Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Well, you had to be there of course, but not many of us could be.  One time only, at the O2 Arena in London, December 10, 2007.  It was the reunion everyone had hoped for, with the only drummer that made sense, Jason Bonham, son of the late Bonzo.  Could it be anything but brilliant?  It had to be, they couldn't go down in flames, it was a matter of pride.  These cocky old soldiers were probably never worried about it, they just knew it was only a matter of practice, and getting young Jason up to snuff.  It wouldn't be a rush job, like the flat performance at Live Aid, with Phil Collins sitting in.  This was about legacy; it counted.

It came off so well, that everybody but Robert Plant was up for more.  Plant scotched that, quite rightly as it turned out, since he's had a rich and rejuvenated career since, making the best solo albums of his life.  So this becomes, quite possibly, the final word on the group, other than whatever out-takes and live shows will trickle out later.  It is a fitting and fine ending, if that's what it's to be.  They go out with pride, aging gracefully, sounding strong.

Time has treated them all well, and perhaps they learned to treat their bodies better after John Bonham's death.  The first thing you notice on the video is just how healthy and youthful they seem.  This is confirmed with the first notes, an almost effortless lift-off into Good Times Bad Times.  Now, there won't be any athleticism here, aside from younger Jason's pounding, they aren't doing Springsteen races on the stage.  It's all about the famous material, and the powerful way this combo delivers it. Even with Jason on board, the songs remain the same.

Well, not quite of course.  Plant can't reach the higher range, and saves his voice instead of ripping those famous roars.  This means Black Dog's "gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove" descends the scale rather than going into falsetto.  Page still spits out the best full-bodied chords in the business, but his solos weren't special.  Bonham performed well, added some great vocals, but kept it safe.  The opening salvo of Good Times Bad Times, Ramble On, and Black Dog is a good re-introduction to their power, and then they settle in for some haunted blues, referencing the group's influences from the Mississippi Delta, with In My Time Of Dying, Trampled Under Foot, and Nobody's Fault But Mine.

Just when things start to drift a little, it's time for the hits, and the last 45 minutes is where it all comes back, and you realize just how much power they could tap into.  Dazed And Confused ups the intensity dramatically, then they pull out their most famous number, Stairway To Heaven.  It's a funny song, in that has proven disappointing live in the past, and requires a dramatic flair to make it truly work to its potential.  They don't really go for it, none of the shrieking vocals or guitar whoops that would take it to that peak, but it has to be done.  By moving it to a surprisingly early place in the show, it works to keep the momentum going.  The dramatic excitement is left to favourites Misty Mountain Hop, and best of the night, Kashmir.  One major change since the band's 70's heyday has been the keyboards and sound quality available, so John Paul Jones' huge synth stabs really make this a momentous number. 

The encores are a relief to all.  By now Bonham especially knows it's been a triumph, as does the audience, so everyone can relax and enjoy two warhorses, Whole Lotta Love and Rock And Roll.  Honestly, it would have been great to have this energy right through the show, and maybe the set list could have used some tweaking to liven the pace in the middle.  But as an event, a one-off, you have to embrace the good, and hope there's not much bad.  It's all good, some great, and it's going to make any fan happy.

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