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Metal gold for Led fans

New CD and DVD packages -- including vintage concert footage -- revive the sounds of one of the most vital rock forces of the '70s.

May 27, 2003|Jon Matsumoto | Special to The Times

Two weeks ago, former Led Zeppelin member John Paul Jones attended the London premier of the late rock band's two-disc concert DVD, "Led Zeppelin DVD." To his surprise and amusement, the bass and keyboard player felt a bit like a teenager experiencing his first Zeppelin concert.

"I actually let out a cheer with everyone else in the theater at the end of 'Moby Dick,' " Jones says with a laugh. "It was nice to actually see a Led Zeppelin gig [as a fan], because at the time I was always working! I had forgotten how tight we were as a band. The live music works so well on DVD because of [the format's 5.1] surround sound. It puts you right in the first row."

To a host of Led Zeppelin fans, today's release of the 5 1/2-hour DVD set -- along with a separately packaged, three-CD offering of live music from the quartet titled "How the West Was Won" -- represents the arrival of Christmas seven months early.

The crux of the two-DVD set revolves around footage from three performances in England: a Royal Albert Hall show in 1970, an Earls Court concert in 1975 and a Knebworth Festival show in 1979.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 29, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Led Zeppelin -- A caption with a photo of the band's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in Tuesday's Calendar incorrectly stated that the performance took place in 1982. The exact date of that performance isn't known, but the band ceased performing as Led Zeppelin in 1980 after the death of drummer John Bonham.

Led Zeppelin was without question one of the most dominant rock acts of the '70s. The British outfit has sold approximately 200 million albums worldwide, an astounding number for a band that released nine albums during its life span, between 1968 and 1980. (The band dissolved shortly after the death of drummer John Bonham.) While the group was adept at delivering acoustic folk music, it played an indispensable role in establishing a heavy-metal template that would influence countless bands and musicians.

But until now, the only officially available visual documentation of the media-shy band had been the 1976 concert film "The Song Remains the Same." The movie captures the band on stage at New York City's Madison Square Garden in 1973.

For 21 years, the soundtrack to "The Song Remains the Same" was also the only official audio representation of Led Zeppelin on stage. In 1997, the group released a two-CD package of live material from 1969 titled "BBC Sessions."

The latest Led Zeppelin offerings are especially welcome by disc jockey Gary Moore, who devotes a half-hour to the band every weekday at 4 p.m. on KLOS-FM (95.5).

"The band is much more 'on' in 'How the West Was Won' compared to 'The Song Remains the Same' soundtrack. And they turn it up a notch compared to what you hear on the 'BBC Sessions,' " says Moore, who as a teenager traveled four hours with friends from his home in Kentucky to see the band play in St. Louis in 1975. Moore is not only playing material from "How the West Was Won" on his "Whole Lotta Led" radio segment, but also tracks from the new DVD set.

He also continues to present occasional songs from bootleg recordings of Led Zeppelin concerts. (A very active bootleg industry has existed around the band for years, due in part to the dearth of officially available concert recordings.)

For ex-Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and Jones, the 1972 Los Angeles and Long Beach shows that are captured in part on "How the West Was Won" represent the band at its live peak. Los Angeles was also a favorite destination spot for the band.

"1972 was a particularly great year for us," Plant says. "We were right on top of what we were up to."

"The recording quality is pretty good [on 'How the West Was Won'], but the performance quality is really, really excellent," Jones enthuses. "It may have had to do with the fact that the tours used to end up on the West Coast. So we would have been playing three or four weeks solid by the time we got there. Plus, there's something about the weather in Los Angeles [that's invigorating], especially for a Brit."

"Led Zeppelin DVD" and "How the West Was Won" were set into motion after former band guitarist Jimmy Page discovered that the Royal Albert Hall film footage from 1970 was about to be auctioned off. Until then, the band had mistakenly thought it had legal ownership over the professionally shot silent footage. With the urgent knowledge of how little visual documentation there was of Led Zeppelin, Page negotiated to purchase the rights to the film several years ago before it could be sold to the highest bidder.

Restoring the Royal Albert Hall film proved to be a painstaking process for numerous reasons. Part of it involved the three remaining group members converging to help sync an existing audio recording of the performance with the silent film footage.

"The band got together and we looked at these nine cans of silent footage of the Royal Albert Hall concert," explains Page. "The best way [to sync the audio and visual aspects of the show] was for each of us to identify what we were playing. [When you're looking at silent film footage of a concert] it might look like the first verse, but if you're playing the bass, for example, it could actually have been the fourth verse."

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