Five years after the event and the film of Led Zeppelin’s October 7, 2007 reunion at London’s O2 Stadium is finally here…the DVD will be available in November. Was it worth the wait? Can Plant hit those high notes? Does Jason Bonham fill his daddy’s shoes, Was Jimmy Page sober? And how about that John Paul Jones? These, and other life-altering questions can finally be answered.
If you weren’t one of the lucky ones to have witnessed this show live, chances are you’ve seen and heard at least some of it on YouTube. But with five years for Mr. Page to work on the mix and with the directing abilities of Dick Carruthers in evidence, I still highly recommend seeing Celebration Day whether you’re a hard-core fan or if you just like singing along to Stairway To Heaven.
First of all, the sound of the film/DVD is awesome. I saw it in a cinema and I almost felt like I was at the O2…it just could have used some more volume, but I can rectify that problem at home with the DVD. The band fairly explodes out of the gate with Good Times Bad Times…Bonham’s drums leading the charge. No, Jason doesn’t quite have his father’s power and feel, but who does? He performs well and never lets the team down.
It’s actually Page who takes a bit of time to warm up. He sounds out of sync on the first song, but fortunately locks in with the rest of the band by Ramble On, which comes next. For me, Page was always going to be the loose cannon here. I witnessed Led Zeppelin’s first reunion with Jason back in 1988 at Madison Square Garden and Page was all but incapacitated due to drugs and/or alcohol. Very disappointing. But here he is a revelation. He’s smiling, he’s obviously digging the music, the moment and his fellow band mates. His facial expressions, the grimaces are classic. My favourite Page moment comes during Dazed And Confused when he grandly grabs the violin bow for the guitar solo. The solo itself is something of an anti-climax, but who cares?
Plant, on the other hand is in impeccable form. Of course a few of the tunes are taken down a tone or so to adjust for his aging voice, but other than that, this is a top notch performance. He is best during Kashmir, growling and grunting through the tune like a bluesman possessed. His interactions with Page are priceless. The two old pros square off, facing each other, urging each other on and loving every minute.
John Paul Jones is rock steady on bass, but his shining moment comes when he gets behind the electric piano for the funky intro to Trampled Underfoot. His ghostly playing on No Quarter is pretty special as well.
Bonham’s high point comes late I the set when he sings along with Plant on Misty Mountain Hop. He’s grinning from ear to ear and never drops a beat.
For many folks the high point would be the inevitable Stairway To Heaven. For me, it was something of a let-down. Page’s solo never quite gets off the ground (this was a case back in the 70s as well) and it turned the tune into a rare disappointment during the show. I did notice one other creaky moment…when the band returned for their first encore with Whole Lotta Love. Again, it seemed to take Page some time to get in the groove. Fortunately the second encore, Rock & Roll, rocked as it should.
A word about the look of the film. I believe about a dozen cameras were used and they seemed to capture all the action, particularly in interaction between the band members. Director Dick Carruthers employed several cameramen to shoot super 8 film from the audience for a “bootleg” look. These grainy, shaky shots were used sparingly throughout the film. Usually these type of shots end up looking tacky, but in this case they helped the viewer feel like they were right in the crowd.
So, ignore all the talk about Jimmy Page playing like crap or Robert Plant sounding old and worn. The resulting film (and who knows how much work was done to get it to sound this good) is a fantastic document of one of THE greatest rock & roll bands to ever take the stage. They may not be at their prime here, but it’s pretty darn close to it.
Just make sure to listen to it loudly!!