Led Zeppelin: Goin’ To California

How the West Was Won
Led Zeppelin: Jim Marshall. Led Zeppelin in Chicago, 1977.

The members of Led Zeppelin were of course British, but loved American culture and had a special relationship with southern California – both for epic gigs at the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena, and infamous debauchery at the so-called Riot House (a.k.a., the former Hyatt House hotel).

Led Zeppelin
How the West Was Won

Fifteen years ago, two SoCal gigs from 1972 were released as How the West Was Won and, as it’s the band’s 50th anniversary, the collection received a fresh remastering from Jimmy Page himself.

Page has long disclosed how he and his engineer doctored-up these tapes, which accounts for the spectacular audio. For example, Jimmy’s single guitar is split into left and right channels – at times sounding like two guitarists – and they also grafted song bits from different gigs to assemble some final tracks. In that light, this is more of a recreation of a Zep concert than an actual document, though to be fair, so many important live albums were partial forgeries (Frampton Comes Alive, Kiss’ Alive!, and many more).

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters
Live at David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption

The album opens with blistering takes of “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker,” the latter replete with Jimmy’s joyously sloppy solo. “Going To California” and “That’s The Way” comprise the acoustic set, with John Paul Jones’ gorgeous mandolin matching Page’s sweet Martin. There’s a lumbering 25-minute “Whole Lotta Love” (now properly co-credited to bluesman Willie Dixon), plus “Stairway To Heaven” and a pummeling “Over The Hills And Far Away.” In sum, if you don’t own this album yet, by all means grab it now. It’s a remarkable sonic experience.

Some 45 years later, Robert Plant has become a musical journeymen in his own right, weaving global sounds together with abandon. In this DVD, taped at a 2016 festival in L.A., Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters are in prime form. Guitarists Liam “Skin” Tyson and Justin Adams provide rootsy six-string firepower, while Gambian musician Juldeh Camara lends nyanyeru, a one-string African fiddle. Their “Black Dog” rocks hard, but adds a mad, folky jam at the end. Plant further leads the band through Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” and a stunning version of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.”

As much as fun as the Zep is, if you can only buy one, Plant’s DVD is vastly superior. It’s honest, magical live music, rich in culture and vision – in many ways like the original spirit of Led Zeppelin. No question, Page is gifted at keeping the Zep legacy alive, but Plant is still touring and making brave new music. That difference is significant.

This article originally appeared in VG July 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.