It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years since the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited (with Jason Bonham on drums) for a one-off show at London’s O2 Arena in honour of Atlantic Records exec Ahmet Ertegün. But what’s really hard to believe is that it happened at all. Robert Plant seems to have a love/hate relationship with Zeppelin, proud of the band’s achievements and even willing to revisit them in various forms with Jimmy Page from time to time (the No Quarter album, Walking Into Clarksdale, a few semi-reunion mini sets in the 80s), but never ready to fully commit to anything with the Zeppelin stamp on it. And it doesn’t look like this will be happening again, so Celebration Day is really all you’re likely to get in terms of new music made by Led Zeppelin.
So what have we got here? A whopping sixteen tracks of Zeppelin classics rendered by three of the four guys who made it happen (and a goodly chunk of DNA from the remainder), in CD and DVD/Blu-Ray form. Kicking off with Good Times, Bad Times, Plant gives a kind of wry wink to the opening couplet: “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man. Now I’ve reached that age I try to do all those things the best I can.” Plant’s starts off a little tentative here, but it doesn’t take him long to find his groove. Page’s guitar is characteristically raw and un-finessed, but that’s part of what makes him so freaking cool. He never needed to stand still and strum away in the background back in the day, and he’s not going to start now. A blisteringly loose but authoritative solo really kicks Good Times, Bad Times into overdrive and the energy level is cranked.
Plant loosens up after a few songs, and although his voice is no longer that of the young dude who sang Heartbreaker, he has a brilliant sense of gravity, experience and interpretation now. By the time he gets to No Quarter it’s pretty well established that this is a special, magical gig, minor mistakes and all. Bonham does his dad proud, and John Paul Jones provides the glue that holds everything together, whether on bass or keys. He really owns No Quarter and Kashmir. Yes, Stairway to Heaven is there and yes it’s majestic: yes, The Song Remains The Same is there and it’s sloppy but full of feeling and power: yes, Whole Lotta Love is there and it’s so hormonal and sexy that it impregnates anyone who listens to it.
There are two ‘um… what song is that?’ moments where the live presentation of particular songs diverts a bit too far away from their recorded versions: The Song Remains The Same (it’s interesting that when faced with choosing which of that song’s overdubs to focus on, he goes for the rhythmic and textural rather than the melodic) and Ramble On (where the decision to play it on a lightly overdriven Les Paul instead of a strummed acoustic seems to prevent everyone from zeroing in on the first few bars). But this is part of the charm of Led Zeppelin: you never know what’s going to happen next, whether it be an interesting guitar reinterpretation or a clever ending grafted onto a song that had a fade-out on its studio version.
This reunion could have gone either way. It could have been brilliant or it could have been terribly flawed. Thankfully it’s the former: an entirely worthy addition to the Led Zeppelin legacy and one that the band can be proud to officially go out on.
Thanks to Warner Music Australia.