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It's Been a Long Time

Led Zeppelin DVD
5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 6, 2003

Review by Tony Bonyata

Twenty-three years since they called it a day as a working band, heavy metal protagonists Led Zeppelin are still the hottest thing going. And little wonder, with their newly released live three-CD set How The West Was Won, as well as a two-DVD set running over 5-hours long, featuring the rather unimaginative title Led Zeppelin DVD, just hitting the shelves.
. Both of these releases shot out of the gate last week to claim both the number one spots in Billboard's Top 200 album charts and their Top Music Videos chart, respectively. As if those numbers weren't impressive enough, the DVD shipped quadruple platinum upon the day of its release and the CD single platinum. Not bad for a band whose lifespan only lasted from 1969 to 1980, when the untimely accidental death of drummer John Bonham caused a premature end to a band just hitting their well-seasoned stride.
Led Zeppelin DVD How The West Was Won primarily focuses on two California shows from 1972 (June 25th from the L.A. Forum and June 27th from Long Beach Arena), and while this was, arguably, a year when vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were at the peak of their powers, it's also somewhat sad that it only focuses on a time in their career that has already been explored on their 1973 soundtrack The Song Remains The Same.
The DVD on the other hand, is an astounding collection of live performances that spans from when they buried their moniker as The New Yardbirds and took flight under the name Led Zeppelin in 1969 to one of their last, and most infamous, concerts at England's Knebworth Festival in 1979. All of the footage featured here has never been officially released and has been seen by very few people outside of the Zeppelin camp. While some of this material has leaked out onto the bootleg market, the unbelievable quality in both sound and vision is nothing short of breathtaking. Under the personal supervision of Jimmy Page and director Dick Carruthers, the material has been painstakingly restored, remixed and remastered in Dolby 5.1 Surround, DTS and PM Two-Channel Stereo. Of course, if that's all Greek to you, it won't matter, because it'll all make complete sense once you pop either of these gems into your DVD player and pump up the volume.
Disc One documents the band in their infancy between 1969 and 1970 - a time when they conquered entire countries with each invading tour. The bulk of this disc features an amazing concert from London's Royal Albert Hall which shows Zeppelin as a young, hungry rock band on the rise. On the strength of their second album Led Zeppelin II the band tore through early favorites "Whole Lotta Love," "What Is and What Should Never Be," and "Bring It On Home," which showcased Plant as a worthy blues harpist. Page's incendiary leads throughout early favs such as "Communication Breakdown" and the epic "Dazed and Confused," as well as the reflective instrumental number "White Summer" are documented here, proving why he's always been revered as one of the best rock guitarists of our time.
As if that wasn't enough, Disc One is also chockfull of extras, such as a 1969 black-and-white promo for "Communication Breakdown," proving that the band could lip-sync with the best of them, as well as a monumental 1969 performance from Danish T.V. that finds this explosive foursome at the foothills of Mount Olympus with only way to go but up.
If the material that opens Disc Two feels strangely familiar, that's because it should, since it was filmed from the same 1973 Madison Square Garden shows used for their 1976 feature film The Song Remains The Same. Songs such as "Misty Mountain Hop" from their Four Symbols album, and "The Ocean," from Houses of The Holy, were cut from the film, but are, thankfully, restored here in all their floorboard-busting metal glory. Even though the hauntingly beautiful blues of "Since I've Been Loving You" featured here was also in the film, the rather annoying edits from the movie are reduced to a minimum leaving the power of the onstage visuals to augment the aural splendor of this number.
As revelatory as everything is thus far, its the two shows that follow that finds the band comfortably relaxed in their thrones as rock royalty. The first is from London's Earl's Court in 1975 where the band is all seated for an intimate pre-Unplugged acoustic set, featuring "Going To California," "That's The Way" and "Bron Yr Aur Stomp," before the steam gets rolling again on the Delta blues-by-way-of-Shropshire number "In My Time of Dying," "Trampled Underfoot" and the three-headed rock Hydra "Stairway To Heaven."
Following Earl's Court is a show that takes on a dramatically different feel as Zeppelin stages a concert of mammoth proportions to over 400,000 people during two days at the Knebworth Festival in 1979. While detractors have claimed that this period in their live shows finds the band sloppy and deteriorating, the 50 minutes of live footage featured here should be enough to cork the blowholes of any doubters. Wearing and tearing through latter day wonderments such as "Nobody's Fault But Mine," "Sick Again," "In The Evening," "Kashmir, as well as the underrated "Achilles' Last Stand," this was obviously a band that still knew how to properly wield the hammer of the gods to the very end.
For fans of Led Zeppelin, this collection - one that visually traces the path of mere mortals to that of mythological deities - is a cause for celebration. It's been a long time, indeed!

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