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RHINO

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
Led Zeppelin (John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant)

Tagline:
First Official Release of Never-Before-Seen Classic Live Performances.

Synopsis:
Atlantic Records are proud to announce a landmark event in music history - the release of the mother lode of Led Zeppelin live recordings: Led Zeppelin, a two disc DVD set. This marks the first official release of these legendary performances.

Clocking in at nearly five and a half hours, Led Zeppelin has been culled from the few performances which were filmed during the band's lifetime: London's Royal Albert Hall in January 1970, just one year after the release of their debut album; their triumphant five night run at London's Earl's Court in May 1975; and their record breaking shows at England's Knebworth Festival in August 1979; just one year before the death of drummer John Bonham. Also included are songs from Madison Square Garden in July 1973.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Subtitles:
None
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 228 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 5/27/2003

Bonus:
Disc One
• ”Communication Breakdown” Promo
• Danmarks Radio Performances
• “Supershow” Performance
• “Tous En Scene” Performances
Disc Two
• NYC Press Conference – 1970
• “Down Under – 1972” Footage
• “Old Grey Whistle Test” 1975 Robert Plant  Interview
• 1990 Promos


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RELATED REVIEWS


Led Zeppelin (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2004)

Okay, I admit it: for years I loathed Led Zeppelin due to some rather knee-jerk and irrational reasons. I suffered through the “hair metal” years of the Eighties, when you couldn’t toss a donut and not hit some screechy, untalented piece of crap band with a shrieky singer and a guitarist who thought all solos should be played as fast as possible. Whether correctly or not, I essentially blamed Zep for all these acts. Some of them obviously imitated Led Zep – like Whitesnake – whereas the rest seemed more like illegitimate cousins.

Eventually I started to realize that my resistance to Led Zep based on their apparent progeny made little sense, so I decided at a late stage to give them more of a chance. I like to dive in all the way, so I bought the CD boxed set that includes all of their studio material. My reaction? I liked it, though it didn’t make me a true believer. Led Zep have some very good material and some pretty blah stuff, and though I now do like them in general, I won’t ever be a big fan.

Nonetheless, I wanted to take a look at the simply titled Led Zeppelin, the band’s first concert film release since 1976’s The Song Remains the Same. Zeppelin mostly concentrates on four different performances. DVD One includes a performance at the Royal Albert Hall from January 9, 1970. This 102-minute set presents 12 numbers that include Led Zeppelin’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “Dazed and Confused”, “How Many More Times” and “Communication Breakdown”, Led Zeppelin II’s “Whole Lotta Love”, “What Is and What Should Never Be”, “Moby Dick” and “Bring It On Home”. “We’re Gonna Groove” was a then-unreleased number that would appear eventually on the catchall collection Coda, while “White Summer” covered the Yardbirds. Finally, Led Zep covered Eddie Cochran via “C’mon Everybody” and “Something Else”.

The Albert Hall session doesn’t show Led Zep in their earliest incarnation, but it comes fairly close. With Led Zeppelin II less than three months old, they were still finding their identity in some ways; Jimmy Page’s ugly sweater vest isn’t exactly standard garb for a flashy rock god, and the stage set up seems almost absurdly simple as they await their time as arena headliners. Musically, however, the band mostly delivered the goods. The biggest problems stemmed from the occasional jaunts into the Land of the Badly Self-Indulgent. Too many of the songs seem really long due to meandering, pointless solos. Bonham’s drum-propelled “Moby Dick” remains the poster child for musical masturbation, but Page’s rambling solos during “Dazed and Confused” and “White Summer” don’t fare much better.

When Led Zep keep things tighter, they tear into the songs with a vengeance. Here they lack the sophistication of later shows, but they make up for this with more raw passion as the rip into the material. With tracks like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Communication Breakdown”, the show’s second half works best, which helps make this a pretty powerful – albeit occasionally frustrating – performance.

One note about the presentation of the Albert Hall footage: occasionally we find still photos used in place of film. I couldn’t find an explanation of this in the package’s booklet, but I’d guess that problems with the original footage popped up at times, so the producers substituted stills to compensate. It took me a little aback at first, but I quickly acclimated to it. The photos don’t pop up all that frequently, and they meld with the movie footage reasonably well.

After this extended Royal Albert Hall set, we move to DVD Two, where we open with a 1972 rendition of Led Zeppelin III’s “Immigrant Song”. An odd combination of sources, this one features visuals from an early 1972 show in Sydney while the audio emanates from a summer 1972 performance in Los Angeles. The song rocks and sounds great, but the visual presentation bites. The footage looks crude and cheap, and it’s cut so quickly and abruptly that it just looks like a random mishmash. I’m glad the tune made it just because it works well, but this is one to turn off the TV and just listen to the music alone.

From there we leap to the July 1973 Madison Square Garden stand at which they filmed The Song Remains the Same. Here we get four songs in a 23-minute excerpt: Led Zeppelin IV’s “Black Dog”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, Led Zeppelin III’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and Houses of the Holy’s “The Ocean”. What a difference a few years makes! After the somewhat stiff and self-conscious shots from 1970, the guys seem vastly more confident at MSG. Plant has his rock god mojo working in overdrive as he struts, preens and gyrates. Page lost the sweater and donned some duds that look damned goofy now but seem quite appropriate within the context of the era. On the negative side, the hard-living style of the era already seemed to be catching up with Bonham, who looked like he’d aged 20 years since 1970.

The MSG footage seemed so strong that it made me wish for more. I’ve never seen The Song Remains the Same, but I’ve always heard pretty mediocre grades assigned to it, mostly because the band allegedly weren’t at the top of their game for those shows. If that’s the case, I couldn’t tell from the MSG material here. They sound great and impress with their self-confidence and swagger. It helps that the short set list favors some tighter rockers, which are my favorites; the Albert Hall show got bogged down with rambling tracks, while much of the MSG stuff chugs along without much delay. In any case, these four numbers crank well and provide some excellent material.

Matters quiet considerably as well head to Earls Court for some songs from May 1975. Running 49 minutes, we get six tracks from those shows: Led Zeppelin III’s “That’s the Way” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, Led Zeppelin IV’s “Going to California” and “Stairway to Heaven”, Physical Graffiti’s “In My Time of Dying” and “Trampled Underfoot”. The Earls Court footage opens on a quiet note with three acoustic numbers. These find Plant, Page and Jones seated on stools as they perform the songs; Bonham joins in when we get to “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. I never felt wild about Zep’s quieter tracks, but these work nicely and provide a quick respite from the assault of the rest of the DVD.

The subsequent three tunes seem more raucous, though they favor the band’s more introspective side. None of them present all-out barnburners, as they mostly focus on more esoteric goals than the group’s more base numbers. They all sound pretty good, though I must admit a lack of affinity for “Stairway”. The song’s such an overplayed cliché that I find it tough to take at times, and this somewhat lackluster version didn’t change my mind.

Finally, the Knebworth material from August 1979 represents some of Led Zep’s last performances; Bonham died in September 1980 as the band prepared for an American tour. The massive Knebworth shows took place in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, and we find seven songs from those concerts: Led Zeppelin IV’s “Rock and Roll”, Presence’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Achilles Last Stand”, Physical Graffiti’s “Sick Again” and “Kashmir”, In Through the Out Door’s “In the Evening”, and Led Zeppelin II’s “Whole Lotta Love”. This set lasts 50 minutes.

Though the band sounded pretty good at Knebworth, I wouldn’t call this one of their finest moments. Actually, I think the visuals affected my opinion. If I just listened, the music came across well. However, the band looked somewhat tired and worn down by these shows. Page in particular seemed shaky. Never the most vital looking man, he came across as particular fragile here.

Nonetheless, the Knebworth footage offers a nice addition to the set. It’d be valuable if just for historical purposes, but it presents some reasonably solid performances too. “Achilles Last Stand” works especially well; it’s a good number in its studio incarnation, but this live take adds real zest to it. Bonham packs a real punch throughout the show. The Knebworth set is probably my least favorite of the DVD, but it’s pretty positive nonetheless.

Overall, it’s tough to find much about which I can complain in regard to Led Zeppelin. I suppose one can gripe about the omission of whatever footage didn’t make the cut, but it’s inevitable that something won’t appear. What we do get seems uniformly high quality and offers a good snapshot of Led Zep at various points during their run. It hits on well-known tracks like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Rock and Roll” plus many album cuts and lesser lights. It’s a package that should appeal to Zeppelin neophytes, and it goes without saying that the die-hards should adore it.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A- (DTS) B (Dolby Digital)/ Bonus B

Led Zeppelin mostly appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Because of the age and origins of the source material, I didn’t expect Zeppelin to look very good. However, to my very pleasure surprise, it mostly presented quite solid visuals.

As the oldest footage on the DVD, one might anticipate little positive from the Royal Albert Hall show. However, it looked generally positive. Sharpness mostly seemed solid. Some moderate softness interfered with wider shots, and the image never came across as tremendously crisp or detailed. Nonetheless, it appeared acceptably distinct and concise, and the light softness wasn’t a distraction. I saw no concerns related to jagged edges or shimmering, and I also noticed no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws popped up at times but stayed pretty minor for material of this age. Occasional specks and marks appeared, and some small hairs periodically crept onto the bottom of the screen. I also saw a few streaks that briefly swept across the screen. Despite the consistently low light conditions and the use of 16mm stock, the image displayed surprisingly little grain. Some was apparent, but not to any remote level of intrusiveness.

Colors didn’t look outstanding, but they seemed better than average for this sort of production. The tones seemed a little subdued at times, but they generally came across as nicely vivid and clean. Colored lighting fared nicely, as those shots looked well defined and lacked any noise, bleeding, or messiness. Black levels seemed very dense and intense, and definition in the darker shots was quite strong. I encountered virtually no problems due to opaque shadows or murkiness. The moderate softness and occasional print flaws knocked my grade for the Albert Hall footage down to a “B”, but take that with a small grain of salt; based on my expectations, this stuff looked much stronger than I anticipated and seemed consistently satisfying.

When I earlier stated that Led Zeppelin mostly used a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this implied that exceptions occurred, and those took place at the Madison Square Garden show. Although the other fullscreen shots meant these couldn’t benefit from anamorphic enhancement, they still looked damned good. The images seemed consistently crisp and detailed, with only a smidgen of softness in the wider shots. A few specks and marks appeared, but the elements mostly came across as clean.

Colors really took off in the MSG scenes. Much advanced past the basic presentation of the Albert Hall, the MSG tunes featured active lighting that looked bright and tight most of the time. Those elements could be slightly heavy at times, but they mostly seemed vibrant and concise. Blacks were dense and firm, and low light shots came across as well defined and clean. The MSG material really impressed me and earned a firm “B+“ on its own.

The first examples of videotaped material in this set, the Earls Court material looked even better. Very few problems with softness manifested themselves, as the footage consistently appeared distinct and accurate. As usual, some wide shots came across as a little less defined, but not badly so. Source flaws were mostly absent, as the images failed to display any streaks or signs of artifacting. I noticed some light rolling bars in the background at times, but these stayed infrequent and minor.

As with the MSG shots, colors also were strong at Earls Court. Again, lighting dominated, and the hues were mostly concise and neatly detailed. The reds looked slightly thick, but not to any substantial degree. Blacks remained deep and solid, while shadows seemed appropriately displayed. I had few complaints about the Earls Court material and felt it merited another “B+“.

Finally, the shots from Knebworth also came from videotape. These exhibited virtually all of the same pros and cons as the Earls Court footage, though the pair looked distinctly different. Nonetheless, the Knebworth shots presented similar slight sharpness issues and no flaws other than the occasional rolling horizontal bars; these did seem more prominent here than in Earls Court. Colors remained generally lively and well-defined, although the lighting occasionally became a little dense. Blacks also seemed tight, and shadows were clean. These elements earned a “B”, so I felt the package as a whole merited a “B+”. I wouldn’t use the footage of Led Zeppelin to show off my system, but I remained quite impressed with this DVD’s visuals.

Note that some of the DVD Two material interspersed shots from bootlegs with the professional clips. These elements popped up pretty infrequently, and I didn’t include them in my discussions because of their rareness. I also didn’t factor them into my grades for the same reason.

Led Zeppelin boasted both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. For the most part, the pair sounded very similar, though one major difference made the DTS mix the more satisfactory. I’ll discuss their common qualities and then get into the single large variation.

The 5.1 tracks used an aggressive soundfield. Most of the audio remained in the front, but the mixes weren’t afraid to spread to the sides. Primarily, Page’s guitar was the focus of that expansion. During songs like “Dazed and Confused”, Page’s playing often popped up from different spots in the spectrum. Some of this worked well, as when he used the violin bow to create funky effects. However, much of his playing came from a spot that emphasized the rear right speaker, and that made little sense to me. The showier segments could use the surrounds in a good way, but why put the regular guitar parts in the rear? This didn’t dominate, but it became a little distracting at times.

Otherwise, stereo imaging seemed positive. Vocals remained nicely centered, and other than logical exceptions such as the rambunctious solo of “Moby Dick”, drums also maintained an appropriate place in the front. All of the instrumentation appeared well delineated and cleanly placed. Note that the Albert Hall material featured the most active soundfield. DVD Two’s music used the surrounds in a more natural way to fill out the front and add crowd ambience; those songs lacked the wild panning of tracks like “Dazed and Confused” and “Moby Dick”.

Overall audio quality was quite good, at least for the DTS track. This was where I encountered variations between the two mixes. For the DTS version, vocals were natural and distinctive. They suffered from almost no edginess and sounded smooth and well defined. A little distortion affected some instrumentation at times and became most noticeable during a few of Page’s unaccompanied solos; these seemed slightly rough. In addition, Plant’s harmonica in “Bring It On Home” at the Albert Hall crackled pretty badly. However, those issues stayed minor and didn’t cause many real distractions. Guitars mostly sounded tight and concise, and the drums were taut and snapped well. Bass response seemed deep and dense and brought strong kick to the presentation.

The quality of the Dolby track compared solidly with that of the DTS version except for in one department: distortion at the Albert Hall. Some crackling started to appear on the Dolby edition’s “Dazed and Confused” and slowly got worse during the Albert Hall show. By the time we got to “Moby Dick”, the crackling turned into a genuine distraction. The distortion manifested itself heavily throughout Bonham’s entire solo and continued into other areas. I failed to notice any problems with similar crackling during DVD Two; it all seemed restricted to the Albert Hall material. Though the two mixes otherwise sounded identical, the absence of crackling in the DTS version made it the one to choose. (If you lack DTS capabilities, go with the PCM stereo track; it also lacked the distortion.) The crackling didn’t constantly mar the Dolby mix, but when it happened, it occasionally turned almost unlistenable.

A mix of supplements show up on Led Zeppelin. On DVD One, we open with a primitive music video of Communication Breakdown. The band mime the tune in the studio. It’s nothing special, but it’s nice to get as a historical oddity.

More useful is the 31-minute and 22-second four-song set shot for Dansmark Radio. An actual performance shot live in the studio before some young Danish hippie sorts back in March 1969, the band tear through “Communication Breakdown”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, and “How Many More Times”. All sound good, and the performance seems especially notable for Plant’s unusually deep vocals. He doesn’t use his normal screech, which gives a very different aura to “Breakdown” in particular.

Next we find a version of “Dazed and Confused” from a British program called Supershow. This lasts seven minutes, 33 seconds, and is shot live in the studio. Our third whirl through “Dazed”, I’m getting more than a little tired of the song, but at least it’s a bit more concise than the other two renditions; the “Dansmark” take lasts more than nine minutes, while the Albert Hall cut goes almost 16 minutes!

DVD One ends with another period TV performance, this one for a French program called Tous En Scene. A nine-minute segment from June 1969, the band play “Communication Breakdown” again and – yikes! – “Dazed and Confused” again again. At least it’s amusing to see the totally disinterested crowd of middle-aged Frenchies. Also, Plant seems to be in a Roger Daltrey-wannabe mode as he actually almost spins the microphone at one point. Note that at barely five minutes, this is the shortest “Dazed” on the DVD.

For something different, we move to DVD Two and a NYC Press Conference from September 1970. During this piece, Plant and Page – both with beards – chat about their success and field a lot of questions about the Beatles. I assume this occurs because the reporters knew little about music and only were aware of the Beatles; heck, it sounds like none of them heard the Beatles had split by that point. It’s not a very revealing chat, but it’s another clip[ that falls into the category of “cool historical oddity”. (Speaking of odd, Plant’s beard makes him look positively satanic. I thought Page was supposed to be the devil worshiper?)

Down Under 1972 opens with clips of a festival concert performance of “Rock and Roll” in Australia during February of that year. It then transitions into backstage shots that include some chatting with Bonham and Jones. The version of “Rock” does rock, and the backstage stuff is bland but still fun to get.

Another interview pops up via the British series The Old Grey Whistle Test. Shot in early 1975, Plant talks about their just-launched tour, the then-new Physical Graffiti, the issue of singles, the possibility of solo albums, and the band’s plans after the end of the American tour. As with the other segments, nothing here seems terribly fascinating, but it presents a nice snapshot of the period.

DVD Two finishes with two promos. Both created in the early Nineties to push CD reissues, “Over the Hills and Far Away” melds the studio track mostly with some intentionally fuzzy and warped footage of the band. “Traveling Riverside Blues” essentially works the same way, though it also tosses in some clips from movies. Neither seems interesting.

Lastly, Led Zeppelin includes not one but two booklets. We get one per disc. The first covers the creation of the package as well as notes about the Albert Hall show and DVD One’s extras. The second booklet does the same for the footage and supplements found on DVD Two. Both flesh out the material nicely and add to this set.

More than two decades after they dissolved as a band, Led Zeppelin remain intensely popular, and this DVD set shows why they earned such a broad and loyal audience. Led Zeppelin presents 30 song performances over its two discs, and these offer an excellent overview of the band’s strengths as well as some of their weaknesses. Mostly the set hits the highs, and it seems like a solid package. Picture quality appears surprisingly positive, and the audio also works quite well despite a defect that affects the Dolby Digital mix on DVD One. In addition, the set offers a smattering of cool supplements. A generous helping of hard-core rock, Led Zeppelin isn’t my favorite music DVD, but it’s one of the best releases in the genre, and it earns my firm recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5522 Stars Number of Votes: 67
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