Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

Synopsis: On December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin took the stage at London’s O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for dear friend and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. What followed was a two-hour-plus tour de force of the band’s signature blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll that instantly became part of the legend of Led Zeppelin. Founding members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were joined by Jason Bonham, the son of their late drummer John Bonham, to perform 16 songs from their celebrated catalog including landmark tracks “Whole Lotta Love,” “Rock And Roll,” “Kashmir,” and “Stairway To Heaven.” Although 20 million people applied for tickets, the band’s first headline show in 27 years was seen only by the 18,000 ticket holders who were fortunate enough to have secured seats through the worldwide lottery.

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day 8.25

eyelights: Kashmir. In My Time of Dying.
eyesores: John Paul Jones’ keyboard solos.

I was a late bloomer with regards to Led Zeppelin. By the time that I was properly introduced to them, almost everyone I knew already had an opinion, or had picked a camp. But not I. I wasn’t even remotely interested in Led Zep.

That is, until I got a crush on a girl who was a big Zeppelin fan. Of course. (What can I say? I’m a big cliché!)

Then I gave it the ol’ college try. But it was a hard road traveled. At first, I couldn’t handle their music one bit – it was too heavy and/or screechy for my taste. But when I got a hold of their third album, I fell in love with Robert Plant’s opening wail. That helped things along, and their third album is still my favourite to this day.

It’s during that time that I also became aware of Dread Zeppelin, and picked up their first album (on cassette, no less!). Initially, the point was to take the piss out of Led Zep. But I eventually couldn’t stop playing it (their version of ‘Immigrant Song’ alone made it worth the listen – it’s such a hilarious version! Elvis must have been spinning in his grave!).

In the end, with enough exposure to Dread Zep’s bastardizations of the original tunes, I started to warm up to Led Zep’s songcraft. Soon, curious enough that I had compared these reggae mock-rockers to the masters, I was able to appreciate a few Led Zeppelin albums – notably, album II to IV.

That’s when I decided to pick up the Led Zeppelin studio albums boxed set. It was on sale, and I decided that exploring their whole catalogue would be the best way to truly get a sense of the band’s creative output. I got properly hooked then, and proceeded to getting all of Robert Plant’s solo material as well.

Flash forward fifteen years to 2007.

A special announcement was made: Led Zeppelin would headline a special tribute concert for Atlantic Records’ defunct Ahmet Ertegun. It seemed incredible after all these years, after countless unfounded rumours, and even a couple of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page projects that purposely kept John Paul Jones out of the loop.

But it was happening. Finally, it was true.

It was insane. The anticipation building around the reformation of one of rock’s most legendary bands -and for one night only- had fans around the world scrambling to get tickets. People were paying unreasonable amounts of money just to snatch up admission to what would be a dream come true, radio stations were holding massive contests, the buzz was gigantic.

I knew there was no way that I could see this show: even if I was willing to go all the way to London, I couldn’t afford the price. But I comforted myself with the thought that I would no doubt soon be able to see it on DVD – because such a momentous event would never go undocumented; there is too much money at stake for this to just fizzle out and be forgotten.

But it took five whole years. Five looooooooong years. I’m not even the biggest Led Zeppelin fan (give me ’70s Black Sabbath or MKII Deep Purple any day over Zeppelin!). But it felt like an endless wait. Especially since, from all accounts, they had delivered: Led Zep had given the audience a memorable show that night. Urgh…

So when they held a press conference in September to announce that the concert would FINALLY be released, and on multiple formats at that, I was one eager little puppy. The anticipation had built for far too long. And it was, by then, quite clear that this had been the last Led Zeppelin reunion: Robert Plant had no interest in doing more shows, and confided that his interests now lay elsewhere, in other genres of music.

I had to have this. I had to see this show once and for all. And, when it was released, I bought it. I bought it on Blu-ray Audio disc first, confirmed that it sounded amazing, then picked up the deluxe set, and even bought one for a close friend of mine (we were both celebrating landmark moments in our lives and, given that this Led Zep release was called ‘Celebration Day’, it seemed perfectly fitting).

Everything that fans had been saying is true: Led Zeppelin rocked the 02 Arena. They truly delivered.

Granted, Robert Plant’s voice isn’t what it used to be – but he knew his limitations and he didn’t wander outside his boundaries. Sure, Jimmy Page looked ancient and sometimes seemed to be hauling the guitar instead of holding it, but he still could perform without too much effort. And, yes, John Paul Jones remained the weak link, but he had a lot more stage presence than he did back in the day. And Jason Bonham, son of the original drummer? He filled his dad’s shoes as best as anyone could have – even if he couldn’t replace his dearly departed dad.

It was as good as one could expect Led Zeppelin to be in 2007, almost 40 years after their formation. These guys were aged, but they could still rock.

In fact, my buddy, who is a much more keen-eared rock fan than I, was wholesale impressed with the performance. Half the time he kept turning to me to express his astonishment at how much these guys rocked. He was even more impressed when I told him that it was just one performance – not a series of shows that were smoothly edited together after a lot of cherry-picking. This happens a lot with concert documentaries, but it wasn.t the case here – these guys nailed it on the first -and only- try (after a few weeks of private practice, of course).

It was enough to rekindle our interest in Zeppelin. Both us knew that we would immediately thereafter dust off our old Led Zep recordings and immerse ourselves in their amazingly rich, textured and raucous creations. ‘Celebration Day’ may not serve up the Led Zeppelin of old, the young, cocky and vibrant four-piece that took the world by storm, but it offered fans the perfect swan song – the ideal final bow by one of the world’s most cherished act. It was, finally, not just a tribute to Ahmet, but a parting gift that will always fondly be remembered.

Date of viewing: November 26, 2012

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