Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won (2003)


Led Zeppelin was pretty good at making a statement in the studio. A combination of strong musicianship and Jimmy Page’s clear idea of what he wanted the band to sound like on record resulted in a well sculpted, organic studio package. This is all very good and well, but that isn’t what made them the legend they are today. They took the world by force on stage, filling giant arenas with people and projecting a sound to match. They were louder, bolder, and more experimental live, often expanding a song into a 20 minute medley or jam. This method was how they managed to fill venues time after time, how they came to embody the idea of “arena rock,” and how the west was won. What a fitting title for an album representing their live sound at the height of their career.

Formed from tapes long thought lost, the concerts that make up this album, one on June 25th, 1973 at the L.A. Forum and the other two days later at the Long Beach arena, and are meshed together, sometimes with songs individually cherry picked, sometimes with tracks quite literally blended, mixing bits and pieces from both version of the song from both shows to create a kind of über-concert. Additionally, whatever audience banter there might have been was edited out of the final product. It may dishearten some to hear that this as much a creation of studio trickery as it is raw energy, but with no knowledge of the album’s creation no one would suspect this was not the original, untampered with tapes. If this bothers you, though, if you would rather experience the show in unadulterated audio purity, turn instead to the bootleg recording Burn like a Candle, which contains the June 25th performance in its entirety.

The contents of these performances are stretched across three discs, three sets if you will, and contain strong selections from their first four albums and several completed numbers from their unreleased Houses of the Holy LP. The first of these features 10 songs of approximately the same length they were on album. The sound, however, is nothing like what you would hear on their albums. From the opening moments of “Immigrant Song,” the band explodes with a fury often indicated, but never fully expressed in the studio. Page noodles more, Plant wails more, and John Paul Jones holds everything together with driving bass lines, while Bonham beats the ever-loving *** out of his drum kit. It becomes quite obvious that this is a band in equal parts with no clear leader, even though Page and Plant hold the role of “frontman” the most obviously. There are some wonderful additions and alterations to a few of these tracks, most notably the altered guitar work on “Stairway to Heaven,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” and particularly “Heartbreaker” whose cadenza like guitar solo has been extended several minutes.

But the most impressive part of the first disc is the obvious display of dynamic contrast between the rockers and the more acoustic numbers and within the songs themselves. Present on their albums, it is much more pronounced here, particularly with the augmented intensity of their heavier songs. Again, “Heartbreaker” is an obvious example. There are moments where he brings the volume of his guitar down to almost nothing. It would have been all too easy to blast away; the amps were likely cranked up to 11 the entire time and the pure energy of the performance would have likely captivated many for the duration of the performance. Instead, they offer the contrast required to make presentation truly exceptional.

Within the next two discs there are three extended jams that total almost 70 minutes in length together. This is what the band was known for, and these tracks are among the most interesting, if not the best or most engaging songs on the album. It’s easy to dismiss them as indulgent swill, but the execution of these tracks is remarkably strong, especially considering the high standard held to any work that stretches on past the limit of reasonable endurance. Between these jams are moments of brief reprieve, shorter compositions that function on about the same level as the first disc. Particularly good are the two short numbers on the third disc, “Rock and Roll” and “The Ocean.”

The first of these jams, “Dazed and Confused,” features an extended bowed solo from Page and riffs from songs that were likely incomplete at the time, such as “The Crunge.” It’s good, but it drags a bit during the more experimental moments. Of course, that was the point, to allow for experimentation not typically found in the tight arrangements of their studio work; however, the result was likely much more enjoyable live than on record.

The other two jams, “Moby Dick,” and “Whole Lotta Love,” are much better. The former many will recognize as the drum solo that concludes Led Zeppelin II, and while that one isn’t bad, this one is incredible. This is the reason that the most ardent Led Zeppelin fans will viciously proclaim that John Bonham is the best rock drummer who ever lived. It begins and ends with a simple and generic blues riff, but sandwiched between are 18 minutes of furious, unaccompanied drum solo. Despite all of its technical flourish as it cycles through time signatures, tempos, and dynamics, the most remarkable feature of this piece is just how much melody he imbues in the drum kit. This sense of melody is exactly what prevents the song from growing exhausting and draining to the listener.

“Whole Lotta Love,” offers a third type of jamming. Rather than soloing, we get a medley, a mashing of mostly jazz and early rock covers blended together with a distinctly Led Zeppelin sound. They impressively manage to maintain a sense of musical continuity despite the variation and incongruous nature of some of the tunes and bookend many with pure soloing. Of the three 20+ minute tracks, this one is the best simply by condensing almost an album’s worth of material into a single, cohesive track.

Yet for all of its moments of excellence, it still suffers many of the flaws found in most live albums. While there is an increase in intensity, it is at the expense of quality and precision. No live show is perfect, but while an audience might not notice or regard it while listening live, the tiniest details are often fully exposed once it’s preserved in something permanent. No matter how strong something is inherently it will never quite be the same. Paul Gonsalves famous tenor sax solo will never create the pandemonium on record as it did with Duke Ellington’s band at Newport, nor will Led Zeppelin impress or inspire quite as much here as they did in June 1973. At the same time, as far as live records go, this is probably one of the best at creating the illusion of a concert. Despite its exhaustive length, it’s easy to get lost in the music and suspend the disbelief for just a moment that you are experiencing Led Zeppelin live.

March 28, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin How The West Was One (2003)


I don’t feel extremely comfortable reviewing this particular album in this particular spot. Chronologically, this is Led Zep’s third live album – following the much delayed Song Remains The Same soundtrack (1976, actually recorded in 1973) and the archive BBC Sessions from 1969-71 (reviews for both these albums see below). However, this is, as of this sunny day in July 2004, the earliest recorded Zep performance to have been officially released under the supervision of Jimmy Page himself, as opposed to the innumerable army of Zep boots, and since all of these performances were taken from two side-by-side LA shows respectively dating back to June 25th and June 27th, 1972, this is where the album certainly belongs in the discography.

Upon its release, How The West Was Won was predictably announced as Zep’s greatest live album – considering that critical opinion has always held TSRTS in contempt. The BBC album fared much better upon release, but then, after all, it was a compilation, and didn’t exactly let you recreate the true atmosphere of a true Zep show. And voila, here you have it: Led Zeppelin at their absolute creative peak (not my opinion, but since when does my opinion matter when it comes to Led Zeppelin? Hell, I might as well start opinionating on the tax policies of Sierra-Leone right now!), Led Zeppelin playing huge American arenas full of crazy guitar-hungry fans, Led Zeppelin in pristine audio quality with each individual member’s talents shining right on through, Led Zeppelin providing you with 3 CDs worth of material, honestly reproducing the scope and length of an entire show, and plus you can have five hours of video material if you also buy the 2-DVD pack.

Manna from heaven, right? And this ain’t Deep Purple, who have been peppering the market with releases of varying quality for decades now; this is Led Zeppelin, who treasure their reputation and wouldn’t dare throwing out subpar material. How The West Was Won was supposed to be excellent, and even if some people could actually be somehow disappointed, they had to conceal the disappointment. Not that anybody was disappointed. Hell, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a classy release.

Unfortunately, it only further confirms my suspicions: I don’t really care THAT much for live Zeppelin in that they do not have a tendency to make their live material THAT much more impressive than their studio recordings. If you take the band’s closest competition, such as the Who or the already mentioned Deep Purple, both of these bands have an advantage. The Who live simply sound nothing like the Who in the studio – you don’t need to go further than Tommy to see that. Deep Purple live stick somewhat closer to the original, but their advantage is that they more or less sucked at production values – the rawer they are, the better it is, because all of their attempts to ‘smooth out’ their sound in the studio have backfired.

On the other hand, Led Zeppelin, mainly due to having two former “production aces” – Jimmy and J. P. Jones – in their midst, have always exceeded in the studio. Much of the thickness, darkness, creepy broodiness of the classic Zepster mystique simply gets lost when transferred to the stage. Certainly when playing a song like ‘Black Dog’, Jimmy’s fingers move along the fretboard with much the same kind of agility and confidence they do in the studio; but somehow the end result is… well, just a savage blues-rock attack, not a vividly Freudian monster of a subconscious-exploring nerve-wrecking piece of art. (Especially when Jimmy suddenly raises the guitar pitch in the middle of the song – a ‘Black Dog’ that actually SQUEALS? Pathetic).

Another obvious minus – to me – is Plant’s being at the top of his ‘obnoxiousness’ phase. You’ll see that reappear on the other live albums as well, but… but… sing, goddammit, sing, don’t clutter potentially awesome songs like ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ and ‘Dazed And Confused’ with superfluous stutterings, yelps, and gross hyper-exaggerations that would make any self-respecting Thespian crawl under the table. Is that guy suffering from an inferiority complex or what?

Another obvious minus is twenty minutes of ‘Moby Dick’. But you saw that coming, didncha? Don’t tell me you weren’t ready for that! Well, at least now all of us can believe those fists could easily kick the shit out of a bunch of security guards in their time.

Now about the pluses. Pluses include… everything else. This is Led Zeppelin, goddammit, not Bad Company. ‘Stairway To Heaven’ absolutely rules in this performance: no mistakes, no imprecision, the ‘do you remember laughter’ line carelessly shoved in the background, and Page at his very, very best with the solo. The three-number acoustic set breathed new life in my love for ‘Going To California’ and rejuvenated my interest for ‘That’s The Way’ and ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’. Sadly, although they already were playing songs from the upcoming Houses Of The Holy, there’s no live ‘No Quarter’ here – one spot where TSRTS certainly has an advantage over this thing – but there’s no ‘D’Yer Mak’er’ either, and as for ‘The Crunge’, it is wisely, carefully, and humorously buried in the depths of the ‘Dazed And Confused’ medley, a move I appreciated.

Likewise, the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ medley is also priceless, with several old boogie and blues numbers making the list for the boys to have some pure fun with. You could, of course, accuse Jimmy of “going for the generic” out there – some of those numbers could have been played with similar effect by anybody at the time – but dedicated fans and blues lovers will always be interested to see his take on the pure, unadulterated forms of their kind of music, and besides, it’s easier to tolerate a ‘medley’ than it is to simply tolerate a twenty-minute guitar jam, isn’t it? (Not to offend Cream here, but hey, twenty-minute guitar jams are not the kind of thing for which I give Cream the edge over Zep anyway).

In short, it’s more or less what I expected, a respectable primer of the Zep live sound around 1972, but not quite enough to push the BBC Sessions off the ‘best live album’ pedestal – and if my intuition serves me right, this moment could only arrive once the ex-Zepsters start brushing the dust off earlier shows, say, from the year 1969, for example. Going by Jimmy’s current rate, though, I doubt if we’ll ever actually get the chance.

March 2, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won – Shadows Taller Than Our Souls (2003)


Looking back, it’s easy to see why the music press vilified Led Zeppelin during the band’s ’70s heyday. The group actively avoided interviews, didn’t release singles, cultivated a mystical, larger than life persona and made loud, indulgent, sonically self-fellating creations. Led Zeppelin was aloof, bombastic and, worst of all from the rock cognoscenti standpoint, appeared more concerned with connecting with its fans via the live setting than having, say, the British press sing the group’s praises.

Even more galling is the fact that Led Zeppelin refused to go away after the ’70s ended. Most of rock’s dinosaurs went extinct or limped along, diminishing whatever legacies they had with each successively lamer release. Yes, Zeppelin broke up shortly after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980. But its music never left rock radio, and its catalog continued to sell respectable numbers. The bloated rock cliché that was Led Zeppelin has simply refused to crash and burn.

Now, with the release of How The West Was Won, the first genuine commercially available live document of the band, the group’s detractors must resign themselves to the fact that the Beast That Would Not Die isn’t going away anytime soon. How The West Was Won, true to Zeppelin’s over-the-top style, is a 3-CD behemoth, culling the best moments from a pair of 1972 Southern California concerts (June 25 and 27 at the LA Forum and Long Beach Arena, respectively, for those who think they were there but can’t remember). Covering material leading up to, and including a few cuts from, the band’s then-forthcoming Houses of the Holy LP, West admirably distills all that was good, bad and shamelessly extravagant about Led Zeppelin into a (not so) tidy little package.

Disc 1 contains the shorter selections (in true Led Zep parlance, this means no song longer than, say, 10 minutes), and is a fantastically succinct overview of just how much stylistic and musical ground the band covered. From the sea-churning, Valhalla-name checking rock fury of “Immigrant Song” to the laid-back acoustic strum of “That’s The Way,” Zeppelin displays an eclectic virtuosity rarely matched by any other band of its era. The eight-minute “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is a perfect example of the group exploring and expanding upon its blues-based roots, as guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones languorously stretch out the notes while quintessential frontman Robert Plant invests the material with a weary, but no less captivating, intensity. The AOR-radio played-to-death “Stairway To Heaven” actually sounds fresh and vital here, thanks in no small part to Plant’s inviting asides to the audience (“Remember laughter?”), perhaps in response to the turbulent conditions in America at the time.

Discs 2 and 3 are more problematic, as they both favor the band’s incredibly accomplished musical skills but expose the quartet’s shamelessly excessive tendencies, as well. “Dazed And Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love” both lumber past the twenty-minute mark. There are key differences, however. “Dazed And Confused,” though still a few minutes shorter than the turgid version from 1976’s live album Song Remains the Same, is where the group goes into outer space, taking you along whether you care to join or not. Everything grand and grotesque about Zeppelin is laid bare in a 25-minute sprawl that contains masterful moments but is simply overdone to the point of near self-parody. By the time Plant reiterates his über-cheesy proclamation that he wants to make love “25 hours a day,” you’ll be far beyond dazed or confused. “Whole Lotta Love”, on the other hand, spends its twenty-odd minutes more wisely, inserting a medley of old hits like “Let’s Have A Party”, “Hello Mary Lou” and the great “Going Down Slow” in the middle. It’s a fantastic reworking/expansion of the song, and proves to be a highlight of the collection.

How The West Was Won, then, is a vital document of Led Zeppelin’s formidable legacy. Yes, the band was too big and grand, and perhaps its members were convinced of their own demigod status. But isn’t that part of the fun of rock ‘n’ roll in the first place? In the end, all the average fan wants to see is a spectacle, and damned if Led Zeppelin didn’t deliver just that, crashing, thumping, slashing and strutting for all it was worth. After thirty years, it must be nice to have a live complement to the studio efforts that hinted at, but never quite captured, the outfit’s full glory — just what it was that drove so many critics crazy all those years ago. Not that Led Zeppelin was ever particularly concerned with the kind of affirmation West emphatically delivers. When you’re this good, you don’t have to apologize for being great.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (2003)

From Entertainment Weekly –

A group celebrated for Wagnerian excess, Led Zeppelin live up to their reputation once again with the simultaneous release of How the West Was Won, a three-CD live set, and ”Led Zeppelin DVD,” a two-disc overview that essentially spans the band’s history on stage, from 1969 to 1979. Taken together, the collections run close to eight hours, raising the inevitable question: Is all this too much of a good thing?

It’s a tribute to the quality and tastefulness of these projects, however, that once you start listening and watching, the question becomes irrelevant. They both capture a mighty band at the height of its gargantuan power, and while they don’t exactly leave you wanting more, they are immensely satisfying.

”West” draws on two concerts Zeppelin played in California during the summer of 1972 — after the release of the group’s legendary fourth album and before ”Houses of the Holy” — combining performances to simulate a single two-and-a-half-hour show. It’s the rare song on these discs that doesn’t run over five minutes, and epic treatments of ”Dazed and Confused” (25:25), drummer John Bonham’s signature solo on ”Moby Dick” (19:20), and a blistering medley (including ”Hello Mary Lou,” ”Let’s Have a Party,” and John Lee Hooker’s ”Boogie Chillun”), bracketed by ”Whole Lotta Love” (23:08), extend much longer than that.

While you occasionally yearn for — and get — concise and focused tears through the likes of ”Immigrant Song” and ”Rock and Roll,” the expanded versions leave you marveling at the band’s improvisatory zeal. In the studio, Jimmy Page, Zep’s guitarist and producer, was a daunting sonic architect who constructed monumental, elaborately textured walls of sound. On stage, though, he is far rawer, less coolly intellectual, more feral — qualities thrillingly in evidence here. His endless inventiveness rescues even ”Stairway to Heaven” from decades of classic-rock-radio overplay, restoring all the force and freshness it held at its conception.

But Page is simply the first among equals. Singer Robert Plant delivers every whisper, every scream, and every vocal articulation in between with palpable joy at the superhuman elasticity of his voice. On bass and keyboards, John Paul Jones blends rhythm and melody with consummate sensitivity; he never plays an inessential note. And Bonham is a wonder. No one ever questioned his brute power, but what comes through here is his dexterity as a kind of bandleader, simultaneously the group’s anchor and its relentless whip.

Mysterious, regally indifferent to the media, aesthetically ambitious, Led Zeppelin in their heyday often seemed to exist entirely in their own enclosed world. ”How the West Was Won,” along with ”Led Zeppelin DVD,” shatters the walls of that enclosure, and the band storms out, playing music that is both of its time and timeless, as accessible and unapproachable now as when it was made.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (2003)


Love ‘em or leave ‘em” seems to be the critical analysis of Led Zeppelin these days. Just looking around the net for 5 minutes, I found 3 prominent – no introductions needed! –websites who take this approach to their latest live album, How the West was Won. If it’s so cut and dry, why even bother writing a review? The people who love them will buy it no matter what, and the people who hate them won’t. It’s a fun angle to play up, no doubt, but the fact of the matter is, like every other band there are infinite opinions and therefore infinite factions. There are many factors that go into personal opinion but, when dealing with a band with such undeniable talent, a lot of it comes down to outside factors such as image and the associations we have with that image. Pictures of Robert Plant swinging his microphone around as a sweaty Jimmy Page walks over to him – chest hair hanging out and all – and wanks on his guitar like the phallic symbol it is, are just not in vogue right now. We are living in an era where men are told it’s OK to cry and women encourage this male sensitivity. In Zeppelin we have a juxtaposition of male bravado and homo-erotica that only confuses our role as men even more.

Hollywood has some influence on how Zeppelin are perceived too. The cult flick Spinal Tap took every rock cliché and made it into an ironic joke, sending the (not so) subliminal message that hating a band for their image is the right thing to do. An obvious satire, it did manage to make the joke so funny that it became influential. Granted, the things portrayed are completely obnoxious and, in modern society, are becoming less and less what rock and roll is about. But since when is being obnoxious anything but fun? I am a man. I like steak, beer, women, and fuck it, Led Zeppelin. When I really need to bounce around the room, morbid modern rockers like Radiohead and Sigur Ros just aren’t going to cut it. I need a fix, and How the West was Won is one sweet drug.

The knock on Zeppelin over the years is that they were never able to capture their fury, delicacy, and improvisation of their live shows to tape. The Rolling Stones (Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out) and The Who’s (Live at Leeds) set high standards for what a live album should be. Both captured everything the bands where known for and magnified it to cinematic levels. The guitars were louder and the drums were bigger, but there was also an intangible energy that glazed the entire performance. Zeppelin’s only attempt at this, The Song Remains the Same, was a major disappointment that failed to capture anything to tape except boredom. If you bought the accompanying documentary you could also see Jimmy Page bring a violin bow to his guitar – revolutionary at the time, but trite today. In the years that followed, you could get a true taste of their live show if you were willing to go the route of bootlegs (and jail time!), but nothing was legally released to the public – until today.

Sequencing together the best performances of two LA shows from 1972, Jimmy Page has put together a 3-disc set that falls just short of being a masterpiece. Several small problems keep it from that distinction. None is more obvious and annoying than the gaps in the timeline. At the end of “Black Dog”, which is track 4, Plant finally gets around to saying “good evening” to the crowd. After playing the epic “Stairway to Heaven” – which sounds surprisingly fresh – Plant again says “good evening”. These songs were most likely the openers of each individual show and probably should have been the first tracks on discs 1 and 2. There is also a strange segue from “Immigrant Song” to “Heartbreaker”. The “Heartbreaker” riff appears out of nowhere as “Immigrant Song” is being faded out, and for a brief second, both riffs are playing at the same time (…and somewhere there’s a conspiracy theorists whacking it). Such haphazard splicing ruins the flow and integrity of the record.

Aside from song and band introductions, Plant never interacts with his audience. Part of what made Zeppelin so legendary was their mysterious nature (Page buying the home of black magic practitioner Alistair Crowley and the well documented “my sweet Satan” lyric to name a few). This can’t be denied. But they were overly aware of it and played into it to a fault. The choice of mystery over interaction is a poor one. Part of what makes Live at Leeds the greatest live rock album ever is Pete Townsend’s commentary and humor between songs. The great line “He always ‘gets off’ at the wrong stop” before “A quick one while he’s away” comes to mind. The audience pauses for 5 seconds before finally getting the joke and enjoying a laugh with Pete. The energy emanated from such interplay augments the recording, even some 23 years later. Plant and Page might not have the wit to pull something like that off, but they are dry to the point of being boring. If they closed the 3-disc set with the hard rocking “Communication Breakdown”, the heavens would rain irony and all would be forgiven. But, even more apropos, they don’t bother to play it at all.

Like you would expect there are some major highlights here. The 25-minute “Dazed and Confused” starts with its signature dirge-like baseline. The slowed down tempo lets the listener hear every note as it creeps up and down the fretboard – an effect that creates a high sense of tension and drama. When the guitars finally chime in at the 2:45 mark the results are orgasmic. Plant is in rare form here, and his choice to improvise lyrics adds a freshness that compliments the extemporaneous feel of the tune. Halfway through it turns into Plant moaning and groaning (doing his best Leadbelly impression) while Page makes random white noise on the guitar. It’s almost impossible to pull something like this off without sounding pretentious or just flat out bad, but they actually manage to do it. The song erupts into a fury of drums and guitar, before suddenly shifting to what sounds like the guitar line in “The Crunge” (which, by the way, sounds eerily similar to Modest Mouse’s lounge. Isaac Brock = SO busted). The ten-minute jam, which ensues, is jaw dropping to say the least.

But then again, the whole album is jaw dropping. To expect less would be unfair to the band. These men are arguably the best rock musicians to ever step on the stage, and in being so are rightfully judged on a higher scale. For most bands, The Song Remains the Same would have been a critically acclaimed album with all the adulation that follows. For Led Zeppelin it was a flop. A very flattering insult if you think about it. 23 years later, and after hours upon hours of splicing, the end justifies the means. Led Zeppelin finally has their Swan Song.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

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 | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won (2003)

From BBC Music

At a time when the term ‘rock’ is becoming utterly outmoded and approachable only from an ‘ironic’ standpoint, these four horsemen of the musical apocalypse come back and remind us why it wasn’t always this way. Those of a sensitive nature can leave now. They came from the land of the ice and snow…well, actually they came from the Black Country and Surrey, but this 3 CD set proves once and for all that Led Zeppelin’s spiritual home was definitely way out West.

Unlike the accompanying live DVD, which takes a behemoth 5 hour journey through their entire career, How The West Was Won is taken from two LA concerts in 1972. Jimmy Page’s amusingly curt sleeve notes state that this constitutes proof of how Zeppelin won the hearts of American teenagers everywhere, but in truth the battle was over. From their inception in 1968 the ex-Yardbird (Page), seasoned sessioneer (Jones) and two young whippersnappers (Plant and Bonham) had made the other side of the Atlantic their playground, and a diet of constant touring (and scene-stealing) meant that by this time they really were a well-honed juggernaut of a band. The fourth album (containing THAT track) had conquered the charts and a typical show could last well into three hours.

How this occurred is amply demonstrated on some of the album’s key tracks. ”Dazed And Confused” -with its violin bow showcase – weighs in at nearly 26 minutes, taking in a whole James Brown-inspired jam. ”Whole Lotta Love” slides from theremin madness into rockin’ classics (”Let’s Have A Party”, ”Hello Mary Lou” etc.) and only comes up for air after another 23 minutes. Even Bonham’s scary drum showcase, ”Moby Dick”, hangs around for nearly 20 minutes. Yet throughout, the band’s obvious chemistry and interplay NEVER falters. Despite fluffed lines and frankly awful vocal extemporising this really is guitar-based music at its most thrilling.

Yet the real treats in these oft-bootlegged shows are the deft switch to the acoustic section of their repertoire – all playful mandolins and, gasp, sensitive singing from Percy -and the unveiling of as yet unheard tracks from their next album, Houses Of The Holy. Songs such as ”The Ocean” and ”Dancing Days” stand as hard rockers good enough to be played next to ”Heartbreaker”, while ”Over The Hills And Far Away” demonstrates again how they could easily switch from folk to metal without any sense of incongruity.

With their bluesy origins represented by the lolloping ”Since I’ve Been Loving You”, this is a set that really encompasses a band at their absolute peak. Such wild diversity would be an embarrassment of riches for any modern combo. Luckily for us, Zep never knew the meaning of embarrassment or restraint. Time to bring it on home again…

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: How The West Was Won & DVD (2003)

2p54From The Austin Chronicle

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.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin DVD, Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (2003)


Do You Remember laughter?

What is it about Led Zeppelin that allows the group to endure more than two decades after its untimely break up? Is it the mystical (and mythical) aura that followed the band throughout its career? Is it the failure to reunite and engage in various reunion tours on a regular basis? Is it the majesty of Zeppelin’s music? Or is it simply due to Zeppelin being that damn great? All of the above, with heavy emphasis on the last reason.

In the 20-plus years since drummer John Bonham’s death, the surviving members of Zeppelin have rejected lucrative offers to reconvene, instead choosing to pursue various other interests. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have enjoyed numerous solo projects, as well as joining each other in 1994 for a celebration of Zep’s legacy with the No Quarter concert CD. John Paul Jones, ever the anonymous member, retreated into the sanctity of production. Apart from an appearance at Live Aid in 1985 and a few special occasions, the three have steered away from capitalizing on the Zep trademark without the services of fallen comrade Bonham. As a result, fans have been left without much to look forward to in the form of new Zep-proper material. Until now . . .

The release of the three-CD package How the West Was Won should satiate every fan’s appetite for years to come. Recorded on 25 June and 27 June 1972 at the Los Angeles Forum and Long Beach Arena respectively, these 18 tracks capture the true essence of the band in concert. While they were masters in the studio, Zep’s forte was the live set, resplendent in musical exaggeration and overindulgence. With the exception of Live at Leeds-era Who, no band could challenge Zeppelin on stage. But where the Who represented ferocity, Zep embodied virtuosity, as performances ebbed and flowed with ethereal grandeur. Not to say the band could not harness the power of sheer brutality in its music, but Zep shows were different from anything else.

Disc one presents an interesting contrast to its two companion discs; its ten tracks are given fairly consistent treatment; no expansive jamming or exploration into parts unknown, merely solid renditions of songs that were to become classics. That said, the material highlights Zeppelin’s musical dexterity; the power of “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker” are deftly intertwined with the lush folksiness of “Going to California” and “That’s the Way”. Zeppelin’s ability to shift gears is further accentuated as the group transitions from the smoldering blues of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to the rollicking pace of “Bron-Yr-Aur-Stomp” with seemingly no effort. Even the timeless “Stairway to Heaven” merits praise, as Zep’s signature tune flows beautifully on the strength of Plant’s earnest vocals.

The second disc transports listeners directly to the eye of the Zeppelin storm as it kicks off with a twenty-five minute epic version of “Dazed and Confused”. Including a medley comprised of “Walter’s Walk” and “The Crunge”, the time is well spent as it epitomizes the possibilities of Zeppelin’s music on stage. It also demonstrates how a musical maelstrom headed in four separate directions could come together into something special. Jones’s bass sets the foundation from which Page can experiment, while Plant loses himself in his own shrieks and howls, and Bonham dutifully follows. Bombastic and ponderous, but always mesmerizing, this type of song treatment was what made the Zeppelin concert experience so memorable.

In order to lend a semblance of balance to Disc two’s four tracks, standard-length versions of “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Dancing Days” are included, only to be sandwiched by the 19-minute Bonham vehicle “Moby Dick”. True to its title’s inference, this is indeed a whale of a track, as Bonzo shows off his remarkable drumming skills. Close your eyes and concentrate for a moment as the deafening beat conjures the image of Bonham bludgeoning his kit. It is quite a vision.

If these two discs were not enough, a third rounds out the collection in resounding fashion. Beginning with 23 minutes of “Whole Lotta Love”, the material again showcases Zeppelin’s penchant for improvisation and creativity. Much like the treatment afforded “Dazed and Confused”, Disc 3’s opening salvo blends a medley of songs into one colossal fury. For the uninitiated, it is awe-inspiring; for Zep aficionados it is merely awesome. The subsequent three tracks are significantly shorter, but no less impressive. “Rock and Roll” finds Page dazzling the crowd with his guitar gymnastics, while “The Ocean” chugs forward with thudding precision. The disc closes with a nine-and-a-half-minute version of Willie Dixon’s “Bring It on Home”, complete with wailing harmonica. Lest anyone had forgotten, Zeppelin’s original sound was grounded in Page’s early Yardbirds-influenced Delta Blues sensibilities. It is a fitting track to end the show with.

So what is the ultimate value of How the West Was Won? Historically speaking, the three discs represent lightning captured in a bottle. Barely a third into its existence, Led Zeppelin is in near perfect live form, exhibiting all of the showmanship that would later define the group as one of the all time greats (if not the greatest) rock has ever seen. The power of the songs and their respective performances demonstrate how accomplished this four-year-old band was in 1972. Additionally, it is a credit to Jimmy Page’s acute studio talents, as the sound quality of the set is flawless. Every bowed chord, cymbal crash and bass run is crystal clear, making for a phenomenal listening experience.

For the most part, however, How the West Was Won gives Zep fans what has been sorely lacking the past three decades: a live recording that does the group proud. The three discs have finally exorcised the demons of “The Song Remains the Same”, with its bizarre dream sequences and haphazard concert footage. Listeners can now revel in a wonderful, but momentary glimpse from the past, never to be seen nor heard again.

The wait has been long but well worth it, as the new release is that good.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (2010)


If it seems like I just reviewed the new Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won album, it’s because I did. However, the review we recently published was of the CD and, unknown to me, there was a surround sound DVD-Audio version just about to hit the shelves. The content of the album is pretty much the same on the DVD-Audio, but it is mixed for 5.1 surround sound that can be played back in a DVD-Audio player or any DVD-Video player in Dolby Digital. As long as you have a surround sound system set-up and a DVD player, you can hear Led Zeppelin in an entirely new way.

The album is a collection of songs performed live at venues in Southern California between the band’s landmark “fourth” album and their creatively stellar House of the Holy record, circa 1975. This DVD-Audio disc captures a time in history when live audiences came to hear performers play and would sit through and enjoy 25-minute versions of “Dazed and Confused” and 19-minute “Moby Dick” drum solos. Today, audiences more often than not have to be mesmerized by pyrotechnics, lasers and video screens rather than by virtuoso performances.

One of these performances of note is on one of the band’s signature songs “Heartbreaker,” featuring the guitar handiwork of Jimmy Page, which on How The West Was Won includes a long, stream-of-consciousness solo. In 1975, Page was the king of the guitar and could do no wrong. The tune starts off meandering through a few verses until it gets to the solo. This is when the 5.1 mix takes a very tasty “Heartbreaker” solo to new levels, considering that the crowd interaction with the solo makes the listening experience richer. About 30 seconds into a hoedown portion of the solo, the crowd starts to clap along. When listening to the DVD-Audio mix, you want to follow along. You feel like there are other fans directly behind you, yet the performance is still in front of you. Ultimately, Page breaks the solo down into a little sloppy classical guitar work and you get a chance to hear some of the more subtle additions that the DVD-Audio format makes to the recording.

Another example of little details sounding better on DVD-Audio is on “Going To California,” where you can hear the mandolin better than on the CD. It sounds more rich and textured on DVD-Audio and in surround sound.

The surround mix doesn’t put too much besides crowd noise and acoustic ambience in the rear speakers, but there are times when it seems like the engineer is pushing to make more of the recording than is there in terms of an adventurous surround mix. A good example of this is on Robert Plant’s vocals on “The Immigrant Song,” which are mixed with brief moments that are too loud for the rears for my tastes.

With surround sound now in the mix and backwards compatibility to all DVD players, all Led Zeppelin fans should have How The West Was Won on DVD-Audio. The most important reason is the historical importance of the performance, paired with the excellence in musicianship captured in the master. But buyer beware – this DVD-Audio makes listening to Led Zeppelin more fun live, but it is not a reference caliber DVD-Audio surround sound disc. We have yet to delve into the master tapes of the classic Zeppelin records and attempt to remix them for discrete surround. Some say that because of the four-track recording techniques used on the early albums, the project may be close to impossible. Others suggest that it can be done and point to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds an example of an older recording taking on wonderful audio quality in DVD-Audio and surround sound. No matter what, How The West Was Won is better and more exciting on DVD-Audio than on CD.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won | | Leave a comment