After devouring Barney Hoskyns’ recent Zeppelin tome ‘Trampled Underfoot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin’ with its from the horses mouth telling of the egos, paranoia and addictions that overwhelmed the band’s collective musical and spiritual being it was a relief to see them in such vital musical form in Celebration Day.
After all the hoopla and press appreciation it was finally over to the fans last night. Those who had seen the band in their formative years in the clubs and theatres, the massive run at Earl’s Court, the outdoor [first] farewell at Knebworth or the lucky so and so’s who were at this momentous comeback and those of us unable to see them in the flesh by dint of birth, geography or ballot system – Zeppelin fans; both the grey and the green, the great and the good, we were all at the cinema to smile together and see the three surviving members of the band – augmented by the late John Bonham’s son Jason – cap the band’s legacy with two intense hours of celebratory performance that finally threw off the yoke of past debacles such as Live Aid and Atlantic Records’ 40th Birthday
Boy, did they deliver on that night nearly five years ago. After that Tampa news item describes how Zeppelin had beaten the Beatles’ attendance record it was straight into the most awe inspiring drum pattern Bonham ever committed to tape: Good Times, Bad Times with Jason playing the drums not the occasion, to coin a phrase. Page tears into the solo but doesn’t hang around long – everything is done with such gusto while the numerous cameras capture the smiles and signals for all to see. Next, the never performed in it’s entirety, Ramble On by-passes any worries one might have about Plant circumventing those old hippie, by way of Tolkien, lyrics. At this point at our screening the staff finally twigged that it was a concert film and altered the volume accordingly. It got LOUD.
Black Dog is imperious and Page sheds his coat and shades for the crackling In My Time Of Dying which has rarely, if ever, sounded better. As a measure of how seriously they took this show playing a track they’ve never performed before and that is never included on compilations is a pretty good one. For Your Life is thunderous with that descending riff and Plant’s refrain of “don’t you want c-c-co-cocaine?” all present and correct. You begin to realise how hungry they are, like a band starting out rather than one where the members are close to drawing their pension. At this point Jonesy gets behind the keyboards for a funky Trampled Underfoot. Introduced by Plant with reference to its inspiration in Terraplane Blues the song sees the first hint of extended arrangements and improvisation between the instrumentalists but it’s brief and succinct; not the 15 minutes of the mid-seventies and the better for it. The same goes for the dry ice augmented No Quarter, still a wonderfully spooky and atmospheric song. In between, Nobody’s Fault But Mine is flawless with Jimmy’s guitar sounding absolutely God-sized.
Since I’ve Been Loving is short and a little lacking in the guitar and vocal pyrotechnics of old – Plant’s voice feeling somewhat exposed. Page comes a cropper on the solo to Stairway, the song everyone wondered whether Plant would do but he did faithfully. “There are some songs we have to play when we get together and this is one of ’em: Dazed and Confused.” Jimmy’s old solo spot is still long but again, is pared down to the essentials. Of course, in this instance that still means the violin bow shooting shards of carnal electricity through the air whilst Page is enveloped in a pyramid of lasers. It’s immense.
Throughout the film the sound and visuals are immaculate much, much better than my other boots showing you were the time went mixing the recordings. In a nod to 2003’s DVD there are cuts to grainy ‘fan’ footage mimicking the Super-8 shots from Madison Square Garden 1973 – a nice touch. Generally though the film focuses tightly on the stage – we’re spared clapping celebs and hangers-on and by this stage feet are stomping in the cinema and every song is applauded as if it was happening live.
The best was yet to come though after a sprightly Song Remains The Same the dusty edifice of Kashmir emerged sounding to all like the intoxicating juggernaut it is. Page assaults his guitar drenched in sweat from the effort while Bonham holds the whole thing down admirably. The end of the song marks the end of the main gig before the encores. Whole Lotta Love sees Jimmy back on the theremin and nailing the solo in what must be the most concise and hard-hitting version they’ve ever mustered before a valedictory run through Rock and Roll where Jason poignantly takes the final spotlight and the final say on the reunion in the name of his departed dad.
With that, the monkey is once and for all off their collective back. No-one could have asked for more (other than actually being there!) and no-one can be surprised if that is in fact, it for Page, Plant and Jones together as Led Zeppelin. What a finale to a gripping career. You did it, gents!