With only the fond memories of my elders and the constant viewing of The Song Remains the Same, I’ve no real concept of what it’s like to be in the presence of the legendary rock band, Led Zeppelin. Yet, they remain arguably the greatest rock band of all time. Their music: an amalgamation of blues, rock, and psychedelic awe. Their notoriety compared to Gods or mythological creatures, just like the lyrics to some of their songs. Of the dozens of hits within the ten albums released, hardly any of them are forgettable. If only they’d reunite (in the flesh) for a new generation to appreciate...
On December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin did just that. The remaining band members took the stage, with the addition of the late drummer’s son, Jason Bonham, at London’s O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for their dear friend, Atlantic Records founder, Ahmet Ertegun. Until now, only those fortunate enough to have been in attendance would know what went down that night. The rest of us would have to dream over our audio and video collections from the past. However, after five years, the O2 Celebration Day concert comes to life for all to see on the big screen. Recently, I had the honor of previewing what exactly went down on that mid-December night.
As the concert opened with "Good Times, Bad Times", I wondered, “Do they know they’re Led Zeppelin?” The song sounded right, but it wasn’t clear whether they realized just how special this all was. Next, came "Ramble On" and Robert Plant began twirling the microphone, moving his hips, and twisting his long curly hair. No, he still hasn’t cut it. "Black Dog" and "In My Time of Dying" followed and Page was feeling it, as were John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham. It was as if the spirit of John Bonham had been channeled through his son to play with his friends one last time. It was becoming very clear who they were, and their confidence began to shine.
Plant spoke to the crowd, letting the fans know of the emotions that went into the preparation for the concert. Their next song, "For Your Life" had “Its first adventure in public.” I would’ve thought it was the hundredth time they played it, and as the hits rolled on, it all became clear, this truly is one of the greatest band of all time…no arguments.
Bass player John Paul Jones showed off his versatile musical abilities with his keyboard ensemble in "No Quarter". By the tenth song, "Dazed and Confused", Page brought out his signature violin bow, creating an intoxicating sound founded by the master himself. "Stairway to Heaven" brought out the double guitar and "The Song Remains The Same" came soon after. By the time "Kashmir" was belted out, I was lost in a world of fabricated nostalgia - a place I never thought I could visit, until now.
The entire concert was sixteen songs over a two-hour period and the band seemed to gel more and more with each hit. A quick smile and exchange between Plant and Page and one can feel the same chemistry that brought these gurus together in the first place. Whether they’ve been apart for years or not, it didn’t show on that stage in London.
Following the film screening came a moment straight out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We all know of the legends. They play in so many headphones on a daily basis and yet we’re not entirely sure what they’ve been up to over the years. If only we could gaze upon the Gods and pick their brains – even if it’s only for a half-hour. Alas, the band strutted onto a small stage at the MoMA Museum in Midtown Manhattan, in front of about a hundred press members. If only Jimmy would have ripped out the double guitar, it could’ve been the most intimate Zeppelin concert of all time. But the band was just as sharp as ever - even without their instruments.
Plant began quipping with his line, “There are people in this room who are not journalists. There’s a masseuse in here and that’s so exciting.” When asked if the band is critical of their work and self-conscious of watching the Celebration Day film, Plant answered, “I used to be better looking than this. So, of course I’m critical.” When a woman reporter excused her muddled voice, Plant told her not to worry, but to just meet him in the back. Indeed, a charm that could only be acquired through years of rock star status was still present.
But among the jokes was an explanation for the real reason this whole concert was created in the first place: Atlantic Records’ founder, Ahmet Ertegun. “It was the greatest thing on the planet to be considered and signed by Atlantic Records,” said Plant. The band recalled the fun times they had with Ahmet and felt they needed to show just how much they loved him. Well, we love you too, Mr. Ertegun, for bringing us Led Zeppelin.
If there’s one lesson I learned from the wondrous encounter, it’s to never ask the band if they have any plans for a reunion. The answer remains the same according to Page: “I don’t see it.”
Unless that changes, see the film of Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day performance, which will be available in multiple video and audio formats on November 19, 2012.