These are strange times. It used to be that when a band broke up, you could no longer see them live. These days, however, it seems every rock band that has ever existed, from the biggest names in rock to the most obscure of punk groups, is back on the road. Outside of a few, poorly-executed one-offs, 70s hard rock giants Led Zeppelin are on the short list of bands who have not taken the big paycheck to put on a reunion tour, thus when word spread in 2007 they would take the stage at London’s 02 Arena to headline a tribute concert for legendary Atlantic Records’ founder Ahmet Ertegun, it was greeted as the second coming and set the stage for a full-fledged reunion tour.
The dead have risen from their graves.
The concert itself was received rapturously. Everyone from classic rock royalty to the band’s old nemesis, Rolling Stone, proclaimed its greatness. The masses awaited for tickets to go on sale, credit cards in hand, bedecked in new-vintage Urban Outfitters 1977 tour shirts. And then the greatest rock n’ roll reunion tour of all time didn’t happen. Singer Robert Plant went on tour with Allison Krauss, bassist John Paul Jones formed a new band with Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and guitarist Jimmy Page did a movie with Jack White. Five years later, a suitably mysterious countdown clock on the Led Zeppelin website and Facebook page built up anticipation once again that the band were finally announcing the release of Celebration Day, the concert film of the band’s 2007 performance.
Despite the promotional hype, the movie is a pure and seemingly unadorned document of their performance on December 10th, 2007. It begins as the concert began, with grainy 1973 local news footage of their record breaking performance in Tampa, Florida followed by the opening blast of “Good Times, Bad Times,” symbolically chosen to start the set because, as Led Zep acolytes will note, that is the very first song off their very first album, Led Zeppelin. What follows is two hours plus of the band tearing into the cream of their catalog, with a couple of deep cuts thrown in for good measure. The live debut of “For Your Life,” off their 1976 album Presence, is particularly good, with Page getting out there with the Bigsby vibrato on one of his signature model guitars. The songs have been lowered in pitch to accommodate Robert Plant’s lower vocal range, and while neither his and nor Page’s virtuosity can match their ’70s peak, the size and scope of their performances are impressive when you consider it’s just four of them up there on stage creating these huge, sonic epics.
The band appear to be truly relishing playing together, even Plant, who has become rather diffident on the Zeppelin’s legacy in recent years. Jason Bonham respectably fills his father’s chair with energy and enthusiasm, though it’s impossible to replace him completely considering you’re talking about perhaps the greatest hard rock drummer in history. John Paul Jones solidifies his place as rock’s ultimate utility player, jumping from bass to keyboards, perfectly playing whatever the song needs. All in all, though, it’s really Jimmy Page’s show, and a real treat for guitar fans. With his hair now fully white –in proper wizardly fashion!– he pulls out one vintage Gibson guitar after another throughout the course of the movie and let’s fly. He flubs a chord here and there and is as wonderfully sloppy as ever, but perfection was never what made him great to begin with. The quality of the filming is so clear you can see every ding and dent on the surface of his 1959 Les Paul, arguably the most famous guitar in rock.
Not only is Celebration Day the closest you’ll ever probably get to seeing a Led Zeppelin reunion, its the closet you’ll ever get to sitting on stage with the band itself. It’s a shame that our collective hunger for a Zeppelin reunion tour hangs over the movie because the film is a triumph, reminding one of everything great about the band, to paraphrase Jimmy Page himself, their power, mystery, and the hammer of the Gods.
Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day is showing in theaters nationwide today, October 17, and tomorrow, October 18; check FathomEvents.com for a showtime near you.
[Images: Getty Images, LedZeppelin.com]