For a band with Led Zeppelin’s creative force, there’s precious little “recently uncovered” posthumous material out there. Compare Zep’s catalog against Jimi Hendrix’s and you’ll easily see the difference — though Jimi’s career lasted about half as long as Led Zeppelin’s (if that), the bulk of his available recordings comes from unearthed live tapes and “previously unreleased tracks.” For the longest time, the only LZ track that wasn’t readily available on album (and later CD) was the B-side to the readily available “Whole Lotta Love” 45. As box sets became popular and it became Led Zeppelin’s turn, a few more tracks were revealed. This dribbling of “new” Led Zeppelin has apparently finally bust through a dam, because Atlantic has released a collection of BBC radio performances — a two-disc set, no less.
The first disc covers several live performances from 1969. Appropriately, the material leans heavily towards the first two albums, and alternates between dense, booming blues tracks (“I Can’t Quit You” and “You Shook Me” twice, “How Many More Times” once), and hydrohloric acid rock (“Dazed and Confused” once and “Communication Breakdown” three times!). Foreshadowing future directions are “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and the recently-unearthed “Travelling Riverside Blues.” New to the scene are “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” a decent boogie that sounds somewhat impromptu (the end fades out) and an almost-novelty though still quite powerful cover of the Eddie Cochran classic “Somethin’ Else.” Performances range from very good to excellent, and the sound is quite up to standard. The band is smokin’ — you can feel their entire attention on their instruments and themselves.
All tracks on the second disc are from an early 1971 concert; three of them (“Black Dog,” “Thank You” and an agonized “Since I’ve Been Loving You”) were not transmitted. The material is split fairly equally between the first four albums, though an 18-minute-plus “Dazed and Confused” might leave you feeling otherwise. No surprises on this disc: “Immigrant Song,” “Heartbeaker,” “Stairway to Heaven” (almost nine minutes), “Going To California,” “That’s The Way” (one of my faves), and a “Whole Lotta Love Medley.” The band is now in full control of their power, and can be steaming full tilt on one track and cool and collected on others. Overall, not as energetic as disc one, but probably more musically fulfilling, as the band is playing a wider selection of material.
The set showcases a band at the prime of its performing powers. The musically experimental days were still ahead. The unbridled energy which the band would later harness into some of the most melodically inventive music of the era is audibly radiating from each member. BBC Sessions documents a band well en-route to stardom.
Considering that many Led Zeppelin fans are completists (it’s been so easy), this album has already reached a core audience. Spotty fans might be happier with The Song Remains The Same, which can be just as intense and a lot less repetitive. Or if you’re looking for an entry into some crazed impromptu jamming (and you’ve already purchased/seen The Song Remains The Same), this is for you.