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Led Zeppelin Flies Again
Jeffrey Beyl

Every garage band the world over has dreams of making it big. Every young lead guitarist, every drummer, every singer, every trio, quartet, you name it, every fledgling band practicing their chops in their parents garage or in some smoky room, has dreams of being called "the greatest rock and roll band ever." I did when I was young, playing guitar in a small band in a friend’s garage. Every band does. But few actually make it.
I’ve heard people call The Rolling Stones the greatest rock and roll band ever. I’ve heard The Beatles, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, even The Bee Gees given this much coveted title. But there is another band that has often been dubbed "the greatest". They are no longer together and, like the other bands just mentioned, one of the members has passed on to that great jam session in the sky. Led Zeppelin certainly qualifies for that honorific title of being "the world’s greatest rock and roll band." Those who doubt this or have need of further proof and convincing can check out the new two-disc Led Zeppelin DVD recently released by Atlantic.

I saw Led Zeppelin twice. I saw them once in March of 1970 and again in August of 1971. I saw them when, I think, they were in their prime as a performing rock band. Watching this new video, which is made up of footage from concerts in Royal Albert Hall in 1970 and Madison Square Garden in 1973 among others, (the same time frame that I saw them), just re-confirms for me that, indeed, those four guys together on stage were at the top of the art form known as rock and roll.

Like most good live acts, a Led Zeppelin concert was more than just a concert. It was an event. You didn’t just listen to Led Zeppelin, you encountered Led Zeppelin. You felt a Led Zeppelin concert reverberating in your ribcage. It was a physical experience as well as an aural and visual happening. Though I now know that this may not be a good thing, I remember my ears ringing as I walked out after seeing "Zep", as we called them back then.

Led Zeppelin’s music drew heavily on the blues set against a thundering rock beat. They re-did such old blues classics as "You Shook Me" and "I Can’t Quit You, Babe" by Willie Dixon. Jimmy Page could tear out a screaming, wailing guitar solo filled with feedback and distortion as well as any of his contemporaries, Clapton, Beck, Hendrix. Jimmy Page even used a violin bow from time to time to create intense, otherworldly washes of sound. Robert Plant took blues/rock vocals to a new, higher dimension. He used his voice as a second lead guitar. There are several moments on the video where he and Page trade searing vocal and electric guitar riffs between each other. One thing all lead guitarists need is a solid rhythm section and Page, as a great lead guitarist knew he had that in John Paul Jones on electric bass. He also knew that John Bonham could not only keep the beat, thus keeping the storm in line, he could also go off on his own forays as a Wildman rock drummer. His drum solo on "Moby Dick" from the 1970 concert is a case in point. Led Zeppelin could send a tsunami of sound so thick out into a concert hall that it would almost physically lift you out of your seat. It would pummel you and leave you "Dazed and Confused."

But Led Zeppelin could also do the softer side of rock and roll. On songs such as "Since I’ve Been Loving You" and the huge hit "Stairway To Heaven" they played almost ballad-like and sweet, with Plant singing poetic lines and Page strumming nicely, that is until the song picked up speed and intensity and they were screaming again. People can say what they will about "Stairway to Heaven". It may be one of the most overplayed songs in the rock and roll canon. Every guitar player learns it. I did. I can still play it. But it is a great song with mesmerizing lyrics and tuneful music. It is probably one of the best songs in rock and roll.

I remember watching, and can now watch again on the video, as Page would hit the strings of his Les Paul guitar with that violin bow and point it skyward as it echoed around the arena, distortion throbbing into my bones and his high-pitched lead runs and Plant’s voice soaring and that constant pounding of Bonham’s drums. A Led Zeppelin concert was more than just a concert. It was an event. You didn’t just listen to Led Zeppelin, you encountered Led Zeppelin. They were and possibly still are the greatest rock and roll band ever. If their music was an important part of your life back then it can be so again. Check out the new Atlantic DVD and encounter Led Zeppelin all over again.

© Jeffrey A Beyl August 6th 2003
Seattle, WA.

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