It’s a very difficult to thing to sum up such a huge occasion in 300 or so words, but here‘s my condensed take on how it went:
In many ways, rock’s greatest reunion poses an enormous challenge. Even in a time of high profile comebacks, Led Zeppelin face expectations befitting three decades of celebration and mythology.
So when a reticent-looking Robert Plant is interrupted by wails of feedback as the band kicks into ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, one can almost make out a collective intake of breath around the arena. For a moment, it seems that the legend may be too great to bear.
Thankfully, three songs later the epic ‘In My Time of Dying’ marks an electrifying step forward: the band has warmed up, the sound has found a clear balance and things are slowly beginning to come together.
By the time ‘Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You’ saunters in, Jimmy Page is clearly enjoying himself, trading lick for lyric as the band positively coast through their back catalogue.
It’s a journey Robert Plant touches on when he speaks of the “thousands and thousands of emotions” involved in preparing for this one-off performance, later adding that “certain songs have to be done…and this is one of them.” On cue, the lights are extinguished, revealing a constellation of bobbing camera phones, all trying to capture the strokes of Page’s violin bow launching a carnal ‘Dazed and Confused’.
Over the course of two-plus hours, the largely seated stadium has remained surprisingly subdued, but having watched Zeppelin steadily grow into the performance, the audience responds in kind and the atmosphere builds accordingly.
Driving them there is Jason Bonham, who proves to be a natural fit in replacing his late father John on drums, loading a stunning version of ‘Kashmir’ with a similarly emphatic clangour. Yet it is during the encores of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Rock’n'Roll’ that the band finally hit full stride, igniting the songs and the crowd as they rediscover vintage form.
Then, as the flickering highlight reel fades out behind them, the band bid a final goodnight, leaving everyone to imagine what further heights they could have scaled if only they kept going. No doubt these newly reunited rock heroes will be wondering the very same thing.
- Published in the Irish Independent, reprinted in Herald AM.
One of the many things I didn’t have a chance to talk about was the support slots. This was intended as a night to honour the memort of Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic records, yet it was more in keeping with one of the final rounds of Pop Idol. It was cheesy, soul-less and inappropriately naff. Would it have been too much to ask to feature someone like Solomon Burke? Surely that would have been more fitting than the pop stylings of 20 year old Paolo Nutini. I don’t care what anyone says, the music of Ray Charles just wasn’t meant to be sung through a cheeky Scottish lisp.
As for Led Zep, apart from the shaky start, Robert Plant seemed all too casual to begin with. His voice was lacking any bite and his body language suggested he had been coaxed into being involved in the appearance. I think it may have had a lot to do with why this concert was slower to ignite than expected.
Watching them gradually become less conscious of the significance of it all, however, you could see that Plant in particular let his guard down. Towards the end, it was as if he found himself warming to it all of a sudden, reclaiming that sensual ferocity of old.
In terms of the atmosphere, there was a huge empty space at the back of standing section that was inexplicably well-lit throughout the gig. At times it was as notable as the stage which did a lot to keep the O2 Arena from attaining the usual atmosphere of a full house.
Set list, with additional notes:
‘Good Times Bad Times‘ – the sound is awful and I am genuinely frightened. Page has a modern-sounding effect on his guitar which does not help matters.
‘Ramble On‘ – Tepid.
‘Black Dog‘ – Page takes off his shades, things start to warm up.
‘In My Time Of Dying‘ – Brilliantly crunching. The sound has found a clear balance and things are falling into place.
‘For Your Life‘
‘Trampled Under Foot’ – Introduced by way of Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’: “I’m sure Robert got it from somewhere…everybody nicks it.”
‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine‘
‘No Quarter‘ – Dazzlingly accurate, first real sing-along of the night.
‘Since I’ve Been Loving You‘
‘Dazed And Confused‘
‘Stairway To Heaven’ – Twin guitar makes its first appearance. Plant finishes with: “Hey Ahmet…we did it.” Standing ovation.
‘The Song Remains The Same‘
‘Misty Mountain Hop‘ – Spot on rendition. Jason takes up co-vocals, which are surprisingly good. Plant quotes Jim Morrison: “Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars.”
‘Kashmir‘ – Highlight of the night. They really nailed this. It would flatten you.
Encore 1: ‘Whole Lotta Love‘ – Plant takes things up a gear.
Encore 1: ‘Rock And Roll‘ – Performed with a flickering highlight reel behind them that just underlines the importance of everything we’ve just seen.