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LED ZEPPELIN: THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham
Directors:  Peter Clifton, Joe Massot
Audio: Dolby Surround, 5.1, DTS
Video: Widescreen color and B & W
Studio:  Warner Home Video
Features: See Review
Length: 137 minutes plus features
Release Date: November 20, 2007

“There is a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a Stairway to Heaven…”

Film ***

It is a shame that so many great bands over the years do not have a single concert video release that captures them at their best.  Can it be possible that there was never a commercially released full-length concert from the The Beatles, Chicago, the Beach Boys, ABBA, or even the Allman Brothers?  Even Paul McCartney has yet to release a DVD that is even up to standards from ten years ago. 

A few bands such as Rush, Yes, and U2 have released several videos to DVD that contain at least some of their glory, but the best known concert video ever is probably The Song Remains the Same, a night of Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in 1973, though it was not originally released until 1976.  It is an odd combination of strange home movies and great music.  While the band themselves did not think it showed them at their best, it is still a pretty good representation of a band at the height of their power.

The title refers to a song composed about how music unites all of humanity, or something like that, but ironically it almost implies that all of Led Zeppelin’s music sounds the same, which to the uninitiated it probably does.  I think “A Night of Mayhem” may have been more appropriate.

“Since I’ve been loving you….I’m about the lose my worried mind…”

For the most part I love music of the post-psychedelic era and still find it relevant today, even though the visual effects from the time gave aged poorly, just as disco balls seem so ludicrous today.  Many of the special effects of this film detract from it but there are two great shots of Jimmy Page that worked well. The first is his grand gestures at the beginning of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and the second is the mirror image of him during his Wagnerian solo just before the climax of “Stairway to Heaven.” His Theremin theatrics in the middle section of “Whole Lotta Love” is also unique to Maestro Page.  Most of the non-concert footage is lame but occasionally they do work, such as a juxtaposition of the band doing “Heartbreaker” and footage of Manhattan in those days. 

“Heartbreaker, your time has come can’t take your evil ways…”

Jimmy Page looks….well the way he usually looked in those days: emaciated, exhausted, and dripping with perspiration, but he sounds fantastic as always.  Robert Plant has his odd hyper-sexual and sometimes effeminate posing but is definitely in charge of the show.  In his own mind he was a long haired warrior from the past, and instead of spears and warships, he only needed a microphone.  Other than his long hair, John Bonham looks like the muscular construction worker which he once was, and John Paul Jones resembles one of Robin Hood’s merry men with his choir-boy haircut (probably a wig) and demure smile.   The fantasy sequences detract from the overall effect, though the Rain Song footage of Robert rambling through the English countryside is breathtaking.  I chalk them up to an experiment which did not quite work.  One of my biggest peeves is when a good concert is interrupted by mediocre interviews and other scenes, but in this case the band wanted to do it themselves so we can’t place all of the blame on directors.

Possibly the most useless part of it all is the scene of Peter Grant berating security goons backstage when they catch someone selling unauthorized posters.  This has nothing to do with the rest of the show at all, and while the band had every reason to be upset, this profanity-laced money grab pulls down the whole production.  We could have done without the slow-mo dove flights and other interruptions. 

Having said all of that, the improved audio quality alone is reason enough for release of this DVD set.

Audio ***1/2

I highly recommend the DTS of course, the Dolby 5.1 is very good also but softer, and the nuances of Page’s masterful playing come through even better in DTS.  The audio quality overall is magnificent and reminds me of why I bought a 5.1. system to begin with.  “Whole Lotta Love” I swear sounds like a jet engine taking off. 

Video ***

Considering that most of the concert is in minimal light with fog all over the place, there are very few visual artifacts.

Features ***

First we see a newscast from Tampa before and during the 1973 sellout crowd that broke the Beatles 1965 record for the largest crowd ever for any concert in history.

This concert version of “Over the Hills and Far Away” (which our editor plays every time he picks up an acoustic guitar) is finally viewable.  (EDITOR'S NOTE:  Guilty as charged.)  There are also versions of “Celebration Day,” “The Ocean,” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” I am not sure why these were not added to the rest of the film, especially the first and third tunes which look and sound excellent.  I still think “The Ocean” is the original headbanger song, even better than “Whole Lotta Love.”

Next is a brief interview with Peter Grant and Robert Plant as they cruise the river Thames in which they discuss the eccentricities of the film itself, noting that if they are going to be self-indulgent, they might as well try to be innovative as well.  There is a funny trailer which advertises not just the music but also the “mind” of Led Zeppelin, “A journey out of the ordinary and into the fantastic.”  Well golly gee, I just wanted to hear a great band! There is a Cameron Crowe radio “Spotlight” which is just Crowe talking about how great the band was. Full credits roll across the end, including DVD credits, and mentions that the great Eddie Kramer was the original engineer for the concert. 

So the extras are wonderful except that, like the original film itself, great music is broken up by unnecessary things that lessen the overall impact. 

Summary:

They may have been named after the heaviest natural metal and a doomed dirigible but they flew higher than any band before, and have left a unique film which as now restored shows them in their glory.

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