Led Zeppelin – How the West Was Won – The Real Live Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin – How the West Was Won – (Swan Song / Atlantic)

The one, and only, live album every fan should own

Led Zeppelin wasn’t always great in concert.

I know, that sounds like blasphemy, right?  But, in truth, this legendary band was capable of laying an egg just as easily as blowing your mind.  Unfortunately, there’s lots of proof of the former:  just do a quick Youtube search of the bootlegs out there, or watch the weary Song Remains the Same film, or if you dare, the horrendous Live Aid “reunion” from 1985, or even the creaky Celebration Day reunion from 2007.

If you want to enjoy Zep in all their in-concert fury, there is no substitute for How the West Was Won. Originally released in 2003, the three-disc set is back in the spotlight in a remastered edition from Atlantic.

Culled from a pair of shows in Southern California (L.A. Forum and Long Beach) from 1972, this is Led Zeppelin at their monstrous peak. The set kicks off with a song the band would only have in their set briefly, “Immigrant Song,” because of how hard it was for Robert Plant (or anyone for that matter) to sing.  This live rendition features an extended, Indian-influenced guitar solo from Jimmy Page.

“Heartbreaker” is faster than the studio version, and is highlighted by an extended, delightfully sloppy solo from Page. Plant is absolutely electric here, soaring on the stop/start “Black Dog,” and a blistering “Over the Hills and Far Away.”  Goosebumps await their version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” where Plant channels his inner Janis Joplin, pleading and screaming, while Page echoes his cries on guitar.

It’s really shocking to hear the crowd sit calmly during “Stairway to Heaven” – it hadn’t become the showstopper yet (FM underground radio was just taking hold).  Here, the band plays the song with an energy they would seldom revisit.

Led Zeppelin often gets credit for spawning heavy metal, but they also predicted the Unplugged craze that would happen 20 years later on MTV, by doing an acoustic set each night in concert.  John Paul Jones picks up the acoustic guitar for a gorgeous reading of “Going to California,” then a pair of lesser-known nuggets, “That’s the Way” and “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp.”

Disc two kicks off with the concert favorite, “Dazed and Confused,” here clocking in at over 25 minutes.  The bow/guitar thing doesn’t really transfer to audio too well, but it is cool how they integrate “The Crunge” into the song.  “Moby Dick” gives drummer John Bonham a chance to show off, but again – 19 minutes is quite excessive.

Disc three gives us an extended “Whole Lotta Love,” which morphs into several songs over 20 minutes in length, while “Rock and Roll” is much tighter, growling along like a rabid dog.  They end with a funky version of “The Ocean,” before an extended “Bring it On Home,” featuring Plant on harmonica.

Despite a running length of over two and a half hours, there’s actually material left off from these concerts.  The L.A. Forum show proved to be one of the longest of Zeppelin’s career, spanning two encores and several cover songs that did not make the final cut (“Louie Louie,” and “Everyday People”), plus “Tangerine” was performed both nights but was omitted.

There is actually one slight difference in this new remaster.  During the extended jam of “Whole Lotta Love,” the band went into Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou” – this was on the 2003 version, but was strangely cut out of this new edition.

Although there are lots of footage of Led Zeppelin in concert, it doesn’t get any better than How the West Was Won. —Tony Peters