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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Stairway to heaven for fans

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Aug/Sep 2003, v.34#4

The Song Remains the Same cover The Song Remains the Same
Director: Peter Clifton & Joe Massot
Starring: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham
Led Zeppelin cover Led Zeppelin
Director: Dick Carruthers
Starring: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham
Movie: B, Picture: B, Sound: B-, Extras: D Movie: A, Picture: B, Sound: A-, Extras: A
Despite being primarily a live-performance oriented group, Led Zeppelin is known to most fans only through its LPs and CDs. All but one of their ten releases were studio albums.

How successful were Led Zeppelin? According to Triple J, 'Led Zeppelin are the only band to have had all their albums reach the U.S. Billboard Top 10'. And six of them achieved the top spot.

The single non-studio release was the sound track to The Song Remains the Same. This movie records Zepp at a 1973 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York, and for those of us who haven't been able to see them live, shows just what a four-piece rock group could achieve in those days--at least, if the group was sufficiently talented. No backing vocalists, no session keyboardists, just the four chaps. If you ever wondered how they managed to have organ and bass at the same time, you can see how John Paul Jones would use the pedals for the bass line. You also get to see what a true virtuoso of the stringed-axe that Jimmy Page was (as a session guitarist in the early 60s, he has been estimated to have performed on more than half of all English records released in a three year period!)

The thirteen performance tracks include many of their greatest numbers up to the time of Houses of the Holy. Unfortunately the music program is interrupted from time to time by some backstage footage, 'Home on the Estate' segments, and goofy 'dramatic' interludes.

Disappointments: the audio is a bit better than you'd expect for a 1973 live recording, but is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at a mere 192kb/s. The disc is dual layer, but only 5.5GB of the 8.5GB capacity was used. Why didn't they stick a 48kHz, 16 bit LPCM track on as well?

The paucity of live Zepp material lasted until this year, when the two-disc 'Led Zeppelin' was released. Essentially, this gathers together all extant performance footage (including the Madison Square Garden bits not used in the movie), and makes them available for today's enthusiasts.

Enthusiasts? No, if you like Led Zeppelin at all, add these DVDs to your collection. They really are 'must haves'.

It would have been valuable enough to just whack all this video onto the discs, but the producers spent a year on the job. A year of restoration, finding video machines to play back obsolete two inch tapes, of stitching together scraps of the 1973 Madison Square Garden footage and matching the audio, and of finding and editing in even some bootleg material to provide different views of the performances.

These include over a hundred minutes of a 1970 Royal Albert Performance, and shorter performances from Earls Court in 1975, and Knebworth in 1979, just a year before John Bonham drank himself to death and the band dissolved. All these performances are presented with rather decent sound quality in PCM, and both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. In fact, the sound quality is generally better than that of the remastered studio recordings on CD.

But there are also a number of beaut recordings from 1969 television appearances. The band was never happy with the sound quality on TV, so they stopped doing it. Look particularly for a four song set on 'Danmarks Radio'. It's black and white, but it shows the band in its early days working as a thoroughly integrated, musically brilliant, team. The sound on these extra performances is mere Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kb/s, but adequate for the job.

Disappointments: just one. The great 'Lemon Song' from Led Zeppelin II doesn't appear anywhere on this collection.

Running time: 132 minutes
Aspect: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dolby Pro Logic encoded), 192kb/s
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Nil
Running time: 303 minutes
Aspect: 1.33:1 B&W & Colour (original format)
Sound track: English: Linear PCM 2.0, 1,536kb/s (48kHz, 16 bits); Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s; DTS 5.1, 768kb/s (some DD 2.0, 224kb/s)
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Interviews, promotions

© 2002-2008, Stephen Dawson