As a notorious talk-to-the-hand band, Led Zeppelin's rock-star megalomania bottomed out with 1976's The Song Remains the Same, a collision of Fantasy Island and concert film that all but necessitated the birth of punk rock. "When the early punks said it was self-indulgent," notes Robert Plant in the booklets to the Led Zeppelin DVD, referring to the band's stage show, "they missed the point. It was the opposite: to achieve what we did onstage, it took a lot of personal restraint." Restraint isn't a word that comes to mind after five hours and 20 minutes of this 2-DVD set, but neither is bollocks. When disc one cues up with the four English longhairs walking onstage at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1970, tearing into Ben E. King's "We're Gonna Groove" then "I Can't Quit You Baby," both of which became part of the band's Coda 10 years later, it takes your breath away. Plant's Grecian good looks, Bonzo's Saxon attack, Jimmy Page's long spidery fingers on 12 Middle Eastern-burnt minutes of "White Summer" conscript only John Paul Jones to the shadows of this revelatory BBC shoot. The band bloats up for "Dazed and Confused," "Moby Dick," and "How Many More Times," all double-digit in length, but at this point in their young career -- they'd been together "barely a year" -- improvisation underlies their stage show. An Eddie Cochran twofer in the encore, "C'mon Everybody" and "Somethin' Else," is as rough as it is raunchy. Thirty minutes of TV footage from Reykjavik, Iceland, the same year is even leaner, meaner. Disc two revisits The Song Remains the Same like a bad flashback, but 50 minutes from Earls Court in 1975 turn on a pair of Physical Graffiti indelibles: "In My Time of Dying" and "Trampled Under Foot." Led Zeppelin's last stand, Knebworth 1979, matches Page's pouring sweat and emaciated grit with a dream set list: "Nobody's Fault But Mine," "Sick Again," "Achilles Last Stand," and "In the Evening," among others. Bonuses include bootleg footage of "The Song Remains the Same" on the DVD menu. How the West Was Won, a blazing 3-CD tie-in, splices together two L.A. arena gigs from 1972's Zoso tour. Houses of the Holy is still nine months away, but "Black Dog" and "Over the Hills and Far Away" back-to-back are gonzo. New "summer song," disc two's "Dancing Days," follows 25 minutes of "Dazed and Confused" and precedes 19 minutes of "Moby Dick." Likewise, "Rock & Roll" gives way to "The Ocean" on disc three, but only after 23 minutes of "Whole Lotta Love." While the last five minutes of "Dazed and Confused" are almost as wicked as the movie of the same name, and Bonzo's whale dance is totally Ahab -- the interpolations on "Whole Lotta Love" fun, sly -- these 67 combined minutes could've been better spent. In light of the DVD, the entire Earls Court performance would have sprawled Physical Graffiti nicely, while the three-hour (inadvertent) farewells at Knebworth deserve historical accounting. Next time. For now, even punk rockers should wallow in the Led Zeppelin DVD, if only to remember the laughter.
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