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Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won Review

Live. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Those of a sensitive nature can leave now. They came from the land of the ice and...

Chris Jones 2003

At a time when the term 'rock' is becoming utterly outmoded and approachable only from an 'ironic' standpoint, these four horsemen of the musical apocalypse come back and remind us why it wasn't always this way. Those of a sensitive nature can leave now. They came from the land of the ice and snow...well, actually they came from the Black Country and Surrey, but this 3 CD set proves once and for all that Led Zeppelin's spiritual home was definitely way out West.

Unlike the accompanying live DVD, which takes a behemoth 5 hour journey through their entire career, How The West Was Won is taken from two LA concerts in 1972. Jimmy Page's amusingly curt sleeve notes state that this constitutes proof of how Zeppelin won the hearts of American teenagers everywhere, but in truth the battle was over. From their inception in 1968 the ex-Yardbird (Page), seasoned sessioneer (Jones) and two young whippersnappers (Plant and Bonham) had made the other side of the Atlantic their playground, and a diet of constant touring (and scene-stealing) meant that by this time they really were a well-honed juggernaut of a band. The fourth album (containing THAT track) had conquered the charts and a typical show could last well into three hours.

How this occurred is amply demonstrated on some of the album's key tracks. ''Dazed And Confused'' -with its violin bow showcase - weighs in at nearly 26 minutes, taking in a whole James Brown-inspired jam. ''Whole Lotta Love'' slides from theremin madness into rockin' classics (''Let's Have A Party'', ''Hello Mary Lou'' etc.) and only comes up for air after another 23 minutes. Even Bonham's scary drum showcase, ''Moby Dick'', hangs around for nearly 20 minutes. Yet throughout, the band's obvious chemistry and interplay NEVER falters. Despite fluffed lines and frankly awful vocal extemporising this really is guitar-based music at its most thrilling.

Yet the real treats in these oft-bootlegged shows are the deft switch to the acoustic section of their repertoire - all playful mandolins and, gasp, sensitive singing from Percy -and the unveiling of as yet unheard tracks from their next album, Houses Of The Holy. Songs such as ''The Ocean'' and ''Dancing Days'' stand as hard rockers good enough to be played next to ''Heartbreaker'', while ''Over The Hills And Far Away'' demonstrates again how they could easily switch from folk to metal without any sense of incongruity.

With their bluesy origins represented by the lolloping ''Since I've Been Loving You'', this is a set that really encompasses a band at their absolute peak. Such wild diversity would be an embarrassment of riches for any modern combo. Luckily for us, Zep never knew the meaning of embarrassment or restraint. Time to bring it on home again...

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