I admit I never wanted to see an over-the-hill Zeppelin because prime Zeppelin always meant so much to me. I kept afar of any footage from the 2007 reunion show with John Bonham’s son Jason filling in on drums, but now it’s out on film and in all sorts of take-home formats including the 2DVD/2CD package I just had to check out. I’m so happy I did.
The main thing going for Celebration Day is the sound. Led Zeppelin may not look like the rock gods of yore, but they sound amazing, and the sound of these discs is clear, deep, and punchy. Zep Fan’s main reason not to be interested in Celebration Day is Zeppelin’s 2003 double live CD set How the West Was Won and the associated eponymous dual-DVD that immediately became the definitive video document of the band during its 1970s glory decade. But nothing on either is sonically close to Celebration Day’s state-of-the art sparkle. These audio CDs alone are essential listening for anyone hooked on sonics. The video is crystal clear, which isn’t the most important thing when viewing an aging band, but the presentation is appropriate. There are a few trippy effects but nothing over the top. It’s all about the music.
Celebration Day’s set list is intriguing. First off, it is one set recorded on one night in December of 2007 at London’s O2 Arena. The band clearly becomes increasingly comfortable as it shakes off the rust and gets into its groove in real time as the show progresses. It’s fun to watch them having more and more fun. There are zero acoustic songs, which is a shame since the acoustic side of Page’s guitar playing is almost as interesting as his electric side, and you’d figure that a “mature” band would relish the opportunity to cover some of its campfire classics. Instead, they charge headlong into the heavy, heady stuff.
Celebration Day kicks off with two tunes that aren’t on the 2003 releases—“Good Times, Bad Times,” and “Ramble On”—and it includes what Plant calls “our first public adventure” playing “For Your Life,” which was originally the second track on Presence in 1976. “Good Times, Bad Times” is musically amazing, especially John Paul Jones’ hyped up James Jamerson-style bass line, and Page’s watery guitar solo. Plant’s voice starts off a bit shaky, especially in the lower register, but it begins to loosen up on “Ramble On.” Page’s Les Paul sounds particularly edgy on the chorus “chunks.” Perhaps that can be attributed to the Orange amps sitting alongside his trusty Marshalls. Page pulls out a Bigsby-equipped Black Beauty to cop the whammy licks on “For Your Life,” and he makes it sound as good as it looks with its gold hardware glimmering.
In addition to classic effects and antics including Theremin and bow, Page whoops out some updated gear including a trippy, octave-up pitch-shift effect that he manipulates with his actual foot Whammy-style while playing the solo on “Trampled Under Foot.” Wild. Page plays his TransPerformance Les Paul on “Whole Lotta Love” using its ability to change tunings in real time to create moments of string-sational disorientation. Whoa! “In My Time of Dying” and “Kashmir” are interesting because Page doesn’t don a Danelectro to play them as he did back in the day. On “In My Time,” Page slides around on a huge Gibson hollowbody, which of course sounds way thicker than a Dano, even if the hollowbody falls so out of tune by the end of the 11-minute performance that the instrument itself sounds as if it might be dying. Page conjures “Kashmir” on a Paul, and it proves to be whole show’s coup de grace—a thunderous performance of an epic composition driven by Jason Bonham’s unbridled energy.
The “bonus” DVD is primarily rehearsal footage of Led Zeppelin getting its act together for the O2 show. It’s weird. There’s no footage of the bandmembers actually figuring out what to do or how to do it, which would have been insightful. Instead, it’s simply the show without a crowd, which is just kind of creepy. However, the dress rehearsal footage does demonstrate just how well prepared Led Zeppelin was for this gig. They certainly did not take it lightly.
Celebration Day is Jason Bonham’s dream realized. He pays proud tribute to his father, and it’s just too cool that John Bonham’s kid can handle rock’s heaviest gig. John Paul Jones is truly remarkable. His presence on bass and keyboards makes the case clear that no Page/Plant affair is even close to a Zeppelin reunion without him. Plant has the hardest job. His body is his instrument, and human bodies simply don’t sound better with advanced age like a vintage Les Paul. That said, he still sounds damn good and looks cool for a cat that has been around the block so many times. As for Jimmy Page, the sonic wizard’s dark hair may have lightened 50 shades, but his lightning chops, heavy hand, and magical tones have not diminished. Play on Page the White! —Jimmy Leslie