Sure, it's a rough job, but someone's gotta do it. See, when I received an 11th-hour offer from Warner Bros. Records to review Led Zeppelin's reunion concert in London, they didn't have to ask me twice. In fact, they didn't need to ask me once. The conversation went something like, "Would you like to go see Led Ze..." and before the sentence was complete, I was on Yahoo! Travel searching frantically for a last-minute flight and hotel.
Yep, forget about the Police/Van Halen/Spice Girls...Zep's one-off performance at the December 10 Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert in London was THE reunion of the year--or possibly of the millennium. How could I not go? So three days and one 10-hour transatlantic flight after that fateful phone call, there I was, across the pond--where I picked up my Zep ticket; guarded it with my life on the Tube the way some paranoid tourists protect their travelers' checks in one of those under-the-shirt money belts; and then sat around my hotel room for about an hour, gawking at my golden ticket in utter disbelief. Yes, I was pretty dazed and confused. And psyched!
Then, riding over to the show of shows, I couldn't help but overhear all the exotic accents emanating from my fellow passengers--it turns out I hardly the only fan who'd racked up the frequent flyer miles to make this rock pilgrimage. Robert Plant later remarked onstage that Zepheads from 50 countries were represented at this gig--and since London's 02 Arena holds 20,000 people, that averages out to about 400 citizens per country--a veritable rock 'n' roll UN! I even spotted several nations represented by famous ambassadors, like Sweden (Howlin' Pelle from the Hives); England, of course (Brian May, Liam Gallagher); and the good ole US of A (Dave Grohl, Will Forte from "SNL," Albert Hammond Jr. from the Strokes).
So, was the journey from over the hills and far away worth it? Um, yes. It would've been worth if I'd had to swim across the Atlantic Ocean to get there. An Atlantic Ocean filled with piranhas. Or mudsharks! (Heh, heh...)
All right, so first I patiently waited through the warmup acts (seriously, only at a show like this could Bill Wyman and Paul Rodgers be the opening acts, and only at a show like this could an international audience of thousands be collectively thinking, "Yeah, yeah, great, so you're a Stone and you're from Free/Bad Company/Queen...that's all fine and dandy, but could you just wrap it up already?"). But when the main event finally kicked off, and Zeppelin emerged rocking through "Good Times Bad Times"...well, it was nothing but good times for the next two hours.
Seriously, this gig surpassed my expectations...and my expectations were already pretty dang high (I would not have flown 5,000 miles otherwise--duh). A newly snowy-haired Jimmy Page was a silver fox. Robert Plant was still a golden god. And John Paul Jones and the late John Bonham's son Jason made for one lean, mean rhythm machine. (If there was ever indisputable evidence that musical talent is hereditary, it's Jason's supreme skin-bashing skills, for sure.) And the whole band was tighter than the skinny rock-star trousers into which Robert Plant can still impressively shoehorn his seemingly ageless, whippet-thin body.
"It's peculiar, choosing songs off 10 different albums," Robert remarked to the fans (who, to be honest, were so apeshiz for their rock heroes--practically weeping opening the instant they hit the stage--that Robert and company could've played the "Macarena" 14 times in a row and everyone still would have been thrilled). "But there are certain songs that have to be there. This is one of them."
And with that, they played "Dazed And Confused"--with Jimmy once again proving that guitar bowing is cool, a'ight? (Some audience members even started air-guitar-bowing in the aisles...although they didn't look quite so cool as Page.)
The band also played "For Your Life" for the first time ever, along with many other certain songs had "had to be there": "Misty Mountain Hop"; "Black Dog"; "Ramble On"; "The Song Remains The Same"; "No Quarter" (who would've thought 10 minutes and 41 seconds could fly by so fast?); "Kashmir" (the "51st country," Robert joked, referring to the aforementioned 50 other countries represented in the audience); and of course, "Stairway To Heaven," which, unlike in Wayne's World, was NOT denied--for that classic anthem, seemingly 20,000 glowing cell phones were held aloft, lighting up the O2 Arena more festively than any Christmas tree I've seen this holiday season.
For the encore, they cranked out two more must-haves: a positively electric "Whole Lotta Love"--complete with a perfect recreation of that heavy-panting, heavily reverbed Tarzan-of-the-jungle breakdown--and "Rock 'N' Roll," during which the jumbotron screen display alternated between old '70s footage of the band in their mudshark-brandishing, private-jet-hopping prime, and footage of tonight's show. How seamlessly and unjarringly the images switched from past to present was a testament to how fantastic and fresh the band still sounded and looked this historic evening.
So in case you thought Zep were overrated, a bunch of graying has-beens, etc...well, you can just shaddup. Sure, it's been a long time since they rock 'n' rolled. (Since the long-gone "days when Atlantic Records was the most magnificent record company on the planet," to quote Robert's stage banter again). But it HAS been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely time in rock without them.