Matt Blackett: Movie Review—Led Zeppelin Celebration Day

November 15, 2012
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I caught the new Led Zeppelin concert film, Celebration Day, on the big screen last night. For those of you who don’t have time to read the whole review, here’s the upshot: It rules. Shot at London’s 02 arena at the late-2007 tribute show for Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, the film features Page, Plant, and JPJ along with Jason Bonham on drums tearing through a 2-hour plus set. The theater screen was huge and the sound, after about three tunes, was loud and clear. Although the crowd wasn’t huge, it was very enthusiastic, with people clapping and screaming after every tune—very cool. Here’s what all the excitement was about.

They opened with “Good Times Bad Times” and sounded great—heavy and grooving hard. Jimmy Page had a curiously effected tone, with lots of chorus/flange on it. It was a little odd but an undeniably huge sound. They followed with “Ramble On” and it was really cool to see how Page picks and chooses from the various layers that are on the original. This one could have used a little more low end on the overall mix, because John Paul Jones bass line is one of the all-time greats.

Most of the tunes weren’t surprising. Of course they’ve gotta play “Stairway,” “Rock and Roll,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Black Dog.” They did, and they killed them all, with each guy sounding (and looking) great.  There were, however, a couple of curveballs in the set. The band played, for the very first time ever, “For Your Life,” off Presence. That’s just an awesome tune and they did a brilliant job on it. Page rocked a Bigsby-equipped Black Beauty in order to cop the song’s crazy whammy work. I had always thought—erroneously, apparently—that the studio version was Page’s blue Strat. Seeing this performance, though, I’m thinking it had to be the Bigsby-fied Les Paul, because the tone was absolutely perfect. Another surprise was “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” which sounded amazing.

So, was there anything that wasn’t amazing? Well...kind of. Pagey’s ES-350 went wildly out of tune about midway through “In My Time of Dying,” and that got a little painful. Some of the noisier aspects of tunes like “Dazed and Confused” went on way too long. JP’s incessant gum chomping was also very distracting. Did he get a Big Red endorsement or something? To see the high priest of classic rock chewing his cud like a four-stomached ruminant through the soundtrack to my adolescence mauled the buzz that I will neither confirm nor deny catching prior to the show.  And, even though his whole pedalboard was way too modern-looking and anachronistic, almost all the tones that it produced (into a righteous rig of two plexis, four Oranges, and two Petersberg JP-100s) sounded big, huge, and Zeppelin-y (the aforementioned chorus notwithstanding). The thing that bugged me about his pedalboard was the presence of two freaking Whammy pedals. Those sounded out of place and just plain wrong. But even when he was playing a screechy, octave-up line through the Whammy pedal, he’s still unstoppably cool and funky. He’s still Jimmy Page. He can still do whatever the hell he wants.

Alright, ready for the coolest moments? I loved seeing Jimmy play his TransPerformance Les Paul on “Whole Lotta Love,” hitting the buttons to change tunings in real time. “Misty Mountain Hop” was damn near perfect, with Jason Bonham on killer backup vocals. (And speaking of Jason Bonham, I’ve gotta say that he laid it down the whole show, displaying impressive chops and good listening skills, nailing a bunch of accents with Page and Jones that really tied the tunes together. The main difference for me between Jason and his old man is I don’t get the same sense of danger from the younger Bonham. I just enjoy Zeppelin tunes more when I feel like the drummer could start a fight, commit a crime, or just explode at any moment. But that’s just me. JB played a great gig.)  Although it’s never been one of my favorites, “Trampled Under Foot” was incredible. But the coolest tune of the night, and that would place it high in the running for the coolest tune of all time, had to be “Kashmir.” It’s hard to imagine a song being heavier, tighter, groovier, or more powerful than this. And, on a night packed with great tones, this was Page’s best tone. It would be impossible to top, and they didn’t top it with the encores, “Whole Lotta Love” and Rock and Roll,” but those songs still kicked major ass.

The fact is, this performance is an amazing feat no matter how you slice it. Simply mind-boggling from a bunch of guys that have been doing it since the ’60s. We can all learn from this movie. Bravo.

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