If you first saw The Song Remains the Same at a midnight showing, like I did, chances are the secondhand pot smoke led you to believe that Led Zeppelin had created the greatest cinematic achievement since the invention of film. Quite a different reaction when you saw the film on video a few years later to the strains of your girlfriend saying "can we please watch something coherent now?" The accompanying soundtrack album left an equally dismal aftertaste, leaving us to recall Robert Plant's stupid ad-libs in "Stairway to Heaven" over any real musical achievements.
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Because Led Zeppelin never appeared on television after 1969 and only filmed itself sporadically, precious little footage of the band in action has ever been seen without shots of castles, gnomes and John Bonham's cows interspersed. Now, finally, we can see "Moby Dick" without any herbivore interruptions and focus on the musicianship with this new two-DVD set. Unlike The Song Remains the Same footage, which strayed to Bonham and John Paul Jones only for solos, we get to see rock's heaviest rhythm section performing in the service of the song.
For this reason alone, the 1979 Knebworth footage is essential viewing. Although that show proved to be the literal end of the road for the band, Zeppelin was far from the old farts that Johnny Rotten-come-latelies in the press accused them of being. Find a young drummer even now who could keep up with that performance's "Achilles Last Stand," where Bonzo propels every second of the song with pure muscle. And marvel at the faculty of J.P. Jones embodying the work of 10 other musicians by himself on "Kashmir." Bass, bass pedals, Moogs, Mellotrons, mandolins, self-cleaning ovens -- if Zeppelin were Star Trek, Jones was definitely Scotty.
However much time Jimmy Page and fellow producer Dick Carruthers spent refining the sound, they seriously slacked off on dubbing the sound for most of the second disc. Some of the most exciting footage in the whole package (four songs excised from The Song Remains the Same's Madison Square Garden concert and the 1975 Earl's Court concert with its acoustic set) is ruined by a soundtrack that runs two seconds ahead of the visuals -- like a Godzilla flick!
Quibbles aside, it's worth owning this eponymous DVD for the band's final television appearance, in June 1969, for the French television program Tous En Scene. See Page flub the solo on "Communication Breakdown" and Plant fail to win over a "Dazed and Confused" crowd of black-tie-wearing, middle-aged aunts and uncles and kids with both fingers in their ears. In this instance, these are not superstars and gods. They're four hippies that got booked at a rest home and tried to let it rip anyway.