Led Zeppelin Experience
August 22, 2013
Los Angeles, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Maria Younghans
On December 2, 2012, Heart and Jason Bonham teamed up to play “Stairway To Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C. before an esteemed audience that included Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and President Barrack Obama. It was a moving tribute supported by a string section, back-up singers and the Joyce Garrett Youth Choir. It also planted the seed for one of 2013’s most anticipated tours — Heart and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, with separate sets of their own and together for some prime Zeppelin. With a round of shows throughout Southern California, including two nights at the Greek Theatre in L.A., the bill was even better in person than it was on paper.
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience has headlined the Greek in previous years, but I’ve missed those shows, so this was my first time seeing them. From the get-go, it was obvious Bonham is the dominant force with a swift and heavy style that in many ways eclipses that of his father’s. Guitarist Tony Catania, vocalist James Dylan and bassist Dorian Heartsong each filled their roles as faithfully as possible. Catania even plays the same guitars — sunburst Les Paul, Danelectro and cherry-red Gibson double-neck SG — as Jimmy Page.
What was most intriguing was the attention to detail of certain Zeppelin nuances on the concert stage. The opening “Rock & Roll” into a bar of “Bring It On Home” into “Black Dog” was something Led Zeppelin did throughout their 1975 U.S. tour. “Over The Hills And Far Away” worked pretty well, although you could tell Dylan isn’t exactly Robert Plant on those banshee high parts (neither is Robert Plant these days). Catania had Page’s tone and basic attack down to a tee and Heartsong held down a firm bottom-end. “What Is And What Should Never Be” was really a showcase for Bonham, who kept the original pace and added a few tasteful touches of his own.
Afterwards, he stepped up to the mic and addressed the audience. “Good evening! This feels like a second residency, a second home.” He spoke about why he formed the Led Zeppelin Experience. “I do this because I never got a chance to tell my dad when he was alive how great he was.” A romp through “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” The Ocean” and a somewhat deceptive, yet endearing “When The Levee Breaks” got the house moving. Bonham thanked Ann and Nancy Wilson, “fellow lovers of “Zeppelin,” and plunged into “Whole Lotta Love,” ending with a short, brilliant Bonzo-style solo. Even as the band exited the stage, knowing Bonham would be back later in the evening meant we’d be hearing more Led Zeppelin music.
But not before Heart came out and did their thing, which just seems to get tighter and heavier every time I see them. After catching them last spring, I had a basic idea of what to expect, but the Greek can raise any performer’s game to indelible heights, and it most certainly did for Heart. Firing up the audience with “Barracuda,” Nancy Wilson, whirling in a red skirt, peeled off the famous chug-a-lug riff while her sister nailed the vocal.
Ann would only get better as the night wore on. Her vocals on ‘What About Love” and especially “Alone” sent chills up the hillside and made everyone realize just how incredible of a singer she is after almost 40 years in the limelight. Guitarist Craig Bartock and keyboardist Debbie Shair both deserve a lot of credit for keeping the original Heart sound intact while adding their own spins and grins to the mix. Bartok ripped on the trademark lead on “Magic Man” (as did Shair on the Moog) and kicked it into overdrive on “Mistral Winds” from the Dog & Butterfly album.
“Even It Up” got the crowd dancing in their seats, while an orchestrated version (essentially Shair picking out the notes of a violin on her synth) of “Dog & Butterfly” was at once confounding and intriguing. A beautiful, windless night at the Greek set the scene. The moon hid behind the clouds as Nancy played her mandolin on “These Dreams” and Ann filled the air with “Alone.” A newer song, “Dear Old America,” clearly captures the spirit and power of vintage Heart, but seemed to fall on the deaf ears of a crowd caught up in nostalgia. Which means “Crazy On You” reeled them back in once more before the night’s grand finale.
Without a doubt, the 40-minute Led Zeppelin set featuring everyone in Heart except drummer Ben Smith (he gets in a couple of taps on the captivating “Battle Of Evermore”), who, of course, gets sidelined by Jason Bonham, was the highlight of the whole stand. Tony Catania also joined in on the proceedings. From here, they did pretty much everything Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience stayed away from, bookending the night in Zeppelinesque splendor, if you will.
Bonham returned to his throne dressed in a white derby, white T-shirt and white pants and “Misty Mountain Hop” lifted up everyone on stage, in the audience, likely at the snack bar, to an unknown stratosphere of pure ecstasy. “Immigrant Song,” with its images of Vikings on the backline LED, seemed an odd choice, but “The Rain Song” was nothing short of captivating. Catania had the doubleneck, Bartok wielded a Les Paul, and Nancy angled for position with her acoustic — only Bonham’s sweet roll-out on the kettle drum was as a poetic.
“Kashmir” wound up the dramatics and “Stairway To Heaven” capped the night as stained glassed images of Page, Plant, Jones and John Bonham mingled with the verses. A 13-member choir turned the song into a “religious” Led Zeppelin experience with all the intensity of the Kennedy Center Honors performance, minus the dignitaries. At this point — Ann in full throttle mode, Nancy and Catania sweeping the epic chords as Bartok flawlessly lays down that renowned lead; Shair and bassist Dan Rothchild supplying the undercurrent and Jason Bonham playing to the song as devotedly as anyone possibly can — not even Led Zeppelin themselves could have owned and rocked the Greek liked it was tonight.