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Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day

The hottest ticket in concert history. Millions missed out in 2007 when Led Zeppelin reformed for one night only, but what did they miss?

Saturday, 16. March 2013  -  by  David Hayter

Led Zeppelin continue to spurn the reunion cash cow. Since John Bonham’s untimely death convinced Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones to call it a day in 1980, the surviving band members have guarded their legacy with remarkable tact. They watched from the sidelines as legends both shameless (The Shadows) and stubborn (Rage Against The Machine) slowly succumbed to feverish fan pressure (no doubt pocketing huge payouts in the process). Zeppelin have reformed previously, but only for truly special occasions: in 1985 for Live Aid, for Atlantic Records 40th anniversary in ‘88, when they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995, and of course, in 2007 when they headlined the O2 Arena to honour the death of Atlantic’s founder, Ahmet Ertegun.

The event became legendary in its own right, establishing the fledging O2 Arena as London’s premiere venue seemingly overnight. Tickets were distributed via a random draw; millions applied, 20,000 were selected. Fans ventured from every corner of the globe to descend on one concert, and the rest is history. The kind of history fans could only read about, as Led Zep refused to tour and decided to sit on the footage for five years. As such, Celebration Day hardly warrants a review. Millions of fans will be desperate to snag themselves a copy of this DVD/CD, and quality appears irrelevant when exclusivity cultivates demand. Still, Plant and Page’s restraint warrants reprieve from cynicism, and Celebration Day deserves an honest critique.

Implausibly, the band appear to have progressed as a unit, in a wholly organic fashion. Despite being apart for the best part of 30 years Zeppelin have become imperious and stately. The blistering opening onslaught of “Good Times Bad Times”, “Ramble On”, and “Black Dog” dismiss any fears of decrepit embarrassment, as each member appears sharp and on point. In isolation they’ve grown according to expectation.

Page has calmed. His playing is less visceral and more weighty (perhaps the result of a hand injury he was recovering from). He appears too cool for school and it suits him. In 2007 Plant was on the verge of releasing Raising Sand with Allison Krauss, an album that would give his career new direction and renewed acclaim. His screams are no longer feral, he instead acts his age: a natural and accomplished crowd pleaser who has moved on from psychedelic screams and embraced a more down to earth rustic approach. John Paul Jones appears locked in. Still a rocker and professional, watching Celebration Day it is unsurprising that two years later he’d create Them Crooked Vultures alongside Dave Grohl and Josh Homme. Then there’s John Bonham. The one member of the band who it was hardest to imagine growing old, tragically didn’t. His son Jason fills in admirably, adding plenty of kick to “Black Dog” and doing his dad proud on “Rock and Roll” (Page looks genuinely bewildered observing the ferocious final solo).

For a concert film, the crowd are too reverent and respectful. Tears are shed and hands are raised, but they rarely engage, and it detracts from the moment. The atmosphere can at times feel too clean, lacking the intensity that a true spectacle needs (although the director endeavours to simulate wild energy with quick cuts). This isn’t an issue on the audio only version; the sound is staggeringly crisp, even during the fastest interchanges. We’ll happily give Jimmy the benefit of the doubt, but at times the sound is so sublime it’s suspicious - the balance is too perfect. The end result is a series of crystalline recordings that truly benefit the gorgeous sprawl of “No Quarter” and the rambunctious thrills of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, but only serve to further sterilize “Stairway To Heaven”. Despite being punctuated by some phenomenal playing, the mid portion of the set becomes bogged down by extended jams, causing pacing issues. The setlist is brilliantly chosen, but could have been more engagingly arranged.

By the time “The Song Remains The Same” and “Misty Mountain Hop” roll around these criticisms are long forgotten, as Zeppelin’s sheer force blows away any lingering lag. Plant never truly let’s rip, instead he coaxes the crowd through a setlist full of classics, leading to a warm and loving rendition of “Whole Lotta Love”. It’s not a 70s style crazy reinvention; it ticks like clockwork, and after all these years it’s great to hear them play it straight. In the 21st century Plant, Page, and JPJ are comfortable in their own skin. They’ve moved on - evolved. They’ll never be the wild world changing kids they once were, but they are clearly having a whale of a time, and when they wheel “Rock and Roll” out of retirement at the set’s close, they still feel like the greatest hard rock band of all time. 

Buy If:you have even the tiniest amount of time for Led Zeppelin.

Skip If:you’ve moved on and your memories will suffice.

Best Song:“Rock and Roll”

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