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Led Zeppelin - How The West Was Won Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 October 2003

Led Zeppelin

How The West Was Won
format: DVD-Audio
label: Atlantic Records
release year: 2003
performance: 9
sound 6
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano

Image If it seems like I just reviewed the new Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won album, it’s because I did. However, the review we recently published was of the CD and, unknown to me, there was a surround sound DVD-Audio version just about to hit the shelves. The content of the album is pretty much the same on the DVD-Audio, but it is mixed for 5.1 surround sound that can be played back in a DVD-Audio player or any DVD-Video player in Dolby Digital. As long as you have a surround sound system set-up and a DVD player, you can hear Led Zeppelin in an entirely new way.

The album is a collection of songs performed live at venues in Southern California between the band’s landmark “fourth” album and their creatively stellar House of the Holy record, circa 1975. This DVD-Audio disc captures a time in history when live audiences came to hear performers play and would sit through and enjoy 25-minute versions of “Dazed and Confused” and 19-minute “Moby Dick” drum solos. Today, audiences more often than not have to be mesmerized by pyrotechnics, lasers and video screens rather than by virtuoso performances.

One of these performances of note is on one of the band’s signature songs “Heartbreaker,” featuring the guitar handiwork of Jimmy Page, which on How The West Was Won includes a long, stream-of-consciousness solo. In 1975, Page was the king of the guitar and could do no wrong. The tune starts off meandering through a few verses until it gets to the solo. This is when the 5.1 mix takes a very tasty “Heartbreaker” solo to new levels, considering that the crowd interaction with the solo makes the listening experience richer. About 30 seconds into a hoedown portion of the solo, the crowd starts to clap along. When listening to the DVD-Audio mix, you want to follow along. You feel like there are other fans directly behind you, yet the performance is still in front of you. Ultimately, Page breaks the solo down into a little sloppy classical guitar work and you get a chance to hear some of the more subtle additions that the DVD-Audio format makes to the recording.

Another example of little details sounding better on DVD-Audio is on “Going To California,” where you can hear the mandolin better than on the CD. It sounds more rich and textured on DVD-Audio and in surround sound.

The surround mix doesn’t put too much besides crowd noise and acoustic ambience in the rear speakers, but there are times when it seems like the engineer is pushing to make more of the recording than is there in terms of an adventurous surround mix. A good example of this is on Robert Plant’s vocals on “The Immigrant Song,” which are mixed with brief moments that are too loud for the rears for my tastes.

With surround sound now in the mix and backwards compatibility to all DVD players, all Led Zeppelin fans should have How The West Was Won on DVD-Audio. The most important reason is the historical importance of the performance, paired with the excellence in musicianship captured in the master. But buyer beware – this DVD-Audio makes listening to Led Zeppelin more fun live, but it is not a reference caliber DVD-Audio surround sound disc. We have yet to delve into the master tapes of the classic Zeppelin records and attempt to remix them for discrete surround. Some say that because of the four-track recording techniques used on the early albums, the project may be close to impossible. Others suggest that it can be done and point to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds an example of an older recording taking on wonderful audio quality in DVD-Audio and surround sound. No matter what, How The West Was Won is better and more exciting on DVD-Audio than on CD.

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