Led Zep Zaps Kids Redux

The songs remain the same. No, this is not a reference to the

officially

released Led Zeppelin live album of 1976 but a characterization of

the

newly issued BBC sessions. Long bootlegged and finally legit,

here are two

discs of Led Zep performing live for various radio shows in 1969

and 1971

-- just before it achieved megastardom and subsequent legendary

status.

Wanna hear a live version of "Stairway to Heaven" without the

crowd going

berserk? It's here, because this version was recorded before

Led

Zeppelin IV was released, and the audience had never heard

of it. Wanna know what concerts were like when people still

applauded politely? How 'bout a medley of "Whole Lotta Love"

and some old Elvis tunes? Or three versions of "Communication

Breakdown"?

If any of this sounds novel to you, then some of the songs are a

little

different, after all; if not, well, you could end up dazed and

confused.

The set was compiled and mastered by Jimmy Page himself, who

has said in

interviews that these performances didn't seem particularly

memorable to

him. In fairness, that's probably because these recordings were

made when

the band was, quite simply, at its peak, duplicating complex album

performances at will. And, as if there were any question, Led Zep

was no

mere studio creation -- these guys were live, alright! Subtract a bit

of

echo from Page's ever-awesome guitar, add a bit of warmth to

Robert Plant's voice

as it kicks up and down the octaves, and boom, you get a sense of

what Zep

was about, stripped clean of classic-rock glitter and gold.

It's interesting to hear how the band perfected its style long before

it

knew what to do with it. Like lots of Brit bands of the period, Zep

started

with the blues, and disc one of this collection is full of those

irresistible blues workouts (properly credited this time), such as

"You

Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" -- two versions of each! (As

time

went by, Zep was allowed to stretch out more on the air, so the

earlier

takes are much shorter; in essence, they're the same as, and in

the same

vein as, the studio versions.)

Lemon-squeezing abounds, needless to say,

especially on the mighty "How Many More Times." Having

perfected sexy blues

rave-ups, Zep also combined psychedelia and what was once

known as hard

rock. Hence, three, count 'em, versions of "Communication

Breakdown." You

also get a fine rendition of "Dazed and Confused," an eerie

leftover from

Page's Yardbirds days, plus a true oddity -- a tossed-off version of

Eddie

Cochran's "Something Else." Perhaps a bit much of a muchness.

But worth the

proverbial price of admission is "Whole Lotta Love," a top-notch

version

from the Top Gear show -- more than six minutes of timeless

razzle-dazzle

that transcends and, arguably, ends the post-Woodstock era of

blue-jeans

and long-hair sloppage from whence it came.

Disc two is more coherent and more satisfying. It's an unedited

performance

from the Beeb's Paris Theatre circa 1971 that's so prime it's

amazing

nobody thought to free it from the vaults until now. You get your

"Immigrant Song," your "Heartbreaker," your "Black Dog," your

aforementioned premiere of "Stairway," and a mammoth "Dazed

and Confused."

Not only that -- as the faithful have always known, Zep was as

great an

unplugged band as it was a sound blaster -- "Going to California"

is full

of magic. The set stumbles badly with a lame medley that

combines "Whole

Lotta Love" with some Elvis tuneage -- "A Mess of Blues" and the

King's

arrangement of Arthur Crudup's "That's Alright Mama," among

other things.

One might conclude that Messrs. Page and Plant were scarcely

the blues

purists we'd been led to believe they were. Still, the show bows

out

grandly with a dynamite version of "Thank You," so everyone can

leave the

house satisfied.

I remember a Village Voice headline from the '70s that

screamed,

"Led Zep Zaps Kids." True today as then. If you've spent years

seeking

bootlegs and Holy Grails, you'll find yourself on an upper rung of

the

famous stairway to heaven. For nonscholars, hold out for this

package as an

Xmas gift, because it's worth hearing but isn't essential. And it's

impossible not to mention that this collection does the band one

major

injustice: Zep album covers were exquisite, but the design of this

blast

from the past is unforgivably awful.