“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.”
― French poet Charles Baudelaire, a quote later immortalized in the movie The Usual Suspects.
The greatest trick that Led Zeppelin ever pulled was not reuniting. Okay, it’s not a perfect analogy, but poetry, cinema, and a satanic reference…. It just seems so Zeppelin.
The greatest reunion that Led Zeppelin ever played, a 2007 one-off gig in London with Jason Bonham on drums, is now available in the recently released amazing CD/DVD set Celebration Day.
It’s become a semi-annual ritual to speculate on the various rumors concerning a possible Led Zeppelin reunion tour. Maybe they’ll play the Super Bowl, fans think (and TV executives pray), and then launch a massive world tour! And yet every year it never happens, and Robert Plant puts out another acoustic-based album with Alison Krauss. Now, from all reports, including word from Jimmy Page in recent interviews, we’re all getting used to the fact that a Zeppelin reunion tour will never happen.
But a funny thing happened on the way to what is and what should never be: the Mighty Led Zeppelin have somehow managed to satisfy us by not coming back at all. Confused? Well, a Led Zep tour would likely feature ticket prices in the $100-250 range and even if you could afford it, I’m sure the internet machines would tell you they were all sold out a minute after they went on sale, while Stub Hub and all the eBay “ticket brokers” magically managed to land all the good seats. So, none of us would actually get to attend a Led Zeppelin concert anyway.
By releasing Celebration Day, from their stunning performance as part of a show honoring the late founder and president of Atlantic Records Ahmet Etregun, Zeppelin is basically letting us all have the best seat in the house for a mere $15-20 (the cost of the regular CD/DVD set available now, and probably what you would have paid to park at the Led Zeppelin reunion concerts that aren’t happening). Thanks guys!
We don’t have to lament that we missed the tour or had to settle for the DVD… cuz there is no reunion tour. And while Page, John Paul Jones, and Bonham have all sounded like they’d be game to do it, I have to respect the refreshing honesty of Plant, who’s leaving millions of dollars on the table because he admits that his heart wouldn’t be into rehashing the glory of his younger self as part of some massive cash grab. Bummer for hardcore Zeppelin fans, but good for him. (I think his quote was something about no one wanting to hear a man his age singing about juice running down his leg.)
Meanwhile, the forests are echoing with laughter perhaps to the point of tears. Because listening to this set (I haven’t even watched the video yet, but the audio has been in heavy rotation), it’s obvious that this older/wiser version of Led Zeppelin, more-than-capably driven by late drummer John Bonham’s son on drums, put some real rehearsal time into just a one-night only concert. They are absolutely bringing it on every tune, proof that IF they had ever done a full tour they would have blown all expectations out of the water. There wouldn’t have been any cries of over-the-hill disappointment. They would have kicked our asses and melted our faces, just as they still do every time some unsuspecting 14-year-old discovers them.
And that’s what’s so brilliant about this set: it shows and proves that “Hey, we made sure that we would NAIL it for a one-off gig… so imagine how good a reunion tour would’ve been? That’s right, we woulda killed it… but we’re not doing it. So for less than $20, you can see/hear it in all its glory. You’re welcome.”
Page and Jones are as vital as ever. Page has always been a legendary rock god and guitar hero, and still sounds the part. Jones was always been underrated, and his versatility and subtle musicality are on full display here. The older, gentler Plant sounds great; he’s still in fine voice but knows his limitations. He’s not my-ma-MY-my-my-my-ing his way through every single line of every song.
As for the kid on drums (who I think is 40-something years old by now), Jason Bonham is just ON every one of these songs. He is simply badass, in that he knows when to tip his cap to his father’s famous fills (often) while still providing the rock-solid backbone these legendary songs demand and deserve. I assume (and it sounds like) this dude has studied this stuff inside out his whole life, knowing that if/when called upon to sit on daddy’s throne, he’d have to be ready. (Seriously, I’m not sure if being Bonzo’s son makes it easier or harder. Imagine the sheer weight of this assignment.) And it’s not just the drum parts, he’s obviously well versed enough in all the nuances of the other three guys’ parts that he can interact and complement them in the live setting, not just try to recreate the original versions.
To keep with the movie analogies, this is not some bland sequel or terrible remake. If you prefer a sports analogy, this isn’t Johnny Unitas on the Chargers or Michael Jordan on the Wizards. (Speaking of sports, just as the game-day stadium and arena experience has priced most of us out, and huge TV’s and the RedZone channel have made watching at home more enjoyable, perhaps getting the Led out in hi-def in our basement, sad as that might seem, has become the modern concert experience.)
As for the songs, all the usual suspects are here, from the hits to the deep cuts, including one that Plant mentions is a first attempt in public, the crunching “For Your Life,” from the criminally underrated Presence album. At one point you can hear Plant admit between verses, “it still feels pretty good up here.”
In a previous column lamenting the brutal murder of Led Zeppelin at the hands of Classic Rock Radio, I wrote that a Led Zeppelin reunion tour was #1 on my Top 10 Awesome Zeppelin Things That Can’t Be Killed. Well, it looks as though it’s on life support, and yet it’s still cause for celebration.
So, to Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham, in the words of one song title not included here: “Thank You.”