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LED ZEPPELIN DVD

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham
Directors:  Various
Audio: Dolby Surround, 5.1, DTS
Video: Full Frame color and B & W
Studio:  WEA Corp
Features: See Review
Length: 320 minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2003

"Valhalla, I am coming!"

Film ***1/2

Some would say that Led Zeppelin did not invent heavy metal, that their offstage debauchery and open interest in the occult makes their music dangerous, that their sound and success was a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and that they blatantly stole many of their early riffs.  All of these are at least somewhat true.  Yet no one soars like the mighty Zeppelin.  

How many bands from the 1970's can boast that all four members are household names?  Any but this one?  The primordial shriek of Robert Plant, the inventive guitar virtuosity of Jimmy Page, the solid and creative bass and keyboard playing of John Paul Jones, and the incomparable power of drummer John Bonham changed rock music forever.   Their name was perfect, as their masterpiece "Stairway to Heaven" begins as a lyrical acoustic piece set in a peaceful pagan forest and then builds to a Bolero-like climax heavier than anything rock had heard before.  Led Zeppelin cut a swath through rock unlike anything since Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring caused riots in symphony halls years before.  And despite many talented bands who followed, no one has dethroned them from their place at the top of hard rock music. 

Believe it or not I hated this music the first time I heard it.  Having inherited their first four albums on LP, I thought "You Shook Me" and "Whole Lotta Love" were the rudest, loudest, nastiest things I had ever heard.  Then I heard "Hearbreaker".  Music had never scared me before I heard Plant telling his woman that her time had come.  I believed him.  Late at night, listening through headphones while the world was sleeping, I discovered what millions already knew:  The Beatles wanted to hold your hand, Chicago wanted to make you smile, but Led Zeppelin wanted to give you every inch of their love! 

At five hours and twenty minutes, there is more than enough here on the Led Zeppelin DVD to satisfy any Zeppelin fan.  There are several true gems here, such as comparing “Whole Lotta Love” in 1970 at Albert Hall with the version years later, and seeing John Bonham sing harmony on “Bron Y Aur Stomp”.  I have always wondered how they pulled off “In the Evening”, “Kashmir”, and “Achilles Last Stand” live, and while they do differ from the recorded versions, they are still incredible.  Even the menus have snippets of video and audio that are interesting but were not complete enough to merit inclusion with the rest.  This set includes some unreleased footage from The Song Remains the Same but as a whole is a much better representation of their live performances.

The version of “The Immigrant Song” which opens Disc 2 is interesting because the audio is intense, but the video was partly incomplete and is from a different show, yet they work together, almost like an abstract collage of sight and sound.  A great version of “The Ocean” from Madison Square Garden is also featured.  I have it from reliable sources that longer versions of these concerts are floating around, but surely they are not of this quality.  I suspect Mr. Page only released material worthy of the source.  And of course, this take of “Stairway to Heaven “is stunning.  It will make you love the song all over again. 

My favorite moments are probably the Albert Hall concert and the Danish TV appearance.  They have some of the same songs in each, but the band was still young, lean, healthy, and tight without any of the rock star garb they later wore.  Jimmy is wearing blue jeans and Robert’s shirt is actually buttoned, for crying out loud! 

TRACK LISTING:

Disc 1: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (1970) 1hr 42 mins:
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

Disc 2: The Immigrant Song. Madison Square Garden (1973) 23:24 mins:
Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I've Been Loving You, The Ocean. Earls Court (1975) 49 mins: Going to California, That's The Way, Bron Y Aur Stomp, In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Stairway to Heaven. Live at Knebworth (1979) 51:41 mins: Rock'n Roll, Nobody's Fault But Mine, Sick Again, Achilles Last Stand, In The Evening, Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love

Video ***

This is difficult to rate, because the two booklets that come with the set explain how difficult it was to go through over a hundred cans of negatives to find anything usable.  Restoring the Albert Hall concert, which looks excellent, took a year to digitally clean up and prepare for the set.  The playback machines used for many of these shows is obsolete, so the production team should be congratulated just for giving us usable footage, let alone a final product of this quality.  Not flawless but easy to watch, very few spots or lines.  The B & W footage from Danish TV looks especially good.  

Audio ***1/2

Again, hard to rate considering the problems with the source tape, but the DTS is loud and proud and the stereo is completely respectable.  The performances themselves are excellent, showing how tight and yet fresh the band could be.  The mix of instruments and the dynamic range is also excellent.   This is surely due to Jimmy Page’s involvement with the production of the package.  

Features ***1/2

Disc One contains an early video for “Communication Breakdown”, plus three live Zeppelin television appearances, where they play songs for Danmarks Radio, the Supershow, and France’s Tous En Scene.  Disc Two features some brief interviews and two promotional films using “Over The Hills and Far Away” and “Traveling Riverside Blues”.   The two booklets that come with the discs are long and detailed and earned this category an extra star.  The coolest feature though is the fact that both discs play right away when inserted!   No menus or copyright threats!  Incredible!  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  Because the program starts right away, you DO have to either go to the menu or use the 'audio' button on your remote to select the Dolby Digital or DTS tracks...otherwise, it defaults to stereo.)

Summary:

This is the kind of great restoration project that has made the DVD medium so important.  Rock fans, rejoice!  Led Zeppelin finally has a good home movie to preserve their greatness.