On December 10th 2007 the seemingly impossible happened. Led Zeppelin, the world’s original super group and one of the few bands in history who could rival The Beatles for fame and popularity at their height, reformed for a one off concert at London’s O2 Arena for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert. The show set a world record for ticket demand with over twenty million people (including myself) registering online for a chance of one of the 20,000 tickets. Like close to twenty million others I didn’t get a ticket for a show that myself and other fans had been waiting for, for over twenty five years.
Fast forward nearly five years to October 17th 2012 and the concert was screened for one day worldwide in cinemas ahead of a DVD and Blu Ray release on November 19th. This time demand wasn’t so high and I managed to get two tickets for a screening at my local multiplex. While in no way the same as seeing the band, my favourite of all time, live, the two hours I sat in the cinema were amazing. The band showed that despite having barely played together in thirty years and missing original drummer John Bonham whose death in 1980 was the trigger for the band’s breakup, that they are still able to rock with the best and sounded close to as good as they have on any other live recording I’ve seen.
Despite the band’s continuing popularity I was one of just a handful of people in the packed cinema that didn’t have grey hair. The majority of the audience was made up of people who would have been teens in the 70s, the bands original fans, probably tutting at us few Johnny Come Latelys in our 20s. It was funny to see the old Led Zep fans reading broadsheet newspapers and getting scared by loud noises before the film started but once it did begin, most seemed to be loving it. One of the problems though with seeing a band like Led Zeppelin at the cinema is that it isn’t the sort of environment that you can really relax, sing, air guitar or dance in. It was a little awkward at times as a few people bobbed heads or tapped feet. I didn’t feel as though I could properly enjoy the show in that environment and think that it is probably better suited to DVD. I had to resist the urge to sing and clap which isn’t the most relaxing thing.
Before I go any further I have to make it clear that I may be biased in my review of this concert film as Led Zeppelin is my favourite band. Even so and trying to be as objective as possible, they put on one hell of a show. The film is shot in a fairly conventional manner with close-ups of faces, instruments and the like, spliced with wide shots and some nice super 8 style camera work which is reminiscent of the likes of The Song Remains the Same and the Led Zeppelin DVD. The old looking footage gives a 70s vibe which obviously matches the music. For the most part the camerawork is crisp and looks great in HD. There are plenty of interesting angles and cuts too which add to the visual enjoyment. Unlike Scorsese’s Rolling Stones film Shine a Light which seemed to spend as much time on the audience as the band, Celebration Day focuses almost solely on the on stage action with just a couple of cut aways to the audience.
Musically the band sound incredibly tight but gave a more restrained performance than their historical norm. The three surviving members last performed together in 1988 and this was their first full length concert since John Bonham’s death. Age and time coupled with a falling out between bassist John Paul Jones and singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page appears to have had little effect as the band sound great. Robert Plant’s voice is almost indistinguishable from his 1970s self save for a few missed high notes. Jimmy Page is still one of the greatest guitarists of all time and played the concert despite breaking his little finger just a month before the show. John Paul Jones, always the quietest member of the group and the one who seems least at ease on stage played incredibly well on both bass and keyboards. Drummer Jason Bonham, son of John was excellent and has all the ferocity of his father. He slotted straight in despite this being the first gig he’d played with the full band. Not a bad debut gig! It was nice to witness the genuine looks of pride and glee on the faces of the original members as the looked a Bonham Jnr playing his father’s parts.
In their eleven year existence Led Zeppelin created some of the most iconic rock music in history with the likes of Whole Lotta Love, Kashmir, Rock and Roll and Dazed and Confused amongst the most popular and enduring songs in rock history. Stairway to Heaven of course transcends even those songs and is frequently voted the most popular song of all time, rock or otherwise. As well as the stalwarts like Kashmir and Stairway the band also perform some of my personal favourites such as No Quarter, Misty Mountain Hop and Trampled Underfoot, a song that always reminds me of my dad. For Your Life is also performed on stage for the first time ever but unfortunately there is no space for more of my favourites such as Communication Breakdown, When the Levee Breaks, Heartbreaker, The Immigrant Song, Gallows Pole or Moby Dick. The problem with having such an extensive back catalogue is that there will always be songs that are missed but there could be few arguments that the chosen set was anything but spectacular.
Overall Celebration Day is the sort of thing which is probably more enjoyable at home where you can sit back, enjoy a drink or a smoke and properly rock out to the music. Even so I really enjoyed seeing my favourite band on the big screen and would recommend the forthcoming DVD to hard line fans as well as anyone who just thinks that Zeppelin are some old band what sang that long song. There’s enough to satisfy fans and newcomers alike.