Led Zeppelin’s Surviving Members Come Together in New York
Photo Kevin Westenberg.
This past Tuesday saw the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin roll into New York City in support of the forthcoming concert film Celebration Day. The film, which premiered domestically that evening at the famed Ziegfeld Theater, captures the band’s 2007 reunion at London’s O2 Arena.
Select media was invited to attend a screening of the film of at the Museum of Modern Art Tuesday morning after which followed a rare press conference with all three surviving members—singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones—in addition to drummer Jason Bonham, son of late drummer John Bonham, who had joined the band for the performance.
Since the vast majority of fans couldn’t be there, we’ve posted an extensive audio compilation of the press conference. (I even got in a question about how they built the setlist which you’ll hear.) We’ve also included a few video clips made available from the press conference as well at bottom.
While reports have surfaced from the press conference—namely the band’s continued dismal of a proper reunion tour—there’s no substitution for actually hearing their responses to a variety questions for yourself as there were innumerable nuances and subtle asides that the printed word simply can’t capture.
All three members were extremely candid, offering insights not only on their preparation and feelings about the O2 gig, but on Ertegun, the rock and roll life of the ‘60 and ‘70s and their various musical explorations.
Unlike the previous two reunions, which, by various if not all accounts, were rather strained and forced, the O2 show proves that Led Zeppelin—even without the mighty Bonzo—is still a force to be reckoned with. Celebration Day is the concert itself, nothing more, nothing less. No interviews. No B Roll footage of the band getting ready backstage. It’s focused on the four men onstage who were looking to rekindle the magic and power of one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. Did they succeed? You can be the judge but I would be hard pressed to see someone not give a resounding “yes” after watching the film.
Over the course of 16 songs and two hours of music, the band delivers astonishingly strong takes of “Trampled Under Foot,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Dazed and Confused,” among others.
While Led Zeppelin cribbed many a song’s basic structure from the blues— Plant acknowledges as much in the film prior to “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” —their version of the blues is typically a high-fueled romp with sharp turns and sudden stops. Point being: it would be hard to fake their way through material that often has multiple sections. There’s no opportunity to simply vamp in G and hope no one notices the train has temporarily gone off the rails. The six weeks of rehearsal paid off.
Moreover—and we hate to sound too sycophantic—but the individual members sound good. Plant’s voice is truly in fine form as his recent solo records have attested. Page, perhaps the quietest member of the group as of late, can still stagger listeners with guitar-god heroics all the while displaying his signature bravado without looking like a fool. Jones, whose bass work remains as fluid and toned as ever, also reminds viewers just how much keyboards were an essential part of the band’s sound. (Check “Stairway to Heaven” and “The Song Remains the Same” in particular.)
Jason Bonham, as you’ll hear in the press conference clips, saw this gig as an opportunity to prove himself on his own merits rather than being chosen out respect and sympathy. His noted knowledge of the band’s history via an extensive bootleg collection and his ongoing Led Zeppelin Experience project made him particularly well-suited for the task. With Celebration Day, he proved himself to be a very good rock drummer to those that might have doubted. Is he at the level of his father or someone like Neil Peart? No. But he isn’t trying to be (nor does he ever suggest that he his).
If the 1988 the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Concert and 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony were less than fans hoped for, then this gig is all those expectations finally met.
Unlike their contemporaries—The Rolling Stones and The Who—Led Zeppelin have chosen not to tour following a founding member’s death. (John Bonham died in 1980 amid tour rehearsals.) While there have been various amounts of acrimony over the years, notably between Jones and the Page/Plant camp, they currently seem quite affable with one another.
What Celebration Day makes clear, in bittersweet fashion, is that should they return to the road, it wouldn’t be a nostalgia act—it would be a vital group of musicians chasing the same muse we’ve seen in The Song Remains the Same and How the West Was Won.
As I sat watching the Celebration Day, all these thoughts running through my head, the words I’ve heard Plant singing countless times during “Stairway to Heaven” took on a new meaning:
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/ There’s still time to change the road you’re on/
And it makes me wonder