This article originally appeared in the February 5, 1969 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
The Led Zeppelin landed in Boston, Thursday Jan. 22, and for four consecutive evenings virtually blew an overflow Boston Tea Party crowd clear into the Charles River. Playing long sets, well over an hour in length, the Zeppelin lived up to its advance billing as a group of exceptional power and drive. What also emerged, however, is that the L. Z. possesses extraordinary complexity as well.
Both the official publicity on the band, and the unofficial rumor mill, told of a blues rock unit built around the guitar genius of Jimmy Page. (Jimmy Page is the last of the three exceptional lead guitarists produced by England’s amazing Yardbirds. The other two are Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.) This description just scratches the surface. The Led Zeppelin is launched from a blues-rock base but is no means limited by it. Furthermore, the L.Z. is truly a talented and diversified unit, not just a backup group for Jimmy Page.
In concert, the L.Z. went through most of the material on their first album (Atlantic 8216) plus some newer, unrecorded songs. The titles and lyrics may be basic blues, but the approach and performance is of a much wider scope. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the Zeppelin is that they employ three or four major instrumental concepts in almost every song. The impression, to say the least, is staggering! Indeed the L.Z.’s only fault is a tendency to compress too much into a short space of time.
Rhythm changes abruptly, time patterns change abruptly, volume levels change abruptly, yet melodic line and chord skeletons manage to merge kaleidoscopically as each member of the band feeds one another and in turn plays off the idea thrown out. The entire approach is very loose and very improvisational. The result is a surprising intricacy developed out of a form that is usually considered to be quite simple. Yet the basic power is never lost. In one sense, the Led Zeppelin represents the best of two worlds.
A few things that particularly got me: 1) At various times during “You Shook Me” Robert Plant (vocals) and Jimmy Page (lead) play riffs off against each other with Plant’s voice frequently acquiring the electrical qualities indistinguishable from Page’s guitar. 2) A 5-minute drum solo by John Bonham that includes some fantastic and hysterical hand drumming but really defies description. 3) The Frequent quiet passages in “Black Mountain Side” by Jimmy Page, which approach the best of pure mountain music.
For my taste, the Led Zeppelin really gets it all together on “How Many More Times,” with which they like to close an evening. This ten-or-more-minute master-piece has one of the most infections rhythmic cores I ever heard. If you don’t want to jump, dance, and smile after hearing this, you must be dead. This core, which involves everybody, provides the departure point for extended individual solos by each member of the band. The technically impressive pile driving bass of John Paul Jones is a spiritual gift. Plant’s amazing vocal power is at its best. Jimmy Page’s virtuosity runs the gamut from explorations into abstract electronics to down-home funk. “How Many More Times” is one of those rare rock developments that could literally never end. The wild, screaming reception accorded The Led Zeppelin certainly bears this feeling out.