Perf. Arts

Led Zeppelin still soaring with rerelease project
Listener awed by alternate takes, previously unreleased tracks



By BRIAN HUBER - TimeOut Staff

June 12, 2014

WAUKESHA - As soon as the Hammer of the Gods strikes again in the latest Led Zeppelin project fans get a whole lot to love.  

Jimmy Page, guitarist for the band and also its producer for much of its recording career that spanned a little more than a decade, has again remastered the first three albums of the Zep catalog, but in this project includes a companion disc for each, containing the true gems that make for the real draw here. Language on the jacket of the companion CDs says the material “presents a portal to the time of the recording of Led Zeppelin. It is a selection of work in progress, with rough mixes, backing tracks, alternate versions and new material recorded at the time.” That gives an accurate description of what awaits the listener, and pretty much in that order: lots of rough mixes, some alternate tracks and a few things most Zep fans probably have never heard, no matter how many bootlegs they’ve acquired over the years.  

Paris concert  

The companion disc for the first album is completely drawn from a Paris concert of Oct. 10, 1969. Less than a year after the first album was recorded, and mere couple of weeks before the second was released, this concert includes material from both. Highlights of this bonus material include the medley of “Good Times Bad Times/Communication Breakdown,” as well as a version of “Dazed and Confused” that clocks in at almost exactly 15 minutes - relatively curt compared to the 25-minute marathons the song was to become in concert. It can be easy to forget decades later that Zeppelin was a legendary live band, and the Parisians in the audience that night heard firsthand a Zeppelin hallmark - the ability to go from a studio song to a musical maelstrom that sounds more like barely controlled chaos before the group climbs down from that tangent to bring it all home, the light-shade interplay that became pro forma in many a rock band to follow. Such ear-opening fury is found in “How Many More Times,” which closes both the original album and companion disc.  

The extra material on “Led Zeppelin II” is mostly rough mixes - songs missing a guitar overdub here, an echo there, or having the vocals delivered in a slightly different way than what we’ve been used to after 40 years of listening to the studio LP versions - or completely lacking altogether on many tracks. “Whole Lotta Love” is one such example, delivering the music almost completely the same as the original, but with a different vocal treatment and some of the theremin overdubs missing. The vocals on this edition also are more evocative of Willie Dixon’s version that Zep covered in the first place. The “Moby Dick” on this disc all but eliminates the drum solo that took up  much of the original song’s time, but its treatment in the Paris concert on the first disc more than makes up for it. And lest one feels that the Zep II “bonus material” is largely little more than leftovers, the addition by subtraction yields the experience of hearing old songs in a new way. And “La La,” an instrumental, leaves one wondering why we haven’t heard it until now.  

Disc feeds hunger

The companion disc on the third album also sates the aficionado’s hunger, containing the most “new” stuff of the three albums. A remixed “Immigrant Song” still conjures visions of conquering marauders despite being stripped down a notch. The version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” here represents probably the most significant departure from the studio tracks of all three of the albums, with different lyrics, vocal treatment and guitar work, almost to the point that it seems to be born again. The previously unheard “Jennings Farm Blues” is listed as “a rough mix of all guitar overdubs that day” but an electrified “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” otherwise missing from the companion disc, is instantly recognizable. And “Key to the Highway/Trouble In Mind” sees Zeppelin at its roots, reconfiguring traditional blues into a powerhouse creation all its own.

All told, the bonus materials included in the rereleases give a fresh, new look into the band’s evolution, enough to give even the diehard fan some new material to digest. The rest of the Zeppelin catalog is expected to receive similar treatment as subsequent albums are rereleased. If those albums get the supporting soundtrack that the first three got here, well, that’s the way it ought to be.