Good Times, Bad Times
In the thirty-two years since drummer John Bonham died and the band broke up, the remaining members of Led Zeppelin — singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones — have occasionally reunited for various causes. But it wasn’t until 2007, when they paid tribute to their friend and mentor Ahmet Ertegun (who had signed them to Atlantic Records in 1968) with a sixteen song concert at London’s O2 Arena, that the threesome had played a full show together.
Capturing that epic show in its entirety, Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day is a two-hour concert film that was shot by Dick Carruthers, who previously worked with Plant, Page, and Jones on the Led Zeppelin DVD nine years ago.
Visually speaking, Celebration Day is a fairly typical concert film. Or to be more accurate, concert video, since it has all the quick cuts and trickery of a concert that was shot for a home video. Granted, it is just the show and nothing but the show — it’s not concert clips interspliced with interviews and backstage footage like so many other concert videos — but it otherwise has all the shots you’d expect. There’s footage from the nosebleed seats, a bunch from the middle of the floor by the mixing board, and tons shot on stage. Most annoyingly, there’s a bunch of times when they cut to shoddy, low-res footage that looks like it was shot by some jackass on his iPhone. If I wanted to see that nonsense, I would’ve just watched the bootlegs of the show on YouTube.
Which is why, like a fairly typical concert video, you really only need to see this once. Though when you do, it’s best to see it on a really big screen with a good sound system. Seeing Celebration Day in a theater was clearly the way to go, as the bigger picture really gave this a sense of immediacy you won’t get watching it on your iPad.
But while you really only need to see this once, you’ll want to hear it over and over. Granted this isn’t like seeing Zeppelin in 1969, or even 1979, since in the years since they last all played a full show, Plant, Page, and Jones have all grown in different directions. Plant can’t hit the high notes as often as he used to (though he can still sometimes hit them, and still has a great voice), Page’s fingers aren’t as fast as they used to be, and Jones isn’t as spacey on the keyboards as he was in the ’70s (though he’s still rock solid on the bass). But even thirty-plus years later, there’s still a real spark whenever these guys play together.
Not surprisingly, some of the old magic came back in what they played that night as well. While they tore their way through such expected classics as “Black Dog,” “Rock And Roll,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Kasmir,” and “Stairway To Heaven,” (but, oddly, not the song “Celebration Day”), they also busted out such relatively lesser known songs as “In My Time Of Dying” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” But the kicker was “For Your Life,” a track from 1976’s Presence that they’d never played live before.
As great as that track was, though, it also served to highlight how Jason Bonham, who took his late father’s place at this show, is not his father’s son. He’s not a bad drummer by any stretch of the imagination, and when he goes off at the end of “Rock And Roll,” he sounds like a chip off the old block. But for the most part, he’s not nearly as good — or as powerful, or as distinctive, or as thunderous… — as his old man.
Still, even if you’re just as casual Zeppelin fan, Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day is worth seeing once (on a big screen, if you can swing it), and worth hearing a bunch of times. It may have been Led Zeppelin on the stage that night — without John Bonham, there is no Led Zeppelin — but even at three-quarters strength and thirty years older, these guys still rock.
Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day will be shown in theaters across the country on Thursday, October 18. For theaters, tickets, and showtimes, visit http://www.fathomevents.com/concerts/event/ledzeppelin.aspx?d=10/18/2012.
It will also be released on CD, DVD, Blu-ray, vinyl, and digitally on November 19. For more info on it, visit http://www.ledzeppelin.com.