Power and pleasure see-saw for more than three hours in the expanded Complete BBC Sessions. This is Zeppelin from 1969-1971, working through the core material of their first four albums (and taking swaggering side trips through blues and rockabilly classics). Nine newly unearthed songs – a full CD, including the never-before issued stomp “Sunshine Woman” – have been added to the 1997 release. The songs are familiar, but the protean variations of these renditions provide fresh jolts of Zeppelin’s audacious blend of brutality and delicacy, desperation and entitlement. Do you need five versions of “Communication Breakdown”? Before you answer, you may want to hear the two new ones here: a March 1969 version that starts off with ringing chords like the Who, and an April 1971 rundown that rages like early Black Flag.
Part of the fun is hearing Zeppelin play around with these songs to entertain themselves – tossing in an an elephant-funk snippet of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” to the end of a June 1969 take of “Communication Breakdown,” or Jimmy Page and Robert Plant engaging in an improvised erotic pas de deux across a jelly-filled “You Shook Me” that bumps and grinds on for more than 10 minutes. Live (or recorded with minimal overdubs), the band blends raw need and confidence, and Page’s race to match the rhythmic, melodic and cosmic breakthroughs of Jimi Hendrix has never seemed more clear than it does on these tapes. But Zeppelin, ultimately, were their own universe, and this is the sound of them willing into it glory, bit by bit.