|home||music||Musical Instruments||band merchandise||memorabilia||rock art & photos||fashion||event tickets||electronics||videos|
Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day: A review
Any list of the greatest concert movies of all time usually includes The Band’s The Last Waltz, The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Shine a Light, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, U2’s 3D, and Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii. To that list add Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day. It leaves all the others trampled underfoot.
The Led Zeppelin concert movie, screening in cinemas across the world for one night only on Wednesday Oct. 17, begins with footage of a television news report about Led Zeppelin’s record-breaking 1973 concert in Tampa, Florida. “It really was the biggest crowd assembled for a single performance in one place in the entire history of the world,” says reporter Scott Shuster. “The name of the group: Led Zeppelin.”
The crowd assembled at the O2 Arena in London on December 10, 2007, was only a fraction of the size of the stadium crowd in Tampa almost four decades ago. But a record 20 million applied for lottery tickets to win a chance to buy tickets to Led Zeppelin’s reunion in the winter of 2007.
More than an event, the concert was a shot at redemption. After all, Led Zeppelin’s 1985 reunion in front of millions of television viewers at Live Aid was so disastrous that the band lobbied to omit the performance from the DVD release of the concert. A 1988 show to commemorate Atlantic Records 40th anniversary was also a shambles and, though the band’s performance at the 1995 Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction was enjoyable, it was an unrehearsed jam.
The buildup to the Concert for Ahmet Ertegun, Led Zeppelin’s mentor at Atlantic Records, included several magazine interviews and reports of unprecedented bidding wars for tickets. And, then, disaster! The band had to postpone their performance by a month when Jimmy Page injured his finger during an accident in his garden. (Blame it on a bustle in his hedgerow.)
Could the band shrug off the weight of expectations, not to mention the pressure of performing in front of luminaries such as Paul McCartney, Brian May, Dave Grohl, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Neil Finn, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, Warren Haynes, The Edge, and Oasis?
From the opening salvo of “Good Times Bad Times,” “Ramble On,” and “Black Dog,” it’s clear that Led Zeppelin is in no danger of doing a McKayla Maroney-style stumble in front of the world. Celebration Day captures the Olympian performance of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham up close and personal. It’s music in motion. Jones bobs about as his bass rumbles like a magnitude 7 earthquake. Plant kicks the mic stand up into the air, spins dramatically on the axis of one foot and tosses the microphone into the air like a lasso. Page, regal in a long coat and cool sunglasses, pouts his lips as he struts across the stage and plays lacerating solos with his low-slung Les Paul resting on his hip. Jason Bonham’s arms swing through the air with such power that you’d swear his drumsticks could split the atom.
By the time Plant howls “Ooooooh” during “Black Dog,” his voice arcing through the arena like a flare, you may wonder how it could possibly get any better. But it does. Led Zeppelin really begins to cook during “In My Time of Dying,” as Plant pushes his voice toward a higher register and Page solos until his frets are molten. Indeed, it’s so hot on stage that you can literally see a heat mirage around Page’s amplifiers.
Director Dick Carruthers, a collaborator on Led Zeppelin’s DVD and a seasoned rock concert filmmaker for the likes of Oasis, Portishead, and The White Stripes, used the 14 cameras to put the viewer right on stage with the band. There’s even footage from an 8mm film in the audience as a nod to the raw bootlegs that used to circulate in the 1970s. For the most part, the focus remains on the band rather than the audience because, in truth, it’s hard to tear one’s eyes away from the musicians.
The joy of Celebration Day is watching these four musicians swap numerous smiles throughout the show. Even though the stage appears to be as wide as the Euphrates, the four men stay close to each other throughout, feeding off each other and encouraging each other. It’s evident that they’re reveling in the vibrations of a musical wavelength that has been long dormant but is far from defunct. Each musician takes chances, adding an element of spontaneity, and although Plant’s powerful voice can’t quite hit the vocal peaks of yore, he comes close, and his phrasing is better than ever. The viewer can’t help but be swept up in the majesty and beauty of it all.
The setlist draws from nearly every stage of Led Zeppelin’s career, bar its final album In Through the Out Door. (That means we’re spared a rendition of “Hot Dog,” a twangy country pastiche that remains the supergroup's biggest misstep. Well, that and the Stonehenge stage props on the 1977 tour.) Selections range from the ethereal symphony of “No Quarter” and the mournful Chicago blues of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to barnstormers such as “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” “The Song Remains the Same” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” Far from playing it safe, Led Zeppelin perform “For Your Life” from Presence for the very first time. Plant’s urgent delivery during that tale of rock star excess leads into a semi-funk riff midway through. The screen behind them explodes in supernova white light.
“Trampled Underfoot” is introduced as Led Zeppelin’s attempt at “Terraplane Blues,” but this is as far removed from Robert Johnson as one could get. Jones’s funky keyboards sound closer to 1970s Stevie Wonder and Page plays a thrilling, high-pitched guitar solo. During “Dazed and Confused”—still heavier than any doom metal song—Page seems to act as a conduit for banshees from another dimension as he plays his guitar with a violin bow. Adding to the eerie effect, the guitarist is framed by green lasers. Though Page now has flowing white hair, he still looks younger than the Tolkienesque wizard he played during a hoary fantasy sequence in Led Zeppelin’s 1976 concert movie The Song Remains the Same. Indeed, Page still epitomizes the guitar hero and exudes an aura of cool.
Given Plant’s disdain for “Stairway to Heaven” and his youthful lyrics, his vocal performance during the song is surprisingly emotional and affectionate. (It takes a mighty constitution, indeed, for a singer not to bust out laughing while singing the line, “It's just a spring clean for the May queen.”) His respectful rendition lends the overplayed iconic anthem fresh power. So much so that he appears momentarily overcome by the effusive response from the crowd when they sing the final line of the song. He bows his head in the dark and, after a few moments, looks up and says, “Ahmet, we did it.”
At this point, every song has been so magnificent that, if asked to name highlights from the concert, you’d probably respond, “All of them.” But there’s one performance that towers above all the others: “Kashmir.” The middle-eastern keyboard motifs, the ascending guitar riff, and a perfectly timed drum march provide a platform for Plant to channel one of his greatest vocals. By the time the song reaches its tsunami point, the singer takes the breath of a pearl diver and lets out a sustained howl that lasts long after the musical wave has ebbed. Behind the four men, monolithic pillars rise up on the video screen to thrilling effect.
The encores of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock ’n’ Roll” don’t quite scale the heights of “Kashmir,” but they’re rousing all the same. The two hour concert ends with what is surely the most furious drumfill of Jason Bonham’s life at the end of “Rock ’n’ Roll.” Jason looks up at the heavens and salutes his father, John, and thumps his heart with his fist.
A DVD/CD of Celebration Day will be released in November (the Deluxe Edition will include footage of the dress rehearsal gig at Shepperton studios) but even a good TV screen can't match the big screen experience. For details on cinema screenings, visit Led Zeppelin.com.
Celebration Day seals Led Zeppelin’s legacy as the world’s greatest rock band. See it, and hear it, for yourself.Can’t get enough Zeppelin? Check out what we have up for grabs in the Marketplace.
- Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit Streaming Live This Weekend
- Paul Stanley Responds To Steven Tyler’s KISS Dis