Many people have provided screwed up metaphors as to just how important Led Zeppelin has been to music in the last 35 years. So of course, I’ve gotta throw one in. Imagine today’s rock musicians as workers in a factory, all punching in and out for work at a time clock each day. Led Zeppelin is the clock. There really was nothing before it that could compare to it, and while there have been some imitators, real or implied (Whitesnake and Kingdom Come being two names from the 80’s hair band metal day…), not many things have matched the impact of the vocals by Robert Plant, Jimmy Page’s blistering, blues-rooted guitar solos, and the rhythm section of John Paul Jones and John Bonham. They were among the first to put radio-unfriendly songs on their albums, with many songs running past the 3 or 4 minute radio single time, some songs going 6, 7 or 8 minutes. And their live performances were legendary. Their performances symbolized the 70’s with sprawling, maybe even pretentious, versions of songs like “Dazed and Confused” or “Whole Lotta Love.” Live versions of these songs stretched into the 20 to 30 minute duration. During these times, Page would break out a violin bow to play his guitar with, Jones would play mysterious organ pieces, and Bonham’s work epitomized the drum solo, with a mix of power and touch, sometimes using his sticks, sometimes using the same power when hitting the drums with his hands. The group managed a period of fanatical success from 1969 to 1980, culminating in the unfortunate death of Bonham.
Aside from the 1976 concert film The Song Remains The Same and any fortunate people with good sounding/looking bootlegs, there really wasn’t much captured on film to effectively portray a Zeppelin performance. The film was released on DVD several years ago, and while it is in 1.85 anamorphic widescreen, the audio is only Dolby 2.0. With the 2 disc release of live recordings on DVD, not only have over 5 hours of material been restored to DVD, the audio has been restored to Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, along with a L-PCM track. The entire first disc is from a performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, featuring a very motivated band intent on impressing their countrymen. The songlist on this We’re Gonna Grove, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed and Confused, White Summer, What Is and What Should Never Be, How Many More Times, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love, Communication Breakdown, C’Mon Everybody, Something Else and Bring It On Home. The second disc pulls from four different shows. “Immigrant Song” is from an Australian appearance in 1972, however the audio was pulled from a Los Angeles performance which appears on a separate CD set which also came out recently. The concerts are from Madison Square Garden Concert in 1973, some of it being restored footage from The Song Remains The Same. The other concerts are in London’s Earl’s Court in 1975, and at a British outdoor festival known as Knebworth in 1979. Those performances are Immigrant Song, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, The Ocean, Going to California, That’s the Way, Bron Yr Aur Stomp, In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, In the Evening, Kashmir and Whole Lotta Love. A lot of people have said the 1st disc is the better one, and from a performance side, it’s hard to disagree, though both are good. Page and Bonham’s rendition of “White Summer,” providing for a nice performance. You can feel the crowd starting to warm to them during the show, and when Plant says in the middle of the set, “You paid your money, you better groove,” it’s almost like the crowd is given permission, and the crowd is much more active in the latter half, practically losing their mind after the show ends. The 2nd disc has some exceptional performances as well, and songs not seen live on video before are presented, two of which are “In My Time of Dying” and “In the Evening,” which come off very well.
Performances from a music act simply must have a DTS track on any DVD they produce, and by and large, this does not disappoint. I had the DTS track on the whole time, and it was phenomenal. During songs like “Dazed” or “Whole Lotta Love,” songs that have some guitar effects in them, those sounds are actively panned through all speakers. During the performance on Disc 1 however, it seemed like Page’s guitar was overly dominant at times. Plant’s vocals were almost nonexistent when trying to harmonize with Page’s playing sometimes, and it seems like you have to strain to hear Jones’ bass playing in parts. That complaint aside, it’s still a remarkable sounding track. “Moby Dick” simply is amazing, and you can feel the power in his playing during the solo. Bonzo’s solo here is better than in The Song Remains The Same, certainly in clarity, and perhaps in quality also, and must be seen and heard in DTS to be properly enjoyed. The Earl’s Court footage on Disc 2, which houses a brief acoustic set, sounds crystal clear and outstanding.
For material that, as it describes in one of the two 15 page booklets that come with the disc, had to be baked at 55 degrees for three weeks to prevent any disintegration through playback, it looks great. They intersperse some bootleg footage during the performances, a nice change of position for the boys, as they were vehemently opposed to the practice at the time, sometimes with violent results. If the footage started to breakdown, still montages came up in their place. The booklets also go into great detail about the restoration process, and it’s worth a read to find out how much labor was put into the project. The menus run footage of videos that wasn’t included on the set, as well as some footage of the editing project, all of which was kinda cool. The only exception I found was in the Knebworth footage, they don’t stick to a camera angle there for more than a moment or two, which is perfect if you have Attention Deficit Disorder, but it got a bit tiring to watch after awhile.
There’s even some extra material on these discs also, an after dinner cigar to a huge meal for the Zeppelin fan in your family. The footage on Disc 1 is from TV footage taken from their earliest days in 1969, from French, British and Danish TV, and altogether runs an additional 50 minutes following the 1 hour 42 minute performance on Disc 1. You’ll see “Communication Breakdown” and “Dazed and Confused” a couple more times here, but the British TV show Supershow has some great footage of Page’s guitar/violin bow solo during “Dazed.” The other footage, save for a lip-synched rendition of “Communication Breakdown” for a TV promo, looks very good considering the age of it. Disc 2’s extra material is a mix of interview footage from the time; from a 1970 press conference in New York City conducted by Page and Plant, to a Plant interview 5 years later. Some performances are here also, notably the two “music videos” from 1990 which helped to promote the release of the boxed set. This material is about 21 more minutes on top of the over 2 hours of performances on Disc 2. The interviews are OK, there is a performance of “Rock and Roll” in 1972 to go along with some Australian interview footage, and a brief clip included Bonham, whom I’d never heard speak before, so it was nice to see.
Jimmy Page said, “we wanted something that would trace the journey of Led Zeppelin as a live band.” Those words are never truer here. You witness Led Zeppelin on the brink of stardom in the early days, even in front of 30 Danish college students. You see them in all the excesses of the day, and in their twilight at one of their last performances in their original incarnation. With surprisingly great quality video, the DTS track is reason enough to pick this set up, as it breathes new life into an already outstanding musical group. Stop reading this and go buy this set!
Special Features List
- Interview/Promo Footage