’s incendiary leads throughout early favs such as “Communication Breakdown” and the epic “Dazed and Confused,” as well as the reflective instrumental number “White Summer” are documented here, proving why he’s always been revered as one of the best rock guitarists of our time.
As if that wasn’t enough, Disc One is also chockfull of extras, such as a 1969 black-and-white promo for “Communication Breakdown,” proving that the band could lip-sync with the best of them, as well as a monumental 1969 performance from Danish T.V. that finds this explosive foursome at the foothills of Mount Olympus with only way to go but up.
If the material that opens Disc Two feels strangely familiar, that’s because it should, since it was filmed from the same 1973 Madison Square Garden shows used for their 1976 feature film The Song Remains The Same. Songs such as “Misty Mountain Hop” from their Four Symbols album, and “The Ocean,” from Houses of The Holy, were cut from the film, but are, thankfully, restored here in all their floorboard-busting metal glory. Even though the hauntingly beautiful blues of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” featured here was also in the film, the rather annoying edits from the movie are reduced to a minimum leaving the power of the onstage visuals to augment the aural splendor of this number.
As revelatory as everything is thus far, its the two shows that follow that finds the band comfortably relaxed in their thrones as rock royalty. The first is from London’s Earl’s Court in 1975 where the band is all seated for an intimate pre-Unplugged acoustic set, featuring “Going To California,” “That’s The Way” and “Bron Yr Aur Stomp,” before the steam gets rolling again on the Delta blues-by-way-of-Shropshire number “In My Time of Dying,” “Trampled Underfoot” and the three-headed rock Hydra “Stairway To Heaven.”
Following Earl’s Court is a show that takes on a dramatically different feel as Zeppelin stages a concert of mammoth proportions to over 400,000 people during two days at the Knebworth Festival in 1979. While detractors have claimed that this period in their live shows finds the band sloppy and deteriorating, the 50 minutes of live footage featured here should be enough to cork the blowholes of any doubters. Wearing and tearing through latter day wonderments such as “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Sick Again,” “In The Evening,” “Kashmir, as well as the underrated “Achilles’ Last Stand,” this was obviously a band that still knew how to properly wield the hammer of the gods to the very end.
For fans of Led Zeppelin, this collection – one that visually traces the path of mere mortals to that of mythological deities – is a cause for celebration. It’s been a long time, indeed!
As a notorious talk-to-the-hand band, Led Zeppelin’s rock-star megalomania bottomed out with 1976’s The Song Remains the Same, a collision of Fantasy Island and concert film that all but necessitated the birth of punk rock. “When the early punks said it was self-indulgent,” notes Robert Plant in the booklets to the Led Zeppelin DVD, referring to the band’s stage show, “they missed the point. It was the opposite: to achieve what we did onstage, it took a lot of personal restraint.”
Restraint isn’t a word that comes to mind after five hours and 20 minutes of this 2-DVD set, but neither is bollocks. When disc one cues up with the four English longhairs walking onstage at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, tearing into Ben E. King’s “We’re Gonna Groove” then “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” both of which became part of the band’s Coda 10 years later, it takes your breath away. Plant’s Grecian good looks, Bonzo’s Saxon attack, Jimmy Page’s long spidery fingers on 12 Middle Eastern-burnt minutes of “White Summer” conscript only John Paul Jones to the shadows of this revelatory BBC shoot.
The band bloats up for “Dazed and Confused,” “Moby Dick,” and “How Many More Times,” all double-digit in length, but at this point in their young career — they’d been together “barely a year” — improvisation underlies their stage show. An Eddie Cochran twofer in the encore, “C’mon Everybody” and “Somethin’ Else,” is as rough as it is raunchy. Thirty minutes of TV footage from Reykjavik, Iceland, the same year is even leaner, meaner.
Disc two revisits The Song Remains the Same like a bad flashback, but 50 minutes from Earls Court in 1975 turn on a pair of Physical Graffiti indelibles: “In My Time of Dying” and “Trampled Under Foot.” Led Zeppelin’s last stand, Knebworth 1979, matches Page’s pouring sweat and emaciated grit with a dream set list: “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Sick Again,” “Achilles Last Stand,” and “In the Evening,” among others.
Bonuses include bootleg footage of “The Song Remains the Same” on the DVD menu.
How the West Was Won, a blazing 3-CD tie-in, splices together two L.A. arena gigs from 1972’s Zoso tour. Houses of the Holy is still nine months away, but “Black Dog” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” back-to-back are gonzo. New “summer song,” disc two’s “Dancing Days,” follows 25 minutes of “Dazed and Confused” and precedes 19 minutes of “Moby Dick.” Likewise, “Rock & Roll” gives way to “The Ocean” on disc three, but only after 23 minutes of “Whole Lotta Love.”
While the last five minutes of “Dazed and Confused” are almost as wicked as the movie of the same name, and Bonzo’s whale dance is totally Ahab — the interpolations on “Whole Lotta Love” fun, sly — these 67 combined minutes could’ve been better spent. In light of the DVD, the entire Earls Court performance would have sprawled Physical Graffiti nicely, while the three-hour (inadvertent) farewells at Knebworth deserve historical accounting. Next time.
For now, even punk rockers should wallow in the Led Zeppelin DVD, if only to remember the laughter.