MTV Video Music Awards

Led Zeppelin Comes To Life On CD, DVD

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Largely without the benefit of mass media exposure, Led Zeppelin built its reputation as one of the greatest bands in rock history through a decade-plus of groundbreaking albums and transcendent live performances. But as far as live documents went, there were hardly any audio or video recordings that band members deemed worthy of release, much less survived years in storage.

All that is about to change with Atlantic's May 27 release of the five-hour, double-disc "Led Zeppelin DVD" and the triple-disc live album "How the West Was Won." It's a veritable bonanza of Zeppelin concert material that guitarist Jimmy Page has been conceptualizing for more than 20 years and took him nearly a year to compile.

"It's quite an epic story, really," Page says with a chuckle as he recalls sifting through his vaults to find the material collected here. Just when a given show looked like a suitable candidate for release, Page would find that entire sections of songs had failed to be recorded, or that portions of the tape had deteriorated to an unrecoverable degree.

But what Page managed to unearth comprises what he proudly calls "the full story" of Led Zeppelin -- an endlessly compelling peek at the legendary U.K. quartet on stage in 1970, 1973, 1975, and 1979. The DVD kicks off with a searing 1970 set from London's Royal Albert Hall, as the group bulldozes through the blues-inflected material from its early self-titled albums. Page even extracted outtakes from the 1976 Zeppelin concert film "The Song Remains the Same" and located rare footage from the band's scant television appearances.

"You can see that the audience is absolutely terrified," he says of a particularly surreal clip from a Danish TV appearance. "They were obviously asked to sit down and they don't know what to do. They're sitting there and it's frightening them to death what they're hearing, because Zeppelin really was quite scary and intimidating and avant-garde in its day!"

As for "How the West Was Won," which combines material from two July 1972 concerts in California, Page enthuses, "as far as a live performance, without a doubt it was one of Zeppelin at its best. Even without the visuals, it was just coming right at you. It was leaping out of the speakers." The set is highlighted by performances of tracks like "The Ocean" and "Over the Hills and Far Away" from the then-unreleased album "Houses of the Holy," plus a mind-bending, 23-minute medley during "Whole Lotta Love."

The titles will launch with an eight-market theatrical screening of "Led Zeppelin DVD" on the night of release, in conjunction with Loews Theaters and Clear Channel subsidiary Premiere Radio Networks. Page and surviving members Robert Plant and John Paul Jones will attend the New York-based event and are set for interviews with NBC's "Today" show and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" that week.

"It's the first time in a long time they have done this kind of work together," Atlantic senior VP of marketing Vicky Germaise points out. "The dynamic will be interesting for all of us to see."

Along contests to send winners to the New York premiere, over the U.S. Memorial Day weekend (May 23-25), Premiere stations will broadcast a two-hour special featuring newly conducted interviews with Led Zeppelin.

According to Atlantic VP of new media Nikke Slight, another key development is the acquisition of LedZeppelin.com, which has never been under the band's direct control. Recently launched, the site features a bevy of sneak preview audio and video clips. A teaser of "What Is and What Should Never Be" from Albert Hall has been available from via AOL's First View program since May 12.

With the project completed, Page says he has no plans to collaborate with Plant or Jones but won't rule it out entirely ("Let's be positive and say that maybe it could be," he offers). But what stuck with him while poring over tapes was Zeppelin's ability to constantly ride the razor-thin edge between order and chaos.

"You'd never quite know where it was going to take you," he marvels. "You might be halfway through a song and Robert would decide to sing something from another source, and all the sudden we're right there with riffs. And that's how the band was, really, right from day one until the last concert that we ever played. That was the unquantified ingredient, if you like, that level of improvisation and inspiration which was there every night."

[Additional reporting by Jill Kipnis in L.A.]




Excerpted from the May 24, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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