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.