Old Percy manages to squeeze his lemon one more time for Rock’s biggest reunion
Led Zeppelin reunions are nothing new. And though despite the unexpected death of John Bonham in 1980 – a tragic event which put an end to the band – the remaining three members reunited for 1985’s Live Aid, and again in 1988 for Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert, along with a brief performance following the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. But apart from that, nothing. That is until 10th December 2007, when Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham, the son of the late drummer, decided that the time was right for one more show, in honour of their friend and mentor Ahmet Urtegun, founder of Atlantic Records, who passed away in 2006.
Recorded at London’s O2 Arena, before an extremely privileged crowd of worshippers, Led Zeppelin managed to achieve the almost unthinkable: that is deliver a powerful and age-defying performance no-one in attendance could have expected. And while John Bonham couldn’t be with them on the night, his ghost can definitely be heard on stage thanks to his son, who is a formidable drummer in his own right, giving each song the necessary thunder as required.
The band immediately blow out the windows with a potent, forceful “Good Times Bad Times,” off their debut album. Page plays his guitar with the sort of dexterity not heard in years, while Plant sings like someone who’s just grown an extra pair of lungs. Jones and Jason are locked in tighter than a binary star system, to form an intense and potent rhythm section.
“Ramble On” is performed with all the verve and vigour of men half their age, while “Black Dog” and the slide-fest of “In My Time Of Dying” are brilliantly executed, as is Plant favourite “Trampled Underfoot,” during which Jones recreates the funky clavinet of the original, and the obscure “For Your Life” from 1976’s Presence, an album which Robert has gone on record as saying is one his favourites. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is given the full Thor treatment, where Bonham hammers out the beat in a way that would make his father proud, before an outstanding version of the classic “No Quarter,” the spooky, Viking mini-epic from 1973’s Houses Of The Holy. Here Jones and Page are in fine form, as is Plant, who, despite his age, sings with conviction and veracity.
The second half of the concert kicks off with a stirring “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” replete with a convincing wail by Plant, followed by a truly mesmerising “Dazed and Confused,” on which Page replicates his old Gibson-violin routine with aplomb, and no doubt having a ball in the process. Now I’m sure that each of them knew that they couldn’t have gotten away without performing “Stairway To Heaven,” perhaps the song most synonymous with Led Zeppelin, and the one that receives the majority of airplay on classic rock radio. And while the version played here may lack some of the youthfulness of yore, Page plays with a deliberate passion and grace, giving it all his got, especially during the solo.
On the energetic “The Song Remains The Same” Page outdoes himself, almost taking the band back to Knebworth in 1979, and how Plant reaches those high notes one can only marvel at. Likewise “Misty Mountain Hop,” on which old Percy sings like his testicles are on fire. But the highlight has to be the majestic Moroccan epic “Kashmir,” one of Zeppelin’s greatest ever compositions, and a song that stands to this day as a landmark in rock. For anyone who thinks Plant can no longer hit the high notes will be amazed.
Page attacks his guitar with all the ferocity of a man in his twenties on “Whole Lotta Love,” during which Plant literally sings his nuts off. Final number “Rock And Roll” proves that Plant, Page and Jones still have enough testosterone left in the tank to generate the sort of energy needed to do the material justice.
Celebration Day is a startling document. That after weeks, perhaps even months of rehearsals resulted in an absolute belter of a show, is evidence of just how committed they were to delivering something memorable. Naturally the spirit of John Bonham dominates the proceedings somewhat, yet this two hour gig is more than anyone could hope for, and with the accompanying DVD, this release is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of any fan, whether young or old.