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How The West Was Won – Led Zeppelin

Atlantic Records 835872

For some, when the talk turns to Led Zeppelin, their minds uneasily
visualize mullet-wearing headbangers whose allegiance centers on a band
that's been hemmed in and reduced to overkill by the tight playlists of
classic rock radio (Thanks ClearChannel!).

Because of the few tracks that are constantly highlighted from a catalogue
of more than 80 songs written and recorded in just one decade, listeners
forget or do not realize the band's songwriting scope and myriad of
influences. Sure, they were a bunch of white English lads copping
African-American blues licks at high decibels, but they also took on reggae
long before the Clash and the Police incorporated the style's timing,
displayed their folk side and Middle Eastern influences, wrote lush ballads,
epic rhythmic workouts and even raw blues and rockabilly numbers.

In the quartet's typically braggadocio manner, they title its first true
live album "How the West Was Won," a reference to the band hitting its
stride musically as it became the Biggest Band in the United States. It's
compiled from two performances in 1972, yet gives the impression of one long
exhilarating and exhausting evening.

The immediacy and power of the three musicians – guitarist Jimmy Page,
drummer John Bonham and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones – working in
unison on the opening track, "Immigrant Song," gives way to vocalist Robert
Plant's caterwauling — as much an homage to rock and roll as overt
sexuality as it is to its blues forebears who used music in a similar
manner. What's even more striking about the song are the asides that each
member brings to the number, whether it's drum fills or change in familiar
chord structures. The song lives and breathes in that moment, and goes a
long way in its nearly four minutes to portray four individuals as a Group
relying on its acquired powers. Because of some of the band's mythology,
Zeppelin has been portrayed as being associated with the Devil. At the very
least, the gale force of relevant and hypnotic activity conjured by its
members does give the impression that they took a trip to the legendary
crossroads where it was said that Robert Johnson received his gifted

Like a jamband, Led Zeppelin shows on the album's 18 tracks that its
material is merely a roadmap that's followed with the understanding that
there will be frequent stops to points off the main highway. The songs are
constantly reinterpreted from their studio work in subtle and upfront ways.
Whether it's the hazy flower power groove of "Dancing Days," the echoes of
"Tea for One" off of 1979's In Through the Out Door heard during
"Since I've Been Loving," the adrenaline rush of "Over the Hills and Far
Away" and "Rock and Roll."

Even the much loved (and reviled) "Stairway to Heaven" takes on a different
personality in this setting. Special mention goes to Bonham who, throughout
How the West Was Won, displays his importance in the band as well as
his amazing ability to combine muscle with touch, giving additional
character to the song with each fill and rhythms based on his affection for

A three-song acoustic set gives way to a lengthy "Dazed and Confused." Here
and on the epic "Whole Lotta Love," the band incorporates several other
numbers into the proceedings, similar to a jamband creating musical
transformations that make a five minute song on a CD become a 15 minute one

My only gripe about the release isn't the music contained on its three
discs, it's the skimpy packaging that holds them. You would think that for
such a momentous occasion as this, consumers would receive something a
little more substantial than an artistic depiction of the four band members
on the cover, and a repeat of that within the folds of the CD. Even with
several coffee table books out featuring the band, you would think that a
handful or more photos from this era could have been used. There's a brief
quote from Jimmy Page, but no essay on these dates or on the band.
Obviously, those that are already in tune with the Led Zeppelin legacy are
the target audience for this set, so the prevailing thought may be that
little is needed to be said. But, a few words on how Zeppelin made an
indelible mark on rock and roll and why the band remains significant today
would go a long way in enlightening those who have been tainted by bad
imitators over the years.

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