ALBUM REVIEW: Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III – Deluxe Editions

Rating10ledzeppelin-600x400embed-1394712464-2Led Zeppelin have always retained a sense of myth about them and they remain intact as an iconic representation of 70s rock music. They released their first six essential albums over six years and split when drummer John Bonham died in 1980 which effectively froze them in rock n roll carbonite. Sporadic one-off live reunions and various live compilations have done little to satiate obsessive fans which makes the remastering and reissue of the band’s first three albums a major event.

Jimmy Page has spent years working on this project and the amount of care and sensitivity to the music is apparent from the first stabbing chords of ‘Good Times, Bad Times before John Bonham’s drums bring the song alive. Gone are the brash edges the guitars often had on the original recordings, the bass is richer and rounder and Robert Plant’s vocals are generally elevated in both volume and clarity. Bonham’s drums are a revelation, alive and kicking with a tonal quality greatly improved over the late 60s releases. In essence everything sounds bigger, warmer and more balanced.

Extras across these first three reissues range from a blistering 1969 Paris concert to alternate and instrumental versions of songs including the unreleased La La. As with the best reissues, the focus is kept on the original albums, enhancing and improving the sound of the music and throwing in some tasty extras without drowning the listener in additional content. CD, LP or digital, whatever your choice of format these reissues are essential.

Chris Familton

 

LIVE REVIEW: Robert Plant & The Sensational Shape Shifters @ Sydney Entertainment Centre (28/03/13)

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by Chris Familton

Everyone heading to the Sydney Entertainment Centre would have been sure of one thing – that they were about to experience arguably the greatest rock vocalist of the last forty years. For many there would have also been doubts about whether they were going to get a trip down Led Zeppelin memory lane or whether Robert Plant would be exploring his fascination with world music and other decidedly non-rock diversions. The good news is that Plant delivered on both fronts with a set that honoured some of his greatest moments yet recast them in a new and fascinating light.

The opener Tin Pan Alley was the perfect way to ease the audience into the sonic world they would inhabit for the next 90 minutes. With its low key beginning the song erupted into a 70s glitter stomp guitar explosion with Plant kicking the mic stand high, signalling that the band were here to both rock and mesmerise. Plant still shows flashes of the Viking rock god persona that defined him in the 70s but now live he balances it with a self-effacing sense of humour and genial personality, all the while wandering the stage like a mystical druid figure channeling and steering the music.

The band contains members of his mid 00’s band The Strange Sensation so it was perhaps no surprise that all of the non Zeppelin songs (aside from Howlin’ Wolf and Bukka White covers) came from that band’s Mighty ReArranger album while many others received the same musical treatment of both acoustic and electric guitars, heavy and complex rhythms and a strong electronic component that at times gave the songs a heady psychedelic sound akin to the work of David Holmes and Death in Vegas.

Of course the biggest cheers were for the songs that defined 70s folk and hard rock for a generation.  Plant admitted late in the show that many of the crowd would have been playing ‘spot the tune’ due to the way the band re-configured and re-imagined iconic songs like Black Dog – played in a slow voodoo style, an African-tinged Whole Lotta Love and a stripped back and richly grooved Heartbreaker. Surprisingly the crowd were wholly respectful and joyfully immersed in the alternative versions with little sign of the Dylan-esque dissent or Neil Young fan frustration that often comes from such musical diversions.

Some Zeppelin songs were played close to their original recorded incarnations, particularly a wonderful acoustic take on Going To California and the warm jazz tones of What Is and What Should Never Be. They highlighted how intact Plant’s voice is after four decades of use. He can still get primal and urgent when required but it was his subtle melodic phrasing and that yearning ache that he soaks his words in that conjured the more magical moments.

At two points in the show Plant made reference to seeing us again next year and “soon” with a cheeky grin and gleam in the eye that could only be read as an allusion to a visit down under by the mighty Led Zeppelin themselves. Nothing spoken, nothing confirmed but the embrace of that back catalogue and the warmth and obvious respect that Plant and band showed for the songs suggests that even though he is creating his own absorbing and creatively inventive shows, the time might be just right for a another trip back in time with the old firm.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: Whole Lotta Love @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 15/09/11

written by Chris Familton

Tribute and cover bands should always be approached with caution. Too often they fall into the trap of imitation and pastiche and attract an audience who are prepared to settle for the next best thing rather than seeking out great original music. Whole Lotta Love did a lot to dispel this preconception by presenting itself as a celebration of one of the most iconic rock bands of the last century with impressive results.

This was certainly no band of players knocking out covers, instead it was a fully fledged professional production that integrated video, lights and for the most part a well constructed setlist across nearly 3 hours of music. Over the years as the annual show has grown the main orchestrator and lead guitarist has been Joseph Calderazzo and he showed why he is so good at these types of events. His playing shadowed that of Jimmy Page with near perfect replication, whether it was soaring solos, effect-heavy textures or folk and pseudo-classical acoustic playing. He also clearly knows where to draw the line in terms of overkill and pomposity with even the epic Kashmir kept in check.

Guest vocalists were what kept the show interesting with The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin an absolute standout both in voice and on guitar. His voice is in many ways the opposite to Robert Plant’s, much more in the vein of Jim Morrison with his deep bellowing sound. Martin even made a cheeky reference to that comparison that has always followed him by throwing in a few lines from The Doors’ LA Woman. Other singers like Noiseworks’ Steve Balbi also showed some humour with a teasing snatch of their hit Touch. It was Balbi who also stepped the farthest from the rock god persona of Plant with his waistcoat and bowler hat more suited to a Tim Burton film. With eccentric stage moves and a devastatingly good voice he was another of the highlights. Of the two female vocalists it was Zkye who best captured the bluesy roots of everything Led Zeppelin created. She showed sass and a coy sensuality as she glided between sweet singing and thunderous soulful howls. A star in the making for sure if she can find her niche with her original music.

In terms of the songs it was pretty much as one would expect ranging from acoustic tracks through to the riff monsters like Moby Dick, The Ocean, Rock n Roll and Black Dog. If there was any weakness to the show it was the moments when energy levels waned in slower songs and longer solos crept in. That plus an audience who rose from their seats at Jeff Martin’s command and then promptly sat down at the end of the song meant that the atmosphere was excited but certainly not rapturous. Overall though, a whole lotta love was had by band and audience that was deservedly bordering on devotional.

this review was first published in The Drum Media.