Led Zeppelin Celebration Day returns for 1 screening nationwide November 13. Go to Led Zeppelin Website for theater listings.
Did you ever have trouble explaining the appeal of Led Zeppelin to someone? Maybe your kid, the smart ass heavy metal dude in your office, the alt-rock snob college friend or your new girlfriend who thinks that Eric Clapton is the apotheosis of electric guitar. Take them to see Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day.
5 years ago the three surviving Led Zeppelin members, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones commandeered the the stage of London’s O2 — 27 years after playing their last show as a band. Joined by the late drummer Jon Bonham’s son, Jason, they proceeded to give a lesson in acid drenched blues, epic rock and the many reasons why Page is always on the list of the 5 greatest guitarists.
The band looked great. Robert Plant, 59 at the time, was still a lean sex machine, even with lines carved into his face like canyons. His curly blonde locks (they must be dyed) falling into his face as he writhed across the stage. Page, at 63, was a picture of disheveled elegance, his pure white hair falling in his face in unkempt swirls and John Paul Jones couldn’t possibly have been about 61 . But while they’ve aged, their chops are still everything they ever were, maybe more. It’s remarkable that someone with Plant’s sometimes adenoidal orgasmic singing-style can still belt it out as if he was 20. And Jimmy Page had every bent string, whammy bar whine and distorted growl in place with some jaw dropping solos and crushing rhythm work.
I have to admit, Jon Bonham was only missed in spirit as Jason more than filled his shoes with manically propulsive drumming. And speaking of propulsive, John Paul Jones milked his basslines, showing a bit of jazz flair interacting with page and laying slabs of deep throb on songs like “Dazed and Confused.”
In a career than spanned ten albums, narrowing it down to under 2 hours couldn’t have been easy, but Zeppelin didn’t succumb to the temptation of just the hits. They opened with three of their classic rockers and then launched a set of deep psychedelic blues and gospel including “For Your Life,” “Trampled Under Foot, “Since I’ve Been Loving You and “Nobodies Fault But Mine.” It was lesson in English blues and Page seemed like he was receiving the spirit from Robert Johnson and Hubert Sumlin. Their rendtion of the gospel hymn, “In My Time of Dying,” dripped both sensuality and tortured spiritual transformation. This wasn’t the Led Zep of FM radio hits, but it went right to their roots. After paying homage to their original sources, which they of course, often ripped off without credit, they kicked into the core of the Led Zeppelin oeuvre.
“Dazed and Confused” took them back to their first album and it swirled in hallucinogenic glory, including Page playing his guitar with a violin bow. It was not a Spinal Tap moment. Neither was “Kashmir” which they stormed through in all it’s Middle Eastern trance crescendo, with Jones handling the orchestral and horn lines on keyboards. The two encores included, of course, “Whole Lotta Love” which retained all its proto-metal, psychedelic glory including the mid-section space-out with Page playing a Theremin.
In revisiting their past, Led Zep managed to hit all the elements that made you love each song, while not being beholden to note-for-note renditions. They also took it seriously. There was no playing with tunes, mocking their past or mugging for the audience (okay, Plant mugged a little). They just dug into this music with passion and even maybe a bit of discovery, something you wouldn’t expect from music they created some 40 years ago.
I’ve never been a fan of concert films, but this one could make me a believer. It doesn’t have the visceral energy of a real live performance, but it also puts you on the stage with the artists, giving you an up close look that not even the front row elite get to see. Coupled with the imaginative spectacle of the staging with the video screen integrated with the film footage, it’s a very immersive experience, even if the sound in the theater I saw it in, The Rave in University City, was several dbs below what you’d expect. While the sound was impeccable, I could’ve used a lot more bass in the mix and I was also surprised that there wasn’t a surround sound mix or, from my vantage point, even a stereo mix. But apparently, that is not the case in most theaters.
The music was so so great, the band was so engaged, that Celebration Day begs the question – Why aren’t these guys still creating together? The DVD of Celebration Day comes out on November 19, but don’t wait. I don’t care how big your Hi-Def TV set is, you want to see this on a big movie theater screen. It will be showing again for a one day, nationwide performance on November 13. Led Zeppelin Website Go see it and tell them to turn it up!
~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))