Led Zeppelin Experience
May 20, 2016
Los Angeles, CA
Review & Photos by Ron Lyon
We entered the Griffith Park canyon just as the sun began to dip over Los Angeles. A cool spring chill was evident as we began our short walk down from the parking lot to the gates of the Greek Theatre. Tonight, my musician friend and I were going to take in the latest interpretation of Jason Bonham's tribute to his father John and the sublime music of Led Zeppelin. For me, it would be the fifth time experiencing this multimedia show, the first being the debut in 2010 at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, just over the hill and a couple of miles from where we stood now.
Tickets in hand and a photo pass in its proper place, I headed toward my shooting space at the soundboard as my friend headed to our very nice seats. This was my friend's first time seeing Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, and I was really excited to hear and see his reaction to this show as he is a John Bonham aficionado. As such, I was especially curious to hear his comments on Jason's prowess of his father's legendary grooves. My friend assured me from the start that Jason Bonham is not his father, but that he is very well respected given his performance at the Led Zeppelin reunion in 2007.
Because of the length of this show, there has never been an opening act, although JBLZE were openers themselves when they toured with Heart in 2013. As we anticipated the band taking the stage, we discussed (i.e., nerded out on) Jason's shiny, stainless steel DW drum kit with Paiste cymbals and gong. This setup harkens back to his father's last ever touring kit, which was constructed of the same material and used from 1977-1980. Today, only two of these all-metal-shell DW kits exist, the other belonging to Paul McCartney's drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. Suffice it to say, the drums sounded as they should — really, really good.
The band strolled on stage just at dusk without much fanfare or introduction. After everyone was strapped in and levels checked, they kicked into gear with "Rock And Roll." After an extended drum solo, they rolled right into a track that Zep never played live called "Wearing and Tearing" from Coda, Led Zeppelin's final studio album. Jason made mention of the "skunk smell" wafting from the crowd before launching into "Good Times Bad Times." Bonham talked about how his taste in music differed from his fatherâ€™s when he was growing up. One time, he asked his dad to take him to a Police concert. Then he laughed and said that later on the police would come to him instead! The crowd roared its approval.
Next up was "Over The Hills And Far Away," with an added breakdown section in the middle. Then came "Wanton Song" with some well executed starts and stops. Very tight! "What Is And What Should Never Be" followed that. Next up was a video montage introduced by Jason with newly found footage of a Bonham family outing at an English beach resort featuring a very young John. With singer James Dylan on acoustic guitar, and a gesture to accompany his father's action on-screen, Jason and the band offered up "Thank You."
Lead guitarist Tony Catania was introduced by Dylan and featured in the song of the night, "Since I've Been Loving You." Close your eyes and you would have thought Jimmy Page was playing it himself. Second guitarist and keyboardist Alex Howland gave all the appropriate flourishes to make it a perfect rendition of the classic song from Led Zeppelin III. The band appreciated the gift that is California and proceeded to sit down for their rendition of "Going to California," with Catania switching to acoustic guitar and bassist Dorian Heartsong accompanying on mandolin while Bonham sang in the background.
Later, he gently broke the news that his dad never practiced at home when he was away from Led Zeppelin, preferring to spend that time enjoying his family. He also mentioned that it was his dad's dream to some day play drums at Royal Albert Hall, side-by-side with his son. Though he died before that could come to fruition, Jason said that "through the wonders of modern technology" he would now play "Moby Dick" in a video duet with his father. This came in the form of a five-minute synchronized drum solo incorporating Zeppelin footage from 1970 and 1973. Looking a bit winded after the effort, Jason remarked, "You have no idea how fucking difficult that is." The crowd cheered and the band went off stage for a well deserved 15-minute intermission.
The second set began with a video of five-year-old Jason playing drums and dancing (!) for his parents in the living room of their home. He had talent way back then and it was apparent. A few seconds of this footage was featured in the concert film The Song Remains The Same, but here we got to see several minutes of Jason's performance with John and Patricia Bonham encouraging him.
The band roared back onstage for "Night Flight" and "Kashmir" as the entire crowd was now finally on its feet and singing full force, spurred in part by a stunning brunette woman in the front row who was laying down her own moves. "The Rain Song" saw Catania on a Gibson double-neck SG guitar and Jason playing with mallets. "The Ocean" and "Fool In The Rain" got the crowd dancing with some jazzy piano grooves by Howland.
As the nearly full moon began to ascend higher and higher out of the clouds and over the hills of Griffith Park, the near-capacity crowd really began to feel the spirit of the music. With the first few chords of the galloping "Trampled Under Foot," asses left their seats for good. Howland really spread his wings on this version, reminding me of what Billy Preston or Stevie Wonder might've added had they been the ones onstage.
With an unplanned snippet of "When The Levee Breaks" and a few uncomfortable laughs, the band went into "Stairway To Heaven." Beginning with an acoustic on a stand and the double neck slung around his neck, Catania hit his stride and the goose bumps rose on my arms. James Dylan's voice matched perfectly with the chords as Heartsong and Bonham joined in to complete the instrumentation. With a mosaic, stained-glass backdrop and the words "Abide With Us" hovering behind, elation was in the air and the arm-waving crowd's voices came to the fore. As the band left the stage, the audience were whipped into a collective frenzy. Jason exclaimed: "Remember...the more noise you make, the longer we may play."
For the encore, the band played "Immigrant Song" and "Whole Lotta Love." Dylan sang high notes that very few men can hit, sounding like a Viking crying to the Gods above on "Immigrant Song." Fantastic pipes! "Whole Lotta Love" was a bit of a letdown as the orgasmic middle section was shortened. This may have been due to time restrictions, but it sounded rehearsed. Nevertheless, Dylan had everyone singing to the very end as the band blew kisses to their smiling fans and slowly left the stage. In all, this heartfelt edition of the Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience was fun and did not disappoint.