Monday, 27 January 2014

Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day 2007-12-10 (Live Concert December 10, 2007)

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On December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin took the stage at London's O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for dear friend and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. What followed was a two-hour-plus tour de force of the band's signature blues-infused rock 'n' roll that instantly became part of the legend of Led Zeppelin. Founding members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were joined by Jason Bonham, the son of their late drummer John Bonham, to perform 16 songs from their celebrated catalog including landmark tracks "Whole Lotta Love," "Rock And Roll," "Kashmir," and "Stairway To Heaven." Although 20 million people applied for tickets, the band's first headline show in 27 years was seen only by the 18,000 ticket holders who were fortunate enough to have secured seats through the worldwide lottery. 

For someone who wasn’t fortunate enough to even be alive during Led Zeppelin’s powerful musical reign, seeing a film like Celebration Day certainly was a treat. Taken from the band’s one-off charity reunion show on December 10th, 2007 at London’s O2 Arena, this show saw the band really step it up, trying (and succeeding) to impress. In the five years since, bootlegs of the band’s rehearsals leading up to the show leaked online and you can find the rehearsal tape for Whole Lotta Love here.

Packed into a theater full of die-hard fans sporting Zeppelin apparel, everyone, especially those who hadn’t yet witnessed the live power of Led Zeppelin, was excited to finally see what the band has spent the last few months hyping up. The film began without any trailers as the theater darkened to the sound of a rabid crowd cheering. Suddenly, the screen lit up into the image of a massive projected television set sporting a video taken from a news report covering a Led Zeppelin show in Tampa, Florida. The news report introduced the band as they walked onstage to the roaring approval of the members of the crowd both at the O2 Arena as well as in the theater.

The band then began their hit-filled two hour set with Good Times, Bad Times, which had a much heavier feel to it with John Bonham’s son Jason sitting behind the kit. Everyone in the band was spot-on, excited to be there, and very energetic, especially Jimmy Page, who was drenched in sweat within two minutes of the first song. Segueing straight into Ramble On, all of Led Zeppelin was ready for a show. Throughout the entire set, Jimmy Page pulled out solos left and right, disproving anyone who had a thought that his age restricted him from nailing any solo thrown at him.

The turning point in the film came when John Paul Jones broke out the eery opening notes of Dazed and Confused, which eventually led into a full-on attacking solo from Jimmy Page that kept everyone’s eyes glued to the screen, watching his fingers perform intricate and seemingly effortless fretwork (although when the camera panned to his face, it seemed otherwise). It was then that Page pulled out the double-neck Gibson guitar which could only mean one thing: Stairway to Heaven. As Robert Plant stepped to the mic to sing the opening notes of the legendary ballad, everyone in the theater seemed to straighten and wake up, some even piping up and singing along with Plant. When the time came for Page’s solo, everyone was rocking in their seat. The band then concluded their main set with the epic Kashmir, which, once again, showed the pure talent of the group. From John Paul Jones’ flawless keyboard work to Robert Plant’s vocals, everything was spot-on, giving the feel that the band was still very much in their prime.

After returning to the stage for Whole Lotta Love, the film came to an end with a second encore of Rock and Roll. Throughout the entire film, Jason Bonham showed that he has what it takes to play his father’s role in the band and the show-concluding drum solo undoubtedly proved his worthy, leaving many in the theater smiling with no idea what other reaction to have and almost everybody in awe.

Celebration Day is a film that really exemplifies how Led Zeppelin will permanently have a place in the hearts of fans and always remain a rock and roll cornerstone. The film takes the opportunity to remind everybody that Zeppelin was, and always will be, one of the greatest groups that rock and roll has ever seen and that time will never hinder their pure power. Throughout the entire movie, people found themselves unconsciously tapping their foot to the beat, bobbing their head, or mouthing the words with Robert Plant as his shrill vocals cut through the surround sound speakers, hitting every note almost perfectly and leaving all in attendance with a smile on their face. So is Celebration Day worth seeing? Most definitely. No, it won’t be a life-altering experience, but it’s probably going to be the closest thing to seeing Led Zeppelin live in concert that you’re going to get. [Reviewer Unknown]

December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin played one the of the most anticipated concerts ever, at London's O2 Arena. Reportedly there were over 20 million requests for the 16,000 tickets, and the audience came from all over the world. The band have sold over 200 million records since their debut in 1969, and that number will just continue to rise. I mention these numbers to emphasize just how big an event this performance was.

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The set-list has been available since the night of the show, and there have been numerous cell-phone bootleg videos of the concert posted online as well. But none of this comes close to preparing us for just how brilliant the band were that night, as captured on the newly released DVD/CD package Celebration Day.

When Led Zeppelin's drummer John Bonham died of alcohol poisoning in 1980, Jimmy Page (guitar), Robert Plant (vocals), and John Paul Jones (bass) decided to call it quits rather than attempt to carry on without him. Before the O2 concert Led Zeppelin had played a few songs at both Live Aid and at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Neither performance was considered especially noteworthy though. At Live Aid, they had Phil Collins and Tony Thompson play drums, and for the Hall of Fame stint, they asked Bonham's son Jason Bonham to sit in.

It was with Jason Bonham in the drum chair that they performed the London concert, and he did an admirable job in filling in for his father. In fact, after six weeks of rehearsals, the whole band were absolutely on fire. They performed 16 songs that night, including the encores.

The concert opens with "Good Times, Bad Times," which just happened to be the first song on their 1969 self-titled debut. It sets the tone for the night perfectly, and also is a subtle display of the genius of the band in when it comes to structuring a set. As the set continues, one realizes that their talent for pacing remains perfectly intact.

"Good Times, Bad Times," is followed by "Ramble On," and "Black Dog," before Robert Plant addresses the audience with his trademark "Good evening." With this three-song introduction of classic Zeppelin tunes, the band and the audience have crossed over whatever initial trepidation surrounding the big night that may have existed. True to form, it is at this point that the group choose to up the ante.

The fourth song is "In My Time of Dying" from the Physical Graffiti album, and it is an awe-inspiring display of musical talent. The studio version clocked in at 11:04, and was one of the most intense tracks on that sprawling masterpiece. Thirty-two years later, Led Zeppelin's courage of conviction regarding their music is unwavering, and the live version runs 11:01. Zep could have easily played a two-hour set with nothing but sure-fire crowd pleasers, but they chose to really stretch out, and this song is unbelievable.

Prior to Bonham's death, there was only one officially released concert film and album, The Song Remains the Same. It was filmed in 1973 at a concert in Madison Square Garden, and released in 1976. The show came at the tail end of the tour, and their performance was good, but not great. Physical Graffiti had not been released yet, so "In My Time of Dying" is a song I had never seen them play. At the O2 Arena, their performance is a revelation. Jimmy Page's slide work, and Plant's vocals are simply awesome. And, as he does throughout the show, Jason Bonham hits the drums with everything he has. John Paul Jones is right there too. It is an early transcendent high-point, of which there will be many more to come.

Once again, the pacing of the show is revealed to be brilliant as the band proceed from "In My Time of Dying." In what could be considered a set-within-the-set, they highlight the period of 1975-1976, and the two albums that marked (for some of us at least) their peak. The albums are the aforementioned Physical Graffiti, and the vastly overlooked Presence.

With the amazing guitar virtuosity Page displays during "In My Time of Dying" the crowd is rightfully stunned. Yet the band are just warming up. This night may have been nostalgic, but Led Zeppelin were out to do everything they could to make it much more than simply reliving the glory days. Apparently they had never performed "For Your Life" (from Presence) onstage before, as Plant introduces the song by saying "This is our first adventure with it in public" "For Your Life" is again dominated by Page's guitar, and it is a smoking blues number.

For the first time in the show, John Paul Jones trades his bass for the keyboards as he launches into another Physical Graffiti classic, "Trampled Under Foot." The band then revisit Presence for "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Although I did not recognize it at the time, both of these songs have a bit of a rockabilly flavor to them, as heard through the one-of-a-kind Led Zeppelin filter.

"No Quarter" has always been a showcase for John Paul Jones, and it remains so here. I am not sure if it qualifies as a "ballad" per se, but "No Quarter," and "Since I've Been Loving You" do slow the pace momentarily, allowing everyone to catch their breath.

That 16-minute interlude is definitely the calm before the storm to follow. "Choosing songs from ten different albums, there are ones that had to be there," says Robert Plant by way of introduction. The camera then turns to Jones, and as his bass intones the famous descending bass notes of "Dazed and Confused," and the crowd are on their feet again.

If there is one track that defines the whole black magic aura which once surrounded Zeppelin, this is it. When Page pulls out his violin bow in the middle of the song, it is almost unbelievable. I really did not expect it to happen, but that was a case of underestimating their resolve to play a true Zeppelin concert. It is a wild sight, and the sounds he gets out of it are about as "satanic" as anything I have ever heard.

The one-two punch comes with the follow-up, "Stairway to Heaven." The only thing missing here is Plant asking "does anyone remember laughter?" In the introduction to "Misty Mountain Hop," Plant talks about how the elder Bonhams used to sing together all the time, then mentions that Jason has inherited the talent. Jason sings back-up vocals on the tune.

With no introduction necessary, the band then delve into "Kashmir." This is another song that I had never seen them perform live, and watching them play it is fantastic. As I have mentioned, Jason Bonham does a stellar job behind the drum kit, but I think his finest moment comes during this song. The drums are such an integral part of it that John Bonham was given a songwriting credit, along with Page and Plant. Jason's playing is as ferocious as his father's was on the original.

As Plant said in his introduction to "Dazed and Confused," there are certain songs that had to be a part of the set, and "Whole Lotta Love" is another. Watching Page play some kind of crazed guitar-theramin device during this is incredible. The sounds are other-worldly, as is the sheer spectacle of him weaving his arms around the magic box to create them.

"Whole Lotta Love" was the first encore, and the second and final encore of the night is "Rock and Roll." Again, the symmetry is beautiful. "Rock and Roll" is a classic Zeppelin song which opened the concert filmed for The Song Remains the Same. It also just happens to be a great tune, and the perfect summation of what the night was about.

01."Good Times Bad Times" (John Bonham, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page) – 3:12 
02."Ramble On" (Page and Robert Plant) – 5:45 
03."Black Dog" (Jones, Page, and Plant) – 5:53 
04."In My Time of Dying" (Bonham, Jones, Page, and Plant) – 11:11 
05."For Your Life" (Page and Plant) – 6:40 
06."Trampled Under Foot" (Jones, Page, and Plant) – 6:20 
07."Nobody's Fault but Mine" (Page and Plant) – 6:44 
08."No Quarter" (Jones, Page, and Plant) – 9:22 
09."Since I've Been Loving You" (Jones, Page, and Plant) – 7:52 
10."Dazed and Confused" (Page; inspired by Jake Holmes) – 11:44 
11."Stairway to Heaven" (Page and Plant) – 8:49 
12."The Song Remains the Same" (Page and Plant) – 5:47 
13."Misty Mountain Hop" (Jones, Page, and Plant) – 5:08 
14."Kashmir" (Bonham, Page, and Plant) – 9:07 

First Encore 
15."Whole Lotta Love" (Bonham, Willie Dixon, Jones, Page and Plant) – 7:26 

Second Encore 
16."Rock and Roll" (Bonham, Jones, Page, and Plant) – 4:35 

[Track Review by:]

01. Good Times Bad Times (3:10) - The night starts exactly the same way Led Zeppelin's discography with the first song on the first side of their first record. The crowd explodes into a frenzy as their three idols all dressed in black focus intently. My initial thought is Plant sounds awful, not sure if he was nervous or he was not warmed up properly, but his voice did not display the distinct rawness he displayed 38 years earlier on the record. Nonetheless Page kicks into a mini solo close to the end of the song with a smirk on his face that promises a good ride for the viewer.

02. Ramble On (5:37) - With no pause we get taken to Zeppelin II and the guys are still all business. Not exactly full of the confident swagger that made them rock gods, they are starting to sound really good and Plant is still clearly the weakest link. Page kicks in his guitar magic in a fairly straightforward rendition of the song

03. Black Dog (5:18) - Jimmy Page takes off his shades and starts to get sweaty. At this point it is evident that the camera work is incredible adjusting between the four musicians and the loud fifth member (with most of them spending their time with cell phones and cameras in the air) at the appropriate times. Plant finally shows the confidence that made him the Golden God as he is clearly starting to loosen up.

04. In My Time Of Dying (11:01) - Plant acknowledges the crowd with a "Good Evening" and a big smile on his face and its time for the blues. For many this song represents the best of what Zeppelin was - thunderous re-interpretation of the delta blues. This particular song is a re-interpretation of an old blues staple called Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed (even Dylan recorded a version in 1962). As if the rusty old car was just starting to warm up, this song reflects the point where everything is firing on all cylinders and the warm up is complete. Perfectly executed this is the Zeppelin we all adore and worship. Easily within Plant's current vocal range the spotlight is on Page's slide finger and as the song picks up Bonham truly pounds the drum kit with a rage of a man on a mission. Page's guitar solo at the end is incredible and of course John Paul Jones continues to be the steady foundation that this band needs. Highlight of the DVD - Robert Plant singing "Oh My Jesus, Je, Je, Je Je ..." at 25:13 of the DVD. Go watch, words cant describe the majesty of that scene. After the song Plant starts to joke with the crowd for the first time this night and thanks them for the 1000's of emotions that the band has had the last few months.

05. For Your Life (6:08) - Zeppelin fans rejoice - a song that the band has NEVER played live before (no idea why not). True to the album version this one seems like a breeze technically after the intense previous song. "You said I was the only, With my lemon in your hand" is how it starts and continues through to another mini Page solo and while there have been suggestions he was down-tuned for this concert to compensate for Plant's voice, there is no evidence of any short cuts here. 

06. Trampled Under Foot (6:02) - A tribute to Robert Johnson's 1936 song Terraplane Blues that Plant introduces as having been recorded 1000's of times. John Paul Jones now sits on they keyboards and impressively nails his piano part. The interplay with between keys and guitar is paramount and the audience roars in appreciation. The song may have its roots in the blues, but this is the biggest dancing song of the night with its funky beat. As if to reflect the speed of the song, the camera shots alternate at dizzying speeds and not staying on a subject more than 5 seconds.

07. Nobody's Fault But Mine (6:24) - Continuing the theme of paying tribute to the old blues greats this time one is from Blind Willie Johnson who wrote similar lyrics in the 1920's and which Plant claims they heard in church in 1932 before Johnson had his first shot. Plant brings out the harmonica and plays it as needed to fill out Page's riffs. The band spends a good portion of the song feeding off each others energy in front of Bonham's drum kit, and you can clearly see the magical bond the three originals have. Jones is back on bass for this but not for long.
08. No Quarter (9:00) - As Jones takes they keys again the audience know its time to mellow out and get ready for the Zeppelin trance that used to captivate audiences in the 70's and created a communal bond that the rock concerts of today can only dream of achieving. The smoke machines roll fog off the stage and contibute to the trance. Page kicks into a tight solo halfway in the song that I am certain the audience wished would continue for another 10 minutes.

09. Since I've Been Loving You (7:35) - The slowed down and moody portion of the set continues with familiar Page licks at the beginning of the song. This song sounds very familiar to the version we heard on the Page/Plant collaborations of the mid 90's. Perfectly executed again the DVD continues to remind us of why Zeppelin is so revered by fans all over the world.

10. Dazed And Confused (11:19) - Here is the one instance where the band deviates from the album version of the songs. The song as heard on the record 6:27 but Zeppelin was notorious for extending this one during their live shows. Tonight they unfortunately did not extend the song to 30 minutes or so like they did on The Song Remains The Same movie but they gave the hardcore fans a sample of the "jam band" spirit that they were known for. Page of course brings out the violin bow for this one and makes the eerie electric distortion sounds he is known for. All the while he is standing in a laser pyramid that circles around him as the smoke machine fills his space. Magical!

11. Stairway To Heaven (8:28) - This song concludes with Plant declaring "Hey Ahmet, we did it". Of all the suffocating pressure put on the band to perform well, the epicenter of the pressure lay firmly on Stairway To Heaven. The song that defined Zeppelin for many generations, the most played song in rock radio history, the song that every Zeppelin fan knows every note to, this was the one that everyone would talk about after the show. They delivered a very solid version which features Page on that all iconic double neck guitar. The solo in this song is widely considered the best guitar solo of all time, but the wizard did not disappoint as he delivered a clean and concise solo and put the big pressure point away forever. It is odd that the whole time I was watching this song it was like watching a student to see if they did enough homework to pass the final exam. I felt guilty about this as this is Led Zeppelin, who was I to have any doubt about the greatest band in the universe. 

12. The Song Remains The Same (5:35) - Things liven up again as if the hard part of the concert was over and the celebration day continues. An uplifting song that transitions the concert while Plant keeps on the double neck from the previous song. Bonham on the drums is the highlight of this song and honestly there was nobody that had more to prove tonight than the junior Bonzo. Fairly straight forward rendition of the feel good song of the night.

13. Misty Mountain Hop (4:48) - Continuing the free spirited approach of the last song, Misty Mountain Hop begins with Plant recounting stories of Jason Bonham's youth being sung to by his parents and how he turned out to be a pretty good singer himself. Lo and behold Bonham provides Plant with backing vocals for this song. I don't believe this is something Bonzo ever did so it was very cool to hear some added power to this excellent song. Jones kept repeating the song's main rhythm to keep the beat steady.

14. Kashmir (8:48) - A highlight of the night. The guitar face Page puts on in the first few seconds of this song says it all. The boys have passed the test, they know it and the fans in attendance know it. Time for the exclamation mark in the form of a flawless, and emotional main set highlight. Plant's wail right before the line "baby, baby, I've been dying" will bring goosebumps to Zeppelin fans as he draws something deep within his soul to achieve such commanding vocal strength. The three originals fire on all cylinders but this is where Jason proves that there is a Bonham behind the kit, and only a Bonham should have the right to be there on this night. The band released this song on YouTube and you can see it below.

15. Whole Lotta Love (6:49) - After all four members take a bow at the conclusion of Kashmir they walk of stage as the main set finishes. When they come back on, there really isnt much doubt that we will hear the chords of Whole Lotta Love. It seems sped up as they rush through it to get to the main highlight which of course is the psychedelic middle part of the song where the grand wizard of the electric guitar takes his pose as green lasers shoot out from the stage. It is theramin time boys and girls where Page waves his hands in front of an antenna and distorts the electric field all round his space. Unfortunately Plant could not deliver the "loooove" scream that used to be considered his most powerful vocal display. Nonetheless the audience helps by screaming it out themselves. The song ends with another bow from the band at the front of the stage before they rush off.

16. Rock and Roll (4:19) - This is it - possibly the last performance of the new Led Zeppelin and they could not have picked a better song. The party atmosphere at the O2 must have been bitter sweet as everyone must have known their gods will only be on stage for just a few more minutes. The band nails the song and Bonham again is the highlight with a beatiful and powerful finale drum solo. Page gives him the biggest smile I have ever seen on Pagey's face and he kisses his guitar before he puts it down. The screen behind the band puts up the familiar Led Zeppelin logo and the band waves as they walk off.  Last to leave the stage is Jason Bonham .... 

Part 1: Link
Part 2: Link
Part 1: Link
Part 2: Link
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heathcliff said...

Awesome write-up. Thank you. A tour thru some truly great music.

Elisa Tramontin said...

Hi Darius, I'm sorry to bother you here. I just have found your blog. I'm translating into Italian the documentary on the Celebration Day. And (as Italian) I don't really understand what Robert Plant is meaning when he says: "And Blind Willy Johnson was just ...just before he had his first shot." Why shot? Blind Willy Johnson was killed? It refers to the first record? It means his first chance? Please please please, help me... elisa