Jimmy Page & Robert Plant
May 13, 1995
San Diego Sports Arena
San Diego, CA
Concert Review by Shawn Perry
It had been a while since I'd seen Jimmy Page and Robert Plant together, but not as long as one may think. In 1988, I went to New York City to attend the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. The concert was a 13-hour marathon, showcasing new talents Debbie Gibson and Nu Shooz — denizens of the 'where are they now' file — perennial favorites Phil Collins and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and several of Atlantic's early R&B artists like LaVerne Baker, Ruth Brown and Ben E. King.
The most anticipated acts were, however, a handful of special groups reuniting for the event. This included Vanilla Fudge, Average White Band and The Rascals, to name a few. It was the closing act of the evening, the coup de grace of the entire day, the 20-year old proverbial drawing card and cash cow for Atlantic Records that seemed to have the Garden buzzing. I can still remember the excitement as Ahmet Ertegan, the Chairman of The Board for Atlantic Records, stepped up to the podium on the side of the stage and uttered those two highly anticipated words: "Led Zeppelin."
At the time, I thought this was about as close as it was going to get to the real thing. All the important elements were there: Page, Plant, Jones and...Bonham? Well, actually, it was Jason Bonham who sat in for his deceased father. It became achingly obvious that young Jason was the only one who bothered to rehearse for the show. Needless to say, the band's ponderous one-two punch of old was conspicuously absent. And any ideas for future reunions were firmly put to rest, although the four did reunite briefly when Zeppelin were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. They were joined by Neil Young who gave the entire ensemble a run for their money.
Just as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart had done in previous years, the principle players of Zeppelin decided to take their trip down memory lane, a la MTV's Unplugged series. Ever the iconoclasts, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant dubbed their performance UnLedded, and in the grand tradition of the might Zep, blew away the competition, making the show the most widely viewed episode in the history of the Unplugged series.
Let's face it: without discounting the contributions of John Paul Jones or the late John Bonham, the reunion of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant is a Led Zeppelin fan's dream come true. The mystique that dwelled over the 70's supergroup may be missing, but for all intents and purposes, Page and Plant were the band's front line and principal songwriters. Purists may liken the combination to a strain of diet Zep, but with this outfit there's an extra shot of caffeine.
For their appearance at the San Diego Sports Arena, the capacity crowd greeted the legendary duo just as enthusiastically as they did for Zeppelin’s last appearance in Southern California 18 years before. From the opening notes of "Thank You” to the final crescendo of "Kashmir," Page, Plant and a consortium of support musicians that backed them, kept the pace alive and exciting, yet never predictable. The inclusion of Page's "Shake My Tree" (a stand-out track from the ill-fated Coverdale/Page album) and Plant's "Calling To You" (the opening guitar cut from his solo album, Fate Of Nations) were significant in showing how the guitarist and singer have come to grips with each other's post-Zeppelin material. The lack of any of the new Middle Eastern/World flavored tunes from the duo's No Quarter album aroused a bit of curiosity over the future of the project. This meant, of course, that the bulk of the music was drawn from the Zeppelin songbook. And that's apparently what the 14,000 fans crowing into the San Diego Sports Arena came to hear.
For fans lucky enough to have seen Led Zeppelin in their hey day, there were several surprises. "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do," the infamous B-side that never made it onto an album, received a swift and smooth treatment. A medley of "In The Evening/Carouselambra" was especially intriguing as they appeared on the band's final studio album, In Through The Out Door and had never been played live in the states.
What is most interesting about this "reunion" is that the songs are not being recycled for purposes of easy satisfaction. A song like "Nobody's Fault But Mine," a start-and-stop hard rocker from 1976, has been completely stripped down and reconfigured with an acoustic guitar, a banjo, a hurdy-gurdy and a minimal amount of Bonzo's signature drum fills. It’s almost as if some of the Zep classics have been injected with new life. Best of all, the new arrangements don't seem to spoil the true essence of the material. In San Diego, the fans would have been just as receptive had the songs remained the same.
Avoiding the clichés and hit parade roll-out of past glories is a commendable attribute. It would have been easy for these guys to whip out "Stairway To Heaven" — arguably the most overplayed and overrated song in history — and many of the fans in attendance were disappointed in its omission. But Page and Plant understand the song and the band that played it had its time and place. And if these two have any expectations of taking this project any further, they must stay committed to moving ahead and staying fresh, especially under the pressure of rehashing a colorful and decadent past.