Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day (2012)

Were it any other band, it would be easy to scoff at the prospect. Three old dudes and a replacement for the now-apparently requisite missing dude, but this is Led Zeppelin and nothing about Led Zeppelin has ever been remotely “requisite.”

Just the fact that they’ve managed to resist any real reunions until 2007 should put aside any notions that this was a cash-in of any kind. Sure, they’d played a few short sets together since breaking up, but nothing that could truly be said to be a true Led Zeppelin concert, and certainly nothing worth thinking much about beyond the fact that these guys got together again.

Heck, both times they met up in the ’80s, Page and Plant both described the shows as pretty ghastly.

The band has wisely held off properly reuniting until it truly felt like a celebration to the band and not just the fans, and that’s exactly what makes Celebration Day so exhilarating. They may not sound so young anymore, so a few songs are taken at slower paces than they used to be, and Robert Plant’s voice is noticeably less capable than it was, and he phrases some songs in new ways to keep from needing to hit high notes, such as on “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love,” but there’s a palpable sense of joy running through the entire set.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Return with us now to 'Houses of the Holy,' the often-overlooked successor to 'Led Zeppelin IV.' Even all these years later, though, we still can't decide where it ranks.]

Jimmy Page reels off those riffs we all know so well, sometimes with an added dash of panache or a new twist here and there, and John Paul Jones presence seems much larger than ever in this show. His bass groans and rumbles, his keyboard work sparkles, all brilliantly; it makes me wonder why so much of this was so buried on the studio albums.

Jason Bonham doesn’t so much fill his dad’s boots as honor his presence. We’ve all heard a million Led Zeppelin covers and the drummers always want to out-do John Bonham by being bigger and louder in some way, completely missing Bonham’s incredible essence. Jason humbly looks merely to do right by his dad here and while there’s no mistaking him for his dad, he deftly handles the role.

There are moments that are transcendent, taking you back to your very first experiences with the band. Remember when “Stairway To Heaven” was fresh to you? That’s how it feels here. The performance is so sincere, stately, and heartfelt, that decades of radio-wear are washed away to let it shine anew.

The band even dared play a song they’d never attempted live before – “For Your Life”, and it came off spectacularly. It is every bit the massive stomper it was on Presence, and, really, because of Jones’ huge sound, maybe more so.

You can look at the multitude of various combinations this set is being sold – digital, CD, DVD, Bluray, pick one or pick a combination – and feel a little like this is indeed a cash-in, but once heard, or seen, it feels very pure. It wasn’t rushed to market immediately after the show, there wasn’t a huge tour to follow. Five years later, it seems as if every bit of it was carefully considered, including not doing anything with the material, ever.

Are we lucky to get this? Probably not – it’s probably simply an inevitability. The title is fitting, though. The music was a celebration, the event was a celebration. It seems almost criminal to keep something like this under wraps, doesn’t it?

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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