When a colossus of classic rock such as Led Zeppelin releases previously unheard music, the event is always billed as “a must-listen.” And Zeppelin’s new box set, which includes the English heavy-rock legends’ first three albums and various live tracks and rarities, is certainly a big deal — and not just because of the previously unreleased original material, such as rough mixes of “Whole Lotta Love” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” and a few enjoyable, but unremarkable, unearthed originals. The real story here is the live tracks from a 1969 gig in Paris. Zeppelin, a group that has very few live releases, sounds downright human in these performances — and that’s a good thing.
A raucous medley of “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” finds the band struggling to agree on a tempo, and a barely legal Robert Plant trying to decide on lyrics. But the quartet’s unprecedented wall of sound, which must have seemed almost demonic to audiences accustomed to Herman’s Hermits, negated the necessity of things like a steady tempo or intelligible lyrics. With drummer John Bonham bashing his Ludwigs, the band had the explosiveness of the Sex Pistols but with lyrics about “hobbits, sex, and sex with hobbits,” as Jack Black famously said.
These early live tracks remind us why Zeppelin mattered — its energy. On that note, it must have taken a lot of gall for a 21-year-old kid who grew up in a small town outside Birmingham, England, to tell a hushed French audience, “Good evening, and welcome to Paris,” as Plant does before the band rips into “Heartbreaker.” But the singer, then on his way to becoming rock’s first “Golden God,” already knew that rock ‘n’ roll is about attitude as much as ability. (Atlantic/Swan Song)