Saturday, July 2, 2011

Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same

Netflix sez... 1976 PG 136 minutes
The pioneers of hard rock take the stage -- and blow your mind. Led Zeppelin storm Madison Square Garden in this collection of footage taken from their legendary performances at the New York venue in 1973. Adding to the musical power and drama are hallucinatory fantasy sequences meant to illustrate each band member's mental state. Songs performed in this swirl of sound and vision include "Black Dog," "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love."

The 73rd Virgin sez... Mostly great music. If you have no use for this kind of white boy blues rock whatsoever, then there isn't much to see here. As a self-inflated teenager, I thought they were everything that was wrong with the culture of the time, at least until "Saturday Night Fever". But sometime in my 30s my ears began to hear what was so obvious to all my high school friends. Jimmy Page's iron-fisted control of their sound and production (his name is in the credits as the sound editor I think), really pays off in relation to the awful sound of so many concert movies.

Almost everything great in 70s blues rock and almost everything hilarious in "This is Spinal Tap" is contained herein. Powerful, if outrageously self-indulgent performances, mixed with godawful set pieces involving Robert Plant with a horse and sword, John Paul Jones in a horror movie knock off, Page climbing some rocks (pretty challenging looking rocks by the way) to meet with a Druid, and John Bonham playing with his cars and his cows.

And yes, there is an interminable guitar solo and an interminable drum solo, while the rest of the band wanders off stage, and Plant's trouser armadillo is in your face a LOT. But Page is a young energetic guitar-god revelation (in high-waisted devil-worshipin' slacks to hide the paunch). To think that 5 years later he would be so strung out that he would have to play sitting down is interesting. And Plant hadn't blown out his voice yet, so he still sounds like it is 1969. Watching manager Peter Grant bust management's chops for letting unlicensed artwork be sold at Madison Square Garden confirms his reputation as a bad dude who would single-handedly trash record stores that carried bootleg LPs. The simplicity of their cramped stage and limited pyrotechnics only brings into relief the remarkable charisma and power of the whole band.

Too long, too stupid, too uneven, but still entertaining. Watching them fly off in their personal 707 at the end pretty much says it all about the era. You can smell the 70s from here. But mostly great music.

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