In the five years since Led Zeppelin last gathered together for a reunion concert, there have been countless rumors, mutterings, speculations and denials about yet "another reunion". Some can rejoice in knowing they saw the band in its prime; younger fans or those who just plain missed out aren't so forgiving. If you check in with social media outlets, message boards or even blog and article comments, you'll notice individuals who think they are owed a full tour, maybe even an album, from classic bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. But that's not how it works, especially when you're talking about people in their twilight years. The good news is that both these bands got together one last time and went out on top. Floyd played a magnificent mini set at Live 8 in 2005. Zeppelin went one better and played a full two-hour show at London's 02 Arena in 2007.
The release of Celebration Day, the film that documents the entire December 10, 2007 performance from Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, has stirred the pot once again, with even pesky journalist types asking about "another reunion" to support the film. In return, they're getting blank stares, disdainful answers, haughty smirks and statements to the effect that once you see the film, you'll pretty much have the reunion you want.
The lackluster get-togethers at Live Aid, the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fading away with the withers of time, Page, Plant and Jones agreed to a proper, well-rehearsed reunion in tribute to the late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegan. They invited John Bonham's son, Jason, who's developed into a world-class drummer on his own, to take the throne for one last blast through the past. Watching this film, it's only too obvious you are indeed seeing the best Led Zeppelin reunion of all. And because of the high quality the band instills in virtually everything they associate themselves with, you have to believe in your heart of hearts that the best should also be the last.
So how does Celebration Day begin? Well, imagine if you were at the concert, you just sat down and the lights went out. Now, cue the movie. There's no reason to spoil it with lurid details of each and every track. Let's just say they come out of the gate strong with "Good Times, Bad Times," and it sucks them (and you) in immediately. The focus is tight on the four musicians for the next two hours and four minutes, from 14 different cameras and numerous camcorder and cell phone cutaways.
Jimmy Page apparently left his Danelectro at home and bravely goes on with a bulkier Gibson Archtop for "In My Time Of Dying," one of Zep's more guttural blues belters. Does it affect the sound? A little bit, but Page's attack, duck faces and all, make up for it. Following that with the never-played-before-live "For Your Life" sweetens the deal even more. After that, you can bet all the essential numbers are rolled out.
Strangely, no one's whining at the lack of anything from In Through The Out Door, the band's final studio album from 1979. And why would you when you have "No Quarter" highlighting the still-incredible musicianship of John Paul Jones. "Dazed And Confused" is the closest to the way it was done in the 70s, right down to the lasers. And then all at once, they go for broke with four heavyweights: "Stairway To Heaven," "The Song Remains The Same," "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Kashmir," in which Plant somehow, three-quarters into the night, reaches deeper to deliver his mightiest roar of the night.
Let's not forget the true star of the show, Jason Bonham. Theirs is little question that he is the most appropriate, most qualified replacement for his father. He's been waiting for this show since 1980. There are moments in Celebration Day when you have to realize in some ways Jason has surpassed his father in pure execution and dexterity. There's little doubt Jason and most other rock drummers the world over owe one small bit of their career to John Bonham. Jason has gone further, refining it, nurturing it and making it his own, while supplying all the signature triplet paradiddles, double stroke rolls, double drag taps and flam accents integral to the songs. He was as necessary to this reunion as the other three.
Celebration Day doesn't dwell on anything outside the actual concert, so if you go in expecting backstage interviews, fan testimonials, old footage, stories about mudsharks or other innocuous extras, you'll be sorely disappointed. Instead, you'll get the concert as it happened, magnificently shot (even though it wasn't intended for release) with a crisp surround soundtrack.
A lot of the fans who were there say the 02 show was the best concert Led Zeppelin ever played. That's understandable if you traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars for a ticket. In all fairness, it probably wasn't the best Led Zeppelin concert ever when you consider how hungry, vital and together the band was in the 70s. And that's OK. What Celebration Day does is capture the best Led Zeppelin reunion concert ever. For that alone, it deserves praise and love. More importantly is that it's the final Led Zeppelin concert ever and any more discussion about "another reunion" should be swept under the rug. Clearly a case of what is and what should never be.
~ Shawn Perry