The Song Remains the Same (1976)

Joe Massot and Peter Clifton’s excellent “The Song Remains the Same” is one of the best and most dynamic looks at Led Zeppelin performing for a massive audience. The directors able to grab a lot of their synergy by filming many of their solos and brilliant iterations of their classic songs with dynamic camera angles and strobing colors of red and stark blue. Though I’m not a fan of “No Quarter,” their rendition of it here is incredible, especially considering the way the performance as a whole is lit, allowing for a unique fever dream kind of visual that feels like Ken Russell dipped his fingers in the direction here and there.

There are some wonderful shots of the band, from close ups of Page strumming his guitar, John Paul Jones hitting the bass, and Bonham covered in his drums, offering the key element every single song on the set list. Believe it or not, before Zeppelin completely abandoned it, the foursome perform a riveting eleven minute version of “Stairway to Heaven,” and follow it up with an even longer version of “Moby Dick.” I’m also a big fan of how they mix and mesh some of their hits, using the introduction to “Bring it On Home” and jumping right in to “Black Dog.” Zeppelin at their best, know how to indulge fans and show them time and time again that they could bring a supernatural force and gravitas every time they stepped on stage.

The movie is enhanced by the wonky and surreal “hallucinations” and “Fantasies” of the band. Meant to apparently indulge their creative sides, a lot of their songs are performed with very surreal sequences of them in period costumes and interacting in odd scenarios. One of the sequences sees them on horse back, top hats, and capes, another sequence has them as knights of the round table. Suddenly we’re then whisked away to a racing scene, and a silly shoot out involving gangsters. I understand this was all meant to break up the monotony and scarcity if actual live Zeppelin footage, but it can be odd. “The Song Remains the Same” also kind of loses momentum when we see the back stage antics of their manager screaming about merchandise and fans sneaking in to the concerts.

The documentary picks up again as we see Jimmy Page strutting with his Les Paul and two necked monster, while Robert Plant clutches his mic like his own guitar to “The Song Remains the Same.” The performances still belong to Zeppelin, though, all of whom dominate the stage without a single weak performance in the entire concert. The minor flaws never detract from the energy and raw power that Zeppelin brings to the screen. Despite being rough around the edges, “The Song Remains the Same” is one of the quintessential concert films. It’s energetic, lively, raucous and catches the essence of what made Zeppelin larger than life.