Monday, December 17, 2012

Led Zep Vic Lap

Yes, I was one of those people who broke the Internet trying to get a ticket for Led Zeppelin's performance at the Ahmet Ertegun tribute back in 2007. Like most of the 20 million in the lottery, I did not get lucky. I was OK with that result because it would have been a logistical nightmare to get there, especially considering they had to reschedule the date due to Jimmy Page's injuring his hand.

Let's face it though - I am a huge fan of the band and would have done whatever it took to get there. At the time, the reports were that the concert was good, maybe even great. In the ensuing months (that quickly turned to years) I heard bootlegs of both the performance and the production rehearsal and it all sounded more than respectable. It was certainly a far cry from the slightly farcical Live Aid set and the lackluster Atlantic Records anniversary gig.

All that said, I was slightly unprepared for just how absurdly great Celebration Day, the DVD/CD package that was recently released, is. Eighteen months of editing have created a concert film like none other, surprisingly intimate without slighting the power and grandeur that is a given where Led Zeppelin is concerned. The camera always seems to be exactly where you want it to be, whether observing John Paul Jones's deft footwork on the organ pedals or Jimmy Page's satisfied grin after an intense solo. I look forward to watching it again.

The audio is an incredibly satisfying listening experience, with blistering energy and much nuance. Right from the crushing chords that open Good Times Bad Times, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jason Bonham (sitting in for his late, great father) play with a fire and a fury that belies their ages - and the age of the music. The band does a great job of stripping away some of the more indulgent aspects of their 70's concerts and letting the music speak for itself. Page sprays glorious barrages of smeared notes and attacks his classic riffs with a vengeance. Jones is ever nimble on the bass and his keyboard work is rich and assured. Plant's voice is a lot lower than during his prime but he could still unleash those spine-tingling howls. Jason Bonham, who had perhaps the hardest job that night, succeeds in honoring his father's titanic groove and applying his own personality, with a sizzling and sometimes loose drive that seems to keep Page and Jones on their toes.

While everyone will have their opinion on what songs they should have played (Ten Years Gone would have made me very happy), the care with which they put together the set list is apparent. In any case, the fact than they included the first-ever live performance of For Your Life, along with a couple of other stage rarities, puts much second guessing to rest.

If this is indeed the final statement of Led Zeppelin as a contemporary performing entity, it is a worthy and well/deserved victory lap. As a live album plus concert film it is likely without equal in the annals of rock. Any Zep fan will consume it eagerly and skeptics may be lured into a change of heart. Five years was worth the wait and Celebration Day could not have a more apt title - it is indeed something to celebrate, right down to the artwork, which is hip enough that my 13 year-old daughter had to have the t-shirt. Leave it to Zeppelin to remain relevant, even when releasing a five year old concert of 30 year old songs.

A final note about Jimmy Page. I have often said that he is my second favorite guitarist and he does nothing here that would cause me to change my opinion. "I'm not a guitarist as far as a technician goes. I deal in emotion," Page has said, and I think that's what I respond to. While listening to Celebration Day for the second or third time, it dawned on me that, though his contemporary output may be paltry, he is the greatest living guitar player. I, for one, will treasure every note he decides to reveal to us.

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