Album of the Week 46-2012: Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day


Magical. That’s what it must have been like if you were at the O2 Arena in London on December 10th 2007, when the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin teamed up the the late John Bonham’s son Jason on drums for a one night only reunion show. Being the Led Zeppelin addict I am – I still think there’s nothing higher attainable musically than Zep – I of course entered the lottery for tickets. Didn’t win any, but this is almost as good. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to any release as much as this one. I counted down the days. But it was worth it: ‘Celebration Day’ shows a powerful, inspired performance by the best Rock band ever.

Most of the songs have been tuned down half a step to easier facilitate Robert Plant’s voice. It’s obvious from the first second of opening track ‘Good Times Bad Times’. Since Plant has a history of not playing Zeppelin stuff the way it has been released throughout his consistently amazing solo carreer, I don’t mind these little changes. And let’s not forget that the human voice does lower with age. And while Plant’s voice has inevitably aged, he handles this material incredibly well, albeit somewhat less over-the-top than on the originals. This causes him to sound like a reflecting old man rather than a young romantic on the eternal classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The subdued performance of the band backs him up there, adding a whole new dimension to an extremely familiar song.

Jason Bonham actually does a great job replacing his father. He has a powerful style that resembles his father’s and therefore makes him the only justified drummer. Just listen to him punishing his kit during a breathtaking version of ‘Kashmir’ – actually played in its original tuning, since it’s in an open D tuning – or ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (also featuring a mean blues harp courtesy of Plant) and you’ll have no doubt that it’s a Bonham playing. He also shares vocals with Plant on a strong rendition of ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and does that well.

Pleasantly surprising is that the setlist for the night didn’t only focus on the obvious choices as ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Rock And Roll’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’. In fact, with ‘Ramble On’ and ‘For Your Life’, the band played two amazing tracks from their back catalog live for the first time. Especially the latter is executed incredibly well. Unsurprisingly, half of ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ is included, but traditional blues tributes ‘In My Time Of Dying’ and ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ are the songs that the band seems most comfortable with. And let’s not forget my favorite Led Zeppelin song ‘No Quarter’, a psychedelic masterpiece that is just as good as the studio version from the moment John Paul Jones kicks in with the dreamy fuzz piano part. I wasn’t there, but it was a near-divine experience this way anyway. Also, playing ‘Dazed And Confused’ even slower than it was recorded almost sends it into Black Sabbath territory. Awesome!

Critics will always find something to attack on these performances. Jimmy Page is still a sloppy guitarist, but I have always felt that that was what gave his playing and the songs their breath of life. And of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like it did in the seventies, but it would have missed the point if it did. The bottom line is that these guys can still create magical music together. And judging from the looks on their faces, they were having a lot of fun doing it.

Any fan of Rock music should own this piece of history. Period. And if you haven’t gotten it yet, be sure to get a version with the bonus dvd, as it features the entire show as it was done during the production rehearsal. A performance that is filmed with only one camera and that is overal somewhat looser, but no less enjoyable. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on the dvd again, because one can never have enough Led Zeppelin.

Recommended track: ‘No Quarter’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’

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