(Originally posted at Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat.)
I’ve got to cop to a certain bias when it comes to talking about Led Zeppelin, because quite frankly, I literally can’t imagine what my young life would be like without them. From attempting to decipher the mysteries of my dad’s vinyl copy of IV to wading repeatedly through the 4-disc box set Zep produced in the early ’90s to receiving The Motherlode, The Complete Studio Recordings, while a sophomore in high school, my musical, mental, and even physical development are inextricably linked to the band, who in Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham had quite simply the best singer, guitarist, bassist, and drummer in rock and roll history, period. Whether it’s epics like “In My Time of Dying” and “Ten Years Gone” or balls-out bullets of rock energy like “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid,” I’ve more deeply internalized Zeppelin’s music than any other band.
So words fail me when attempting to describe Led Zeppelin’s new triple-disc live album (are there seven more beautiful words in the English language?), How the West Was Won. This is because it is soooooooo heavy. Heaviosity, I realize, is an increasingly rare critical barometer of quality, but I find it as reliable as any other, and people, this monstrosity of rock is heavy. It’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” heavy. It’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” heavy. It’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” heavy. It’s, well, every song you ever loved by Led Zeppelin heavy.
Discovered during a trip through the vaults by Jimmy Page in preparation for the simultaneously-released live Zep DVD, and consciously set up as an antidote to the band’s lackluster live album from the 70s, The Song Remains the Same (the record was left out of the Complete box, so if Led Zeppelin’s my religion in some sense, that’s the band’s apocrypha), the performances that comprise the album’s three discs were taken from post-IV, pre-Houses of the Holy shows in Los Angeles in which the band could almost literally do no wrong. I don’t know how many times that, upon listening to the live version contained herein of a Zeppelin classic I’d already heard three thousand times before, I burst into an irrepressible, idiotic grin. As if the lengths listed next to the tracks weren’t enough to get your rocks off (“Moby Dick”–19:23! “Whole Lotta Love”–23:07! “Dazed and Confused”–25:fricking25!), there’s the soul-crushing fury with which John Bonham pounds his drums during the opening riff for “Out on the Tiles,” which is used to kick of a searing rendition of “Black Dog.” There’s the warrior wails from Robert Plant throughout the album-opening “Immigrant Song,” which peel through the ether as though he’s reluctant to cut them short. There’s the unexpected ferocity with with Page, Jones and Bonham kick out the jams in the half-acoustic half-electric “Over the Hills and Far Away.” There’s the smile you can see in your mind’s eye, plain as day, on Plant’s face as he (one would assume) woos some pretty young thing in the audience by following up “Black Dog”‘s assertion that “big legged women ain’t got no soul” with the sly spoken admission “I could be wrong….” And, oh yeah, there’s “Stairway to Heaven.” (NOTE: When I saw Page & Plant close their first tour together in decades at Madison Square Garden some years back, they kicked off the 3rd or 4th encore of the night with the words “one more song!” Everyone thought it’d be “Stairway”; everyone was wrong (it was “Rock and Roll”). Hearing the infamous track on this record almost makes up for the taunt. Almost.)