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Whole Lotta Led - Eight hours of headbanging proto-metal? In Zep's hands, it's manna of the gods.

Entertainment Weekly - June 20, 2003

Author: Anthony DeCurtis

HOW THE WEST WAS WON Classic Rock (Atlantic) LED ZEPPELIN DVD Classic Rock (Atlantic) A group celebrated for Wagnerian excess, Led Zeppelin live up to their reputation once again with the simultaneous release of How the West Was Won, a three-CD live set, and Led Zeppelin DVD, a two-disc overview that essentially spans the band's history on stage, from 1969 to 1979. Taken together, the collections run close to eight hours, raising the inevitable question: Is all this too much of a good thing?

It's a tribute to the quality and tastefulness of these projects, however, that once you start listening and watching, the question becomes irrelevant. They both capture a mighty band at the height of its gargantuan power, and while they don't exactly leave you wanting more, they are immensely satisfying.

West draws on two concerts Zeppelin played in California during the summer of 1972--after the release of the group's legendary fourth album and before Houses of the Holy--combining performances to simulate a single two-and-a-half-hour show. It's the rare song on these discs that doesn't run over five minutes, and epic treatments of "Dazed and Confused" (25:25), drummer John Bonham's signature solo on "Moby Dick" (19:20), and a blistering medley (including "Hello Mary Lou," "Let's Have a Party," and John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillun"), bracketed by "Whole Lotta Love" (23:08), extend much longer than that.

While you occasionally yearn for--and get--concise and focused tears through the likes of "Immigrant Song" and "Rock and Roll," the expanded versions leave you marveling at the band's improvisatory zeal. In the studio, Jimmy Page, Zep's guitarist and producer, was a daunting sonic architect who constructed monumental, elaborately textured walls of sound. On stage, though, he is far rawer, less coolly intellectual, more feral--qualities thrillingly in evidence here. His endless inventiveness rescues even "Stairway to Heaven" from decades of classic-rock-radio overplay, restoring all the force and freshness it held at its conception.

But Page is simply the first among equals. Singer Robert Plant delivers every whisper, every scream, and every vocal articulation in between with palpable joy at the superhuman elasticity of his voice. On bass and keyboards, John Paul Jones blends rhythm and melody with consummate sensitivity; he never plays an inessential note. And Bonham is a wonder. No one ever questioned his brute power, but what comes through here is his dexterity as a kind of bandleader, simultaneously the group's anchor and its relentless whip.

Distinctive as each musician is, these four men cohere as a band, as the DVD makes dramatically clear. Zeppelin rarely permitted themselves to be filmed, so these discs contain much of the rare footage that is available--and even make smart use of bootlegs shot from the audience by fans. What might initially seem like a technological disadvantage, however, turns out to be a boon. For the most part, these performances are devoid of corny, MTV-style quick cuts, fetishistic close-ups, or indulgent visual effects and distractions. The members of the band are playing exclusively for each other--the interaction between them is a pleasure to behold--and for the audience, not for intrusive cameras.

The result is a coruscating immediacy--whether during an intimate acoustic performance of "Going to California" in a packed arena or a ferocious four-song set taped in a tiny studio for Danish television. Entertaining extras include a scene of Plant chatting up a flirty Germaine Greer at a party in 1972 and a visceral 1969 performance in front of the thoroughly puzzled studio audience of a French variety show.

Mysterious, regally indifferent to the media, aesthetically ambitious, Led Zeppelin in their heyday often seemed to exist entirely in their own enclosed world. These projects shatter the walls of that enclosure, and the band storms out, playing music that is both of its time and timeless, as accessible and unapproachable now as when it was made. How the West Was Won: A+ Led Zeppelin DVD: A+

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