Led Zeppelin Experience
May 31, 2015
Los Angeles, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ronnie Lyon
Now in its fifth year, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience ended its 2015 tour at their favorite venue to a sold-out house. “If I never do another show, I’d do a regular spot here…on his birthday,” the drummer said of his father John Bonham, the legendary drummer of Led Zeppelin who would have turned 67 on this day.
You would have thought Zeppelin themselves were playing as a large portion of the audience fell into a dizzy state of rabid euphoria the minute Bonham and his band came on stage a few minutes before 8:00 and plunged right into “The Song Remains The Same.” As he would all night, guitarist Tony Catania brought his A-game, swinging and swaying his double-neck SG, scaling those peaks Jimmy Page had conquered decades before, and adding his own flourishes to the mix when a hole opened up.
Like Led Zeppelin, Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, which also includes Dorian Heartsong on bass, Alex Howland on keyboards and guitar, and James Dylan on vocals, are a tight and cohesive unit that likes to extend the jams, stop and start unexpectedly at the breaks, and occasionally stray outside the lines and stir up the music. There’s an inherent looseness in those grooves that allows for a lot of fancy footwork, if you can pull it off. These guys have no problem with that.
It would be only too easy for Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience to get lumped in with the mass of Led Zeppelin tribute bands. Obviously, Bonham’s name, heritage and abilities — which warranted two public performances with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin — give him and his band a clear edge. The fact that they’re well schooled in how to present this music further legitimizes their purpose. By the reaction of everyone in the Greek, they simply could do no wrong.
Although it was advertised that the first two Led Zeppelin albums would be played in their entirety, that wasn’t exactly the case. Time restrictions and making room for songs they “have” to play wouldn’t allow it. Not necessarily a bad thing when you consider the material, but as Bonham expressed, “the hardest part is picking the right song.” So, from Led Zeppelin I , they went with “Good Times Bad Times,” “I Can't Quit You Baby” and “Dazed and Confused.” They only did a couple from the second album — an emotional “Thank You” and the final song of the night, “Whole Lotta Love.”
The rest of the choices varied from the deep to the essentials. Catania grabbed his acoustic and Heartsong took up a mandolin for “Going To California,” which had Bonham and the entire audience singing along with Dylan like it was their theme song (which, in a way, it is). Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was a satisfying rendition of “All My Love,” from the final Led Zeppelin studio album, 1979’s In Through The Out Door. Howland’s intricate keyboards capably carried the tune and opened up for Catania to tastefully answered back at the break.
The whole night, Bonham kept the time steady, the fills smooth, and the bottom end thumping and grounded. He grew up with these songs and knows his dad’s parts to a tee, but he also raises the bar with a sleight of hand display of dips and swishes that leave most other drummers gasping for air in envy. With green, blue and red lights behind him, Bonham drove the hot rod and pushed the stomping rhythm on “Trampled Under The Foot.” The pre-recorded thud that opens “When The Levee Breaks” belongs to John Bonham, but his son slipped in and dutifully assumed ownership as a large Zeppelin floated across the backdrop.
Predictably, “Stairway To Heaven” and “Kashmir” brought the main set to a rousing and poignant close. Instead of “Rock And Roll,” the encore began with “Immigrant Song” and closed with “Whole Lotta Love” — an appropriate ending when you consider just how much love was going around. The capacity crowd stood, waving their phones and screaming for more. On stage, Bonham placed his hand over his heart, on the verge of tears, expressing his gratitude. “This is the last show of the tour and this is the place to do it at.”