In 1970, a camera crew filmed Led Zeppelin at London's Royal Albert Hall, right after the release of their second album and right before they became international rock stars. "It was just four guys flailing away," says singer Robert Plant. "We had no expectations, but we knew we had something between us that was special." Last year, guitarist Jimmy Page bought the footage of that memorable night and set out on a painstaking one-year project that culminates May 27th with the release of Led Zeppelin DVD, a five-and-a-half-hour two-disc collection that includes the 1970 London performance, three other classic live concerts and TV appearances from that decade. It's the first new footage of Zeppelin to be released in more than twenty-five years. "Jimmy bit the bullet and decided it was time to push the old door open," says Plant.
Once Page procured the Royal Albert Hall video reels, he rummaged through Zeppelin's storage facilities in London for the accompanying audio reel. In his search, he came across the tattered audio and video remains of a series of shows from London's Earl's Court in 1975 and outtakes from Zeppelin's concert film, The Song Remains the Same, shot at a Madison Square Garden gig in 1973, as well as two performances at England's Knebworth Festival in 1979, only a year before the death of drummer John Bonham.
The Albert Hall show reveals a young band still honing its onstage persona. The raw energy of "What Is and What Should Never Be," the extended jams on the blues stomp "We're Gonna Groove" and Page's snarling guitar on "How Many More Times" presage much of Zeppelin's work that was yet to come. Page has mixed all of the DVD tracks in SurroundSound. "We were a great band," says Plant, "but there were times when it was a superlative performance."
Two years later, when the band toured America, Zeppelin were in peak shape. "We were so tight because we had been playing so much," says bassist John Paul Jones. "We had our chops." Two California performances from 1972 -- at the Los Angeles Forum and Long Beach Arena -- make up a three-CD live collection, How the West Was Won, also due for release in May. "On those nights the stars were aligned," says Jones. Among the highlights are "Stairway to Heaven," a twenty-five-minute version of "Dazed and Confused" and a twenty-three-minute jam on "Whole Lotta Love." "It's Zeppelin at its best," Page says. "Every single member of the band is in tip-top form. It's the magic point where it takes on a fifth element." Plant says simply, "We were shit-hot."
All three surviving members of Led Zeppelin will appear in New York on May 27th for the premiere of the DVD's two-hour theatrical release. They say they are most thrilled about the unseen footage of Bonham. "Getting to see him play was the biggest treat of all," says Jones. "I never had the chance to step back and view him from a fan's perspective. It's simply amazing."
Without Bonham, says Plant, rumors of a Zeppelin reunion will remain simply rumors: "There's a guy missing in the whole thing."