Led Zeppelin, the mightiest rock band of the 1970’s, has been on my mind quite a bit lately. For one thing, guitarist Jimmy Page just recently finished the mammoth task of remastering and re-releasing deluxe versions of every Led Zeppelin album, each with an extra disc of demos and outtakes from the studio sessions. While it would have been nice to have that second disc full of live material from each album’s associated tour, the packages have been stellar with improved sound, informative essays, and captivating photos by band photographer Neal Preston and others. Some of the demos and alternate takes are of interest – two come immediately to mind, a gorgeous version of “The Rain Song” from Houses of the Holy and an unbelievably aggressive barnstorming early take on “Trampled Under Foot” from Physical Graffiti called “Brandy and Coke.”
The last one of these remasters I purchased was the epic Zeppelin album, Presence, originally released way back in 1976. The record is packed with arguably the best guitar riffs and leads of Page’s long career. It starts with the loose but driven opener “Achilles Last Stand,” a long piece that sounds spontaneous and free, played with the abandon of a train that’s about to come off the tracks, fueled by some of drummer John Bonham’s most amazing fills on record. The highlight for this patron was the scorching, progressive rocker “For Your Life” during which Page makes impressive use of his Stratocaster’s tremolo arm, and Robert Plant’s vocals match ascending chord structures with a power that sounds as if he is, in fact, fighting for his own life. The rest of the album is similarly impressive, a lesson in rock perfection from each of the four artists, Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham. This is the album and tour I will be covering in my book next year.
While researching the book project, I’ve been reflecting on the concert films of the 1970’s, some of which will be explored in the text. There weren’t many proper concert films released to theaters back in that decade, in fact besides getting to the concerts themselves, there were more chances at that time to see our favorite bands on television specials, such as Don Krishner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special in the states, The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops in the U.K., and Musikladen in Germany. The only concert films I recall hitting the cinemas were as follows: Yessongs for Yes, Trick of the Tail/White Rock for Genesis/Wakeman, Welcome to my Nightmare for Alice Cooper, and The Song Remains the Same for Zeppelin. There were more, what do you recall?
I saw The Song Remains the Same at my local theater upon it’s release, and frankly was, and have remained, a bit let down by the movie. Professionally filmed at the famous Madison Square Gardens in 1973, the picture is crisp and colorful. It’s the performance that I feel lacks something, not a monumental miss, just not what I believe were some of their best nights, despite being a milestone moment for the band. For years, I regretted not being able to catch Zep live in Los Angeles before Bonham’s untimely passing, and pined for a better chance to see what rabid fans proclaimed were the most incredible live performances of the era.
Finally in 2003 all debate as to the power and majesty of the mighty Zeppelin in concert were put to rest, with the release of their self-titled Led Zeppelin DVD. It’s a stunning treasure chest containing more than 5 hours of interviews, televised clips and 35mm films capturing the band live throughout their career. First up, there are rare black and white clips of the group as they debuted on Danish television, along with two additional early performances. Viewers are then treated to a pristine footage from the tour supporting Led Zeppelin II in 1970 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, shot using two 16mm cameras. The next disc begins with a pastiche of bootleg videos for “The Immigrant Song,” followed by additional footage of the 1973 Madison Square Garden concert, clips that are also now available on the expanded DVD version of The Song Remains the Same. A favorite from this added footage is “Misty Mountain Hop,” one of Zep’s most buoyant songs, often played consummately by the longtime Zep fans Heart in years since.
The real gem of this set is footage of the band at Earls Court in London supporting Physical Graffiti in 1975, including a rare look at the group’s acoustic set featuring “That’s The Way” from the third album. Best yet is what must be their most spectacular moment, a perfect, emotionally draining rendition of the bluesy lament “In My Time of Dying” followed by a cranked-up, frenetic version of “Trampled Under Foot” featuring Jones’ funky clavichord riffs. Between these two Physical Graffiti classics, we are able to witness first-rate performances from each band member. As if all this wasn’t enough, the collection ends with seven tracks from an intense outdoor performance at Knebworth in 1979, their last before Bonham’s death and the group’s subsequent split. That night, the band played the two tracks they had been doing from Presence after it’s release, “Achilles Last Stand,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” along with their undisputed Physical Graffiti classic “Kashmir.” Instead of finding the band on the decline, this stands as absolute evidence of their continued relevance.
While bootleg audio and video of Led Zeppelin performing live abound, including notably some of these performances in their entirety, I prefer to support artists by collecting official releases on media, and in this case, there were painstaking efforts to clean up previously unseen footage by Page and team. Until additional film is released, this two-disc collection is the best footage available of this seminal band, and comes highly recommended.
Led Zeppelin DVD Track-list:
Communication Breakdown / Dazed and Confused / We’re Gonna Groove / 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 / Bring It On Home
Immigrant Song / Black Dog / Misty Mountain Hop / Since I’ve Been Loving You / The Ocean / Going To California / That’s The Way / Bron-Y-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 / Whole Lotta Love