Ever since The Song Remains The Same soundtrack was released, Jimmy Page had talked about possibly putting together a live album that he felt would better represent the band in concert. But for the longest time, there were only those 1973 performances, one song on Coda and one on the box set to demonstrate the band’s live show. Then, BBC Sessions filled in the gaps bigtime with recordings from 1969 and 1971.
Perhaps due to the daunting task of going through so many different tapes—as the plethora of bootlegs covering the band’s career certainly attests—Page decided to limit such an overview to filmed performances to make up a deluxe retrospective DVD package. While mixing the sound for those, he came across two shows recorded on the 1972 American tour, just after they’d finished recording Houses Of The Holy. The result was How The West Was Won.
While both shows are sourced over three CDs, the sequencing results in a much more enjoyable listening experience than The Song Remains The Same had. Starting with “LA Drone” as a kind of fanfare, the band kicks into “Immigrant Song” and doesn’t let up. “Stairway To Heaven” hadn’t worn out its welcome yet, and the acoustic songs that close the first disc are both intimate and fun. The second disc is dominated by a mammoth “Dazed And Confused”, which includes substantial explorations of “Walter’s Walk” and “The Crunge”, and a lengthy “Moby Dick”. “Whole Lotta Love” with an R&B medley starts the third disc, but three shorter songs end the proceedings.
How The West Was Won is a wonderful album, and a very pleasant surprise, if sparsely packaged, but a nice surprise (along with the DVD, which is just as essential for fanatics). The band sounds in mostly good spirits throughout, and sound especially enthusiastic about the new songs that would eventually appear on Houses Of The Holy the following year. Best of all, Page and Bonham had yet to be debilitated by the drugs and alcohol that affected later tours. If this is the only archival live recording Page will authorize, it will do just fine.
Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won (2003)—4