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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Led Zeppelin

The Song Remains the Same

Review by Gary Hill

Few bands have ever achieved the level of success that Led Zeppelin did, and certainly not any that only released a handful of albums. Although there are now some live products coming out, years after the band had ceased to be, during their tenure this, and the accompanying video, was the only official chronicle of the band's performance. I really prefer the CD to the video because, at least for me, many of the artistic scenes in the movie were incomprehensible, and I almost look at them as filler. The interesting thing about this disc is that the performance does not seem to be enhanced, and is imperfect. That is a nice thing because it really gives you a sense of being at a Zeppelin concert. It seems a refreshing approach, and this truly is still one of the classic live albums of the 1970's.

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Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Rock and Roll
The familiar drumbeat starts this off, but as Page and Jones enter, the song takes on a more raw texture than on the studio recording. Page manages to stretch out on the arrangement here for an extended, but at times somewhat sloppy solo. Still it is good to hear a live performance recorded as lived, warts and all. This segues straight into the next tune.
Celebration Day
This unique, fuzzy rocker is performed quite well here. The band manages to stretch out a bit in the later segments, and the immediacy of live performance seems to add a renewed energy to the track.
The Song Remains the Same
This rocker from Houses of the Holy has always had minor prog rock elements, but they seem to be intensified on the intro to this rendition. Plant's performance also seriously takes afire in much of this. In fact, the whole band manage to breath extra life into this one, showing that although at times the Zep could be less than perfect live, that was where the cuts truly came alive. This drops straight off into the next song.
Rain Song
The delicate early segments here seem all the more potent in the live performance. Although this feels more raw than the original studio showing, this seems to lend a "realness" to the piece, and the band manage to leave the lusher parts of the arrangement intact. This really explodes out in the later, harder rocking segment.
Dazed and Confused
Live the band takes this from extended rocker to full on epic that weighs in at almost 27 minutes in length. The cut begins with the familiar bass line crawling on through. Page's guitar seemt to cry in pain at the onset. Then a new rock and roll based slow groove takes it. Plant's vocals seem almost mournful at times. The fairly laid-bare texture adds a certain power and majesty. Plant's performance is truly charismatic and magical. At about 4 minutes in the band sets off on a musical exploration, first by building on the faster paced instrumental segment of the cut, turning it into a frantic hard rocking jam. Then they drop in an awesome and dramatic take of "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)". From here the band cut loose on another hard rocking instrumental excursion that moves out into something that is a bit dark and very potent. As this winds down Page begins violin bowing his guitar, bringing a somewhat disheartening, but darkly beautiful texture. The rest of the band drops away, and he begins a spacey exploration, weaving waves and sometimes spikes of sound through administration of the bow to the axe. He constructs a new melody line in this format for a time, then stretches to a bellowing mournful cry. This has to be one of the most intriguing displays of guitar technique ever recorded. After a time, Plant comes in in the background, seemingly echoing Page's efforts, which at one point becomes a horse gallop. Then Plant takes on an Arabic vocal excursion before he and Page seemingly duel. Then the guitarist takes on a screeching texture to his sound, weaving a tapestry of sound, and melody begins slowly emerging from this, eventually taking over, then the band launch back into the fast paced riff from which all this came. Next they drop it to a fairly straightforward rocking element that extends out with fiery guitar lines. They drip it down from there, 'til a slower dramatic stomping progressive before going in to a start and stop section with more Plant echoing Page's guitar lines. Then a new fast paced jam explodes out from there. The band alternates between these modes before rushing headlong back into the frantic midsection from the studio version. Then they drop in another new melody, this one quite metallic, and eventually make their way back to where they came from. Finally the cut returns to the opening slower jam segment. At about 22 minutes in Plant gets a chance at some more of the vocal pyrotechnics, driving the later segments, and Page gets an exceptionally tasty solo. They manage to extend this outro into a pretty intricate progression before finally closing out. Bonham even manages a short solo here. What a track!
Disc 2
No Quarter
The tone on this one has always been a clear-cut winner. Here the opening keys seem all the more woeful for some reason. The cut is performed on this disc fairly close to the mode of the studio album, but the open texture of the live recording adds a certain charm to this performance of this dynamic and moody cut. Page's guitar soloing here is especially tasty. An extended instrumental segment is another nice touch.
Stairway to Heaven
Arguably one of the best known rock songs of all times, the rendition here, although lacking a little in terms of the production, truly gains something in the immediacy. Plant's additional comments during the song, starting with his introduction, "this is a song of hope", also lead this one along the path to true magic. Although performed quite faithfully, somehow the more humanized take here truly elevates this stunning composition.
Moby Dick
Essentially a drum solo, Bonham showed here just what he was capable of as a drummer. He never really lets flash or show-offishness get in the way of solid rhythmic structure, though. This is perhaps one of the quintessential rock drum solos.
Whole Lotta Love
This hard-edged rocker is extended here to over 14 minutes. Consider the crunchy edge, it gains something from a slightly raw texture. The fast paced jam mid-song includes some killer instrumental work and Plant's added lines. They turn this into a medley of sorts, pulling new song structures in to fill out the cut. The psychedelic instrumental/vocal interplay section here is especially strong and impressive. They even weave in a full on blues movement that showcases Plant and evolves into an old fashioned rock and roll/Elvis style romp. Jones' walking bass line in that section is really something. This version definitely surpasses the studio rendition based mostly on the dynamic song structure. When you consider how strong that original was, that is certainly saying something.
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