Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing, but Led Zeppelin are an exception to this rule.
A year after reissuing their entire back catalogue, they have taken their double platinum collection of live sessions recorded 1969 – 1971 and updated it. This new version, the Complete BBC Sessions, includes eight unreleased recordings including three “lost” recordings from 1969. In addition to the new disk, Jimmy Page has remastered the whole set giving it optimum audio quality for modern stereos.
Given the addition of a third disk there’s a lot to unpack. But their perfect mixture of folk, twisted rock, and blues-funk is worth indulging in every step of the way.
The heavy riff of ‘Communication Breakdown’ is as distorted and powerful as ever, and in five alternating versions there’s plenty to get stuck in to. Meanwhile, classic cuts ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and ‘Going to California’ are simply mesmerizing and showcase why they deserved every chartered jet they’ve ever flown and every stadium they’ve ever filled.
The other benefit of hearing these live sessions is the way they go on improvisational tangents. A highlight of these is during the famous ‘Heartbreaker’ solo, Page beautifully slides into Bach’s ‘Bourrée in E minor’. Knock out stuff.
However, the real treat of this collection is the blues covers, giving the listener a good understanding of their roots. It’s the blues that they listened to, loved, and channeled the most into their sound, which was ahead of it's time and completely unique.
A charged revamp of Robert Johnson’s blues classic, ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’, is unmissable. Meanwhile, the cover of Chicago blues artist, Otis Rush’s ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ is one of the three “lost” session tracks, that were once fabled to have been erased from their master tapes. Page’s sliding solos are as seductive as ever and show why no one can do the blues like him.
Elsewhere, ‘Sunshine Woman’, from the same "lost" session is a stand out as it's one Zeppelin never formally released. This fuzzy cut opens with a swinging blues piano backed by Plant’s powerful tones, alongside a groove-laden bass and goes all out as the harmonica kicks in. It's well worth the wait to hear it at this quality and not on a rough bootleg.
The live recording of ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ on the other hand is intensely episodic. The warbling psychedelic undertones translate brilliantly live as Plant’s effortless vocals surge up and down into a faded close.
Overall, these songs are a rare rapture. The release is a holy grail in any fan’s collection. In three discs you get a feel for the band’s meteoric evolution in just two years. It is Led Zeppelin, the greatest rock band in history, in all of their hard-hitting glory.