Led Zeppelin, 02 Arena

by Guest – Laurie Whitecloud

The Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert
December 10, 2007

The loverly Mistress Jo asked me to write a review of this gig for Optimum Impact. What could I say but yes, for I can write page after page after page about this band and the concert of a lifetime! For those of you who do not know the joys of Led Zeppelin, let me explain what this band means to me.

I’d stumbled across Zeppelin around 1977, I was just in middle school and had no idea they were the biggest band in America at the time. I just knew I liked a song called “D’yer Maker” and the band that did it was Led Zeppelin. I saw a picture of the band and was drawn to a certain priddy dark-haired guitarist with a beautiful smile. His name was Jimmy Page.

Well from there I ended up buying their album Houses of the Holy, and was smitten. Houses led to buying other albums of theirs, and buying every magazine I could get with them in it. I spent countless hours poring over their album covers, absorbing every song, reading interviews, gaping at pictures, playing air guitar like Jimmy, air bass like John Paul Jones, air drums like John Bonham and trying to mimic Robert Plant’s banshee wail. Their music got me through the dark days of high school. Although Jimmy was my focus, I knew that all the band members fit together like four pieces of a puzzle…this was one band where everyone’s contributions were important.

This was most evident when John “Bonzo” Bonham died in 1980, on the eve of their latest American tour. It was a crushing blow to the band, and they all decided they couldn’t carry on without him. So they all went their separate ways and I was left without a band to follow…..well, a band that was recording and performing, that is! I still worshipped Zep!

27 years later, after a couple of “reunion” performances through the years, the surviving members of the band decide to reunite for a proper concert in honor of their friend and the founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, who passed away last year. They choose Jason Bonham to drum for them. Some people thought that Jason wasn’t the right choice for the job, but I recall watching the Zep movie “The Song Remains The Same,” seeing 7-year-old Jason drumming away on a tiny Ludwig set, twirling his stick with one hand, while proud dad Bonzo laughs and grabs some bongos to play along with his son. Jason’s been in the band Foreigner for a couple of years now, and when I saw them in concert he really rocked!

Through the grace of God, I’d managed to get my grubby paws to what I consider is the Holy Grail of concerts! So it is with disbelief that I find myself in London, at the 02 Arena, sitting through the opening acts ELP, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings featuring singers Maggie Bell, Paolo Nutini, and Paul Rodgers. Foreigner performs “I Want To Know What Love is” with a London children’s choir, and then it’s time for ZEP!!!!

The band kicks off with, “Good Times, Bad Times”, the first track on their first album. Robert sings it in a lower key but his is still the voice we all know and love! Jimmy’s guitar playing is sharp as ever, and Jonesy and Jason form a super-tight rhythm section.

At the end of the song, we all cheer and then it’s time for the sublime, “Ramble On.” Goosebump time! Robert’s lyrics evoke autumn evenings and leaving someone you love behind. It’s ethereal and beautiful, and sounds very good indeed. One of my friends had warned us that Robert might need a few songs to warm up, but his voice is sure and strong. And Jimmy’s guitar work is incendiary!

All of a sudden, we hear “Hey hey mama, said the way you move, wanna make you sweat, wanna make you groove!” HELLO!!! “Black Dog” pours out of the speakers and the whole crowd erupts and stands to their feet, except those people around us in the back. Wow, they’re not holding back on the songs people want to hear! We get to sing along joyously with Robert on the chorus, just like on live recordings I’ve heard.

“In My Time of Dying”, which features Jimmy playing the slide guitar, is 12 minutes of glory. It’s one of my favorite songs off the album Physical Graffiti, so I’m rocking along, singing every word with Robert, banging my head along with Jason’s bass drum. “Well well, well, so I can die eeeeeeasy……”

“For Your Life” gets a nod, just because it’s the first time the band has ever played it live. It’s a good song, but I’d rather hear something like Hots On For Nowhere if they were choosing songs from Presence. Anyhoo….

Jonesy gets the spotlight on Trampled Under Foot, where he gets to jam out on the keyboards for this funk-meets-rock barn-burner, which all came about because they had wanted to emulate Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues”. “Everyone nicks it,” Robert cheekily stated.

“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” has one of the most amazing intros ever, and Robert sings along with the notes perfectly. It was also good to see him get out the harmonica and wail it during his solo!

“No Quarter” is synonymous with Jonesy, simply because his keyboard work is haunting and mysterious and moody. I used to listen to this song with the lights off and get scared!! It’s dark lyrical imagery is made all the more intense with Robert’s lower vocal register and Jimmy’s theremin provides out-of-this-world shrieks and wails at the appropriate times. Add a really cool light show in the background, and you have an acid trip without the acid!

“Dazed and Confused” featured Jimmy doing his guitar solo with the violin bow, surrounded by a green laser pyramid, and hearing and seeing the spectacle in real life was so amazing, then the drums and bass kicked in, then Robert came in screaming like it was 1969…yeah. My mind is suitably blown to bits!

“Stairway to Heaven” was a surprise, yet not a surprise because A) people like me doubted they would do it, because the band hasn’t liked playing this song in eons, and B) because they did do it, it’s one of the most popular songs EVER, and it was awesome! Jimmy’s dual image was flashed on the screen during one of the most famous solos in the world and it awoke memories of me sitting through TSRTS countless times. And at the end, Robert cried out “Hey Ahmet, we did it!”

Jimmy hangs onto the world-famous double-neck guitar, deemed one of the Most Valuable Guitars by Guitar World magazine, for the rollicking “The Song Remains The Same.” Ah, how I adore this song! It instantly makes me a happy camper no matter what!

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” : The first five notes are the most lovely notes that send one’s spine a-tingling. Robert’s lament about a cheating lover is one of the best English blues songs in the world, in my opinion, and is one of Jimmy’s guitar masterpieces – Robert even gives him his due by saying simply, “Jimmy Page – guitar!” at the end.

Robert reminisced about Bonzo and told everyone that Bonzo used to sing in a band, and they’d do The Wind Cries Mary a lot! “Jason is a good singer, too” noted Robert, and Jason grabs the mic and wails out the intro to “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. Just when you think that’s the song they’ll do next, they bash into “Misty Mountain Hop”, and it’s a joy to hear Jason sing harmony with Robert on this fun tale about dope-smoking hippies in the park.

Robert noticed someone holding up a sign that read, “Hammer of the Gods” and said that it was amazing that people from 50 countries would be there to see that, “so late in life!” Then Jason bashed in the intro to “Kashmir” and the crowd goes wild! This song was Bonzo’s call to arms and Jason did his dad proud, methinks. It was also wonderful to hear Robert’s wail on “trying to find, trying to find where I’ve beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen” to be as awesome as it is on the recording!

After finishing the song and remembering Ahmet Ertegun, the band left the stage. People who don’t know any better begin to file out. Too bad, because they miss THE song that started a whole new genre of music called hard rock: “WHOLE LOTTA LOVE”.

Well what can I say about WLL that hasn’t been said! Primal. Sexy. White HOT!! It’s like ¾ of the band aren’t in the later years in life and it’s the 1970’s again. Robert and Jimmy play off each other with the theremin bits and the call-and-response with the voice and guitar. At the end, they again say goodnight and leave the crowd begging for more.

There’s one song they haven’t done yet… and it’s one they HAVE to do………and believe it or not, there are still people leaving! What’s wrong with them? Don’t they know you don’t leave a gig before the house lights come on? Sheesh!!

Jason’s cymbals crash and yep, it’s “Rock and Roll”!!! And when Robert sings, “It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time,” truer words were never spoken. Jason’s drum bit at the end was done as if he was infused with the spirit of Bonzo, and then it really was over. It was so cool to see Jason fall to his knees and bow down to Robert, Jimmy and Jonesy – three living rock gods.

This was the rock show of all rock shows. At the end of the gig, I was suitably drained emotionally and physically. I said it before, but I was so proud of the band for proving to London and the entire world that they still had the cojones to rock our socks off! There have been calls for a tour since the big day, and I hope they do. The night of December 10 was truly magical. I told my friends I don’t have to go to another gig, ever….(but I will!! ?)

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