Tuesday, 14 August 2018
Led Zeppelin - How The West Was Won (1972)
Recorded June 1972 in the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena
I much prefer this Led Zeppelin mammoth live opus to the following year's "The Song Remains The Same". The sound has always been better on this one, whatever the remaster. Anyway, on to this one - this 2018 remaster, I have to say, is truly excellent. I haven't previously had a problem with the 2003 one, but this one tops it. It just seems "cleaned up", with more defined sounds, more "room to breathe" as those accursed "audiophiles" say! They are right, though. It really does seem to be the case. The 2003 one now sounds more muffled, to me, anyway. On this one, check out the bit near the end of "Heartbreaker" when the full band kicks back in. Incredibly clear and powerful. As it should be. The sound is still thankfully loud, but with more subtleties, if that doesn't seem like a contradiction. Enough blathering about the sound, though - on to the album itself....
Despite the fact that the songs are taken from two separate performances, it plays like one concert, which is always a good thing, for me, on live albums. Recorded in 1972, it was about time Zeppelin showcased their live power, after all, The Rolling Stones and The Who had been leading the way with live albums for a few years now.
The set opens with a barnstorming "Immigrant Song", with Robert Plant warning of "the hammer of the Gods", wailing away to great effect. Thereafter follows a good run of rocking, bluesy tracks - "Heartbreaker", "Black Dog" and "Since I've Been Loving You", interrupted briefly by the folky "Over The Hills And Far Away". The iconic "Stairway To Heaven" appears early in the set. However many times I hear it, though, that rock bit at the end still sounds magnificent.
Then we enter a folky "Led Zeppelin III" run - "Going To California" (from "IV", I know, but you get the ambience), "That's The Way" and "Bron-Yr -Aur Stomp", before it is time for some blues rock again - a bloated twenty-five minute - yes, twenty-five minute "Dazed And Confused" follows. That is far too long, in my opinion, but there are some great bits in it if you take out that irritating "e bow guitar" or whatever it is and Robert Plant's strange noises. The afore-mentioned "What Is" follows and is truly excellent, as, funnily enough, is the throwaway "Dancing Days", which has a sumptuous bass line.
John Bonham does his seventies standard drum solo bit in "Moby Dick" and, guess what - it lasts nineteen minutes! Good Lord. Yes, the guy could drum, but give me three or four minutes at the most, I'm afraid. Toilet break or more drinks anyone? Unfortunately, I'm just back from the toilet and we get a twenty-two minute "Whole Lotta Love". These, unfortunately, are the worst excesses of seventies "heavy" rock, despite the undeniably brilliant passages within the musical behemoth (such as the bass/drum/guitar interplay at around seven minutes). Admittedly the break off into some lively rock'n'roll covers is entertaining and eight more minutes are taken up with a convincing blues cover in "Going Down Slow". The point where "Whole Lotta Love" kicks back in is, also, one of the most spine-tingling, powerful moments on the album. Actually, I'll let them off with this one, but not "Dazed And Confused" and certainly not "Moby Dick". Sorry lads.
Thankfully, the short, sharp vitality of "Rock'n'Roll" puts things right. Just hearing that groovy cymbal intro, then the sheer power of it blows you away. "The Ocean" has been condemned by many over the years as somewhat tedious. I have always quite liked it. Here it is big, bassy and rumbling. I love it. An acceptably extended blues in "Bring It On Home" ends this monster of an album on a thumping high note as John Bonham crashes things to a close. Great stuff.
- August 14, 2018