Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening Rocks Auckland Town Hall, 16 April 2023

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience creates a worm hole of time where we can experience all the thunder and glory days of one of the greatest and most loved rock’n’roll bands in history.

I have never understood why so many genuine fans of popular music turn their noses up at tribute bands. I think they are a guilty pleasure personally, and for many others who turn up and sell out these shows.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin EveningJason Bonham explains. Just imagine you are back in time in the present moment. Perfectly correct, and the near-capacity audience already have this in their heart. They sing the songs from start to finish. Even the slow ones.

They open to the banshee wail of Immigrant Song. Instantly recognisable and eternally thrilling. The hammer of the Gods will drive our ships to new lands. Viking imagery and Lord of the Rings fantasy worlds.

The Great Hall is the best venue in the country for the cavernous underground cathedral drum sound, and Bonham hits that sweet spot and stays there all evening.

They close with Rock’n’Roll.

Elvis put it most succinctly. Rock’n’roll music is basically gospel and rhythm’n’blues. Led Zeppelin are a pinnacle of the evolution of white charismatic Pentecostal church music. Which Elvis attended whilst also sneaking into the Black gospel-singing churches.

The high tenor keening vocals are also a throw-back to doo-wop. Been a long time since I did the Stroll. It all comes back to the church. The gospel yodel is the leap to falsetto. The blue yodel is contained in the moans of Howling Wolf and the spooky voices of Tommy Johnson (Cool Drink of Water) and King Solomon Hill (The Gone Dead Train).

There you have it. Go home.

But what happens in between? Yeah, what else happens?

Jason Bonham is a great drummer and very busy musician in his own right, besides being the son of Bonzo. He has played the music of Zeppelin in various groupings and guises since about 1998. Earlier than that, he does appear in the movie Song Remains the Same.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin EveningThe guitar chair is taken by the extraordinary Jimmy Sakurai, a Japanese Jimmy Page impersonator before being drafted into this band about five years ago. He resembles Page physically. He reproduces all the chops.

Singer James Dylan has been there from the outset of the Experience. He can achieve that level of intensity in the voice that Robert Plant had but can no longer do. At the great Led Zeppelin forty-year reunion concert at the O2 stadium in London 2007, Plant had the band play an octave lower.

Dorian Heartsong plays bass and mandolin. Alex Howland plays keyboards and guitar. It takes two people to replace John Paul Jones.

The breadth of musical styles in their oeuvre is stunning.

They can transform the blues as if by alchemy. When The Levee Breaks is Memphis Minnie on the astral plain. The thunderous echoing drums are present, a signature sound. Followed by crunching mega-riff drone patterns.

Eastern influences abound in Zeppelin music. There is Kashmir with its monolithic orchestral opening riffs.

Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin EveningThat influence is right there in many of their pastoral folk tunes. The one they play tonight is Going to California. Heartsong sits down with a mandolin and Sakurai with an acoustic guitar. Dylan gets a chance to sing quietly. Bonham takes a break.

What Is and What Should Never Be is classic blues in shades of light and dark.

Thank You is a folk song magnified with the intensity of heavy cerebral rock. The twin-necked guitar comes out for the first time. There is the 12-string on it.

It also features on Stairway to Heaven, about the lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold. The drums kick in just before the bustle in your hedgerow line. Part of what makes Plant want to disown the lyrics he wrote. The many voices on the song are also carries by the guitar and there does not appear to be any hint of disgrace or embarrassment tonight.

Whole Lotta Love. Let’s address this business of plagiarism, which dogs the music of Zeppelin to this day. The song is an expansion of a great Willie Dixon song, You Need Love, performed first by Muddy Waters. The band take the basic song and transform it into something much bigger.

All art is theft. Talent borrows, genius steals. The blues artists always borrow from a common pool of sounds and words. It is how you stamp your individuality on them and make them your own. Go ask Dylan, and then check out the mash-up of Whole Lotta Love and James Brown’s Sex Machine on YouTube. I rest my case.

Repeated low register fuzz-tone guitar riffs matched to a voice of freakish intensity. I stole that from arch-critic Robert Christgau.

The Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience was magnificent legendary music of timeless beauty for two hours and ten minutes.

Rev Orange Peel  

Click any icon to view a full gallery of the show. All photos by Leonie Moreland.

Set List: 

  1. Immigrant Song
  2. Good Time Bad Times
  3. Over the Hills and Far Away
  4. What Is and What Should Never Be
  5. Ramble on
  6. When the Levee Breaks
  7. Thank You
  8. Going To California
  9. Since I’ve Been Loving You
  10. No Quarter
  11. The Ocean
  12. Fool in the Rain
  13. Misty Mountain Hop
  14. Trampled Underfoot
  15. Kashmir
  16. Stairway to Heaven
  17. Whole Lotta Love
  18. Rock’n’Roll