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Led Zeppelin wails on live release

Emily Tumbrink, Assistant Scene Editor | Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Easily one of the greatest bands of all time, Led Zeppelin has had a lasting impact on music since the release of their self-titled debut in 1969, and their influence and popularity continue to this day.

However, until only very recently, fans of Led Zeppelin, especially those of a younger generation, could only experience the band’s music through their studio releases. There was no live album in existence that truly captured the essence of the Led Zeppelin live experience, and fans who were too young to have the privilege of witnessing the band in concert were left completely in the dark about the truly epic proportions of Led Zeppelin’s ability to perform. Luckily, the wait for enlightenment is over. How the West Was Won is a three-disc set of two 1972 performances that Jimmy Page, guitarist for the band, re-discovered as he was gathering materials for a DVD. These performances showcase the band’s talents during their heyday, just after the release of their masterpiece Led Zeppelin IV and immediately prior to Houses of the Holy, and feature songs mainly from these two albums.

During the nearly three-hour jam session that forms How the West Was Won, Page’s talents on guitar truly come to life. Recently named one of the top 10 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, Page definitely lives up to his reputation, especially on “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love.” With each approaching the 25-minute mark, Page is given free reign of the stage with lengthy guitar solos that showcase his skill. John Paul Jones’ addition of a mandolin to the acoustic classic “Going to California” is another interesting touch that sets this live performance apart from anything ever released by Led Zeppelin. John Bonham’s extended drum solo on “Moby Dick” gives this talented drummer the recognition that he deserves in a way that is only hinted at in the studio recording. By listening to each of these talented musicians in this live format, it becomes clear that they thrived in the loose environment of live performance, an environment that allowed them to wail in a way that is impossible on the more restrained studio albums.

With a track listing that includes such classics as “Black Dog,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Going to California,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Stairway to Heaven,” How the West Was Won is an obvious choice for those who are fans of Led Zeppelin. The changes to many of the songs highlight the band’s talents and also further illustrate their many influences, including blues, bluegrass and Celtic folk music. The 23-minute version of “Whole Lotta Love” contains short covers of music by Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, James Brown and others, and allows the band to pay homage to their roots. Though this release is a few decades late, How the West Was Won is definitely worth the wait. Those who have even the slightest appreciation for Led Zeppelin’s music will benefit from experiencing their music in live performance. The noticeable variations between the live and studio-recorded versions of the songs included on How the West Was Won definitely make this album a worthwhile purchase.

Contact Emily Tumbrink at tumbrink.1@nd.edu