Led Zeppelin Review (DVD)

Produced: Jimmy Page & Dick Carruthers
Starring: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones & John Bonham
Format: 2 x DVD Region 2
Running time: 320 mins

While contemporaries such as Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones embraced the visual medium, Led Zeppelin were notoriously camera shy and maintained that their natural arena was the stage. Eschewing the release of singles, or making videos, the band stuck resolutely to the ideal of releasing albums and touring heavily.

The band’s only visual document, The Song Remains the Same, is a lacklustre mish-mash of styles. It features concert footage from Madison Square Gardens in 1973, a performance that came towards the end of a gruelling tour, and the below-par performance is a sure sign of fatigue and the flu the band were suffering. The fantasy sequences also seem very dated to a modern audience and often appear at points where the viewer would prefer to watch the band perform. Most notably when Jimmy Page is playing some of the more epic parts of The Rain Song.

Jimmy Page has been promising a visual document of the band in their prime for some years. Both Page and Robert Plant hinting that there was some amazing footage in the archives. They weren’t lying. Led Zeppelin, the eponymous DVD is the definitive visual record of the band in all their glory. With a running time in excess of five hours it’s an audio and visual feast that’s hard to take in one sitting – such is the overpowering brilliance of the footage on offer.

The two-disc set contains major excerpts from concerts played at The Royal Albert Hall (1970), Madison Square Gardens (1973), Earls Court (1975) and Knebworth (1979). There are also additional clips featuring rare television appearances and interviews. Clip is something of a misnomer as one TV appearance actually features four songs and runs for over 30 minutes.

The quality of the images varies but it’s obvious a valiant restoration of decaying film stock and videotape has been carried out. Some film segments are missing and have been cleverly replaced to match the surviving soundtrack. There is the occasional use of slow motion to bridge the gap where frames are missing. The Song Remains the Same used footage of several performances at Madison Square Gardens were blended to create the images that accompanied the live soundtrack Here in this new collection it’s clear that the images match the sound and we are watching authentic live performances.

And what performances these are. The uncompressed sound is brutal and clear, with the individual instruments coming through strongly. The virtuoso performances of all four members of the group are readily apparent – particularly Plant’s vocals, that really shine in this collection compared to The Song Remains the Same. There’s even a good amount of footage from those Madison Square Gardens concerts used for The Song Remains the Same. These performances are so strong it makes you wonder why they were not chosen for that movie rather than some of the below par takes used in the final film. These scenes, stripped of corny fantasy sequences are as good as any of the other tracks on this collection.

You may have seen some of the TV footage bonus material before. There’s a wild feedback heavy version of Dazed and Confused on offer. This clip from Dutch TV that already been doing the rounds on MTV and VH1. But many of the other clips are lost little gems from the archive. A rousing performance of Rock and Roll filmed from the upper story of a nearby building is raw and exciting. This Australian footage is followed by candid interviews shot during an post gig party. John Bonham discusses the band’s at that time unreleased fourth album with a young Germaine Greer (yes that Germaine Greer).

Choosing the track listing for this two DVD collection must have been a nightmare. With songs changing form tour to tour, any self respecting Led Zeppelin fan would be forgiven for craving a version of Dazed and Confused or Whole Lotta Love from each of the concerts included on the disks. Jimmy Page has avoided too much repetition but it’s still possible to trace the evolution of the band’s sound through these performances. This was a band that always treated their music as unfinished and songs evolved over time as successive tours and improvisation built new themes within the songs.

The first concert, filmed at London’s Royal Albert Hall, feels like a loose and groovy blues jam among friends. Playing unplugged for thousands at Earl’s Court the band seem confident and polished with the footage here almost giving the impression of an intimate pub gig rather than a concert for thousands of adoring fans. By the time this chronological collection reaches the laser lit spectacle of 1979’s Knebworth concerts the band seem to put on a more raw and edgy display. Here we can see how heavy blues has become heavy metal over the course of the decade. Gone is the loose blues feel, instead we are treated to an aggressive and thunderous display – which makes one wonder why the punks had a problem with Led Zeppelin. There’s almost a militaristic nature to the music as the band hammer home songs such as Achilles Last Stand.

Finally Led Zeppelin fans have the footage they always suspected lay in the dark depths of Jimmy Page’s basement under the spell book and Alastair Crowley’s broomstick. This two disk anthology is packed with wonderful moments that define one of the most important bands of the 1970s. Crisp new musical production by Jimmy Page, coupled with exhaustive film restoration and editing, show this is no mere cash in. Many fans would have been delighted with this material just appearing on DVD in unrestored form, yet the care and attention lavished on the production of this release displays a love for the source material and a yearning to give the fans a genuine treat. For a camera shy band, Led Zeppelin makes for one of the finest visual documents of the band that redefined rock music. An essential purchase.