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In their heyday, Led Zeppelin were almost unassailable as a live outfit. The excellent 2003 release 'DVD' was testament to this, showing them taking the Royal Albert Hall by storm early on in their career, and turning out incendiary performances over the course of a decade. Although the, ahem, "unofficial" live recordings do show that they were occasionally too monged out on drugs or booze to perform properly, by and large they had the back catalogue and the vital chemistry required to put on a stonking live show.
And then it all ended for them in 1980 when the lost John Bonham, one of the greatest drummers ever to sit in the stool. They disbanded, saying that they couldn't continue without him. Over the next few decades, reunions under the name Led Zeppelin were scant, and frankly, rubbish. Their appearance at Live Aid was terrible, all out of tune and sloppy with singer Robert Plant forgetting the lyrics and unable to hit the high notes. The Page and Plant projects in the 90s were an interesting take on some LZ songs, but everyone in the world, except for Robert Plant it would seem, wanted to see them back together again. Most thought it would never happen, myself included.
In 2007 though, president of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun passed away, and a tribute concert was organised to take place in December at the O2. The shock news arrived that Led Zeppelin would be reforming for this one off gig, with Bonham's son Jason on drums. Demand for tickets was unprecedented, with millions applying worldwide for the sparse 20,000 that were available. If everyone has just one 'wish-upon-a-star' moment in their lives, mine came in the form of a phone call one December evening from my dad, who had miraculously been allocated a pair of tickets. I'd seen countless bands live, but if there was one that I could have chosen to go back in time and see above all others, it would be Led Zeppelin.
That show was nothing less than surreal, powerful and astonishing. I was really, really worried that it was going to be an embarrassment, with them unable to conjure up the excitement and energy heard on their live albums. My fears were soon laid to rest, and now some 5 years later they got round to releasing the show on CD and DVD, it is nice to remember that evening with more clarity.
While the other acts were enjoyable, like Paul Rodgers and members of Yes getting together, everyone was waiting for Led Zeppelin. At half time, the lights went out, and out of the pitch black came the one-two salvo of opening track from their first album, 'Good Time, Bad Times', punctuated with a blinding flash of halogen lights. It was a really weird moment, seeing this legendary band that split up two years before I was born, right in front of me.
While they played a set littered with classics, it was noticeable that they were a little bit shaky at the start. A lot was riding on this performance, and reputedly Jason Bonham had a panic attack and was physically sick just moments before going out on stage. The flurry-of-notes riff and time-bending signature of the notoriously difficuly 'Black Dog' had them falling apart at the seams a little, but they soon settled into a groove and kick seven shades out of their interpretation of blues-gospel classic 'In My Time of Dying', with Jimmy Page showing his guitar who is in charge that evening.
The level of energy and intensity in this performance is remarkable as well, considering the three remaining members were all well into their sixties. Robert Plant doesn't quite roar with the same vigour that he once could, but as he growls through 'For Your Life', a slow-burning blues-rock song from 'Presence' that they had never tackeld live before, it's clear that there is still a lot of life in the old lion yet. the funk-driven 'Trampled Underfoot' thumps along like a groove-metal answer to Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition', and they hit a peak with 'Nobody's Fault But Mine'. It's like they never went away.
The big epic pieces are on show here as well, with the ethereal 'No Quarter' showcasing John Paul Jones' skills, and it's a better live version than on any of their other concert recordings. 'Dazed and Confused' morphs out of the plagiarised Jake Holmes song into an unrecognisable beast, with Jimmy Page coaxing all sorts of other-worldly sounds from his guitar via his violin bow. And most surprisingly, they did play 'Stairway to Heaven', the LZ song everyone is surely sick of hearing. Plant is visibly unsure at the start, but come the end of it, he wrily looks up and says 'Well Ahmet, we did it'. I suppose they had to, really.
For a concert that seemed to go past in a flash, this DVD/CD package does hold a special importance for me, allowing me to relive the night and re-convince myself it wasn't actually just a dream. The two encores are thunderous versions of 'Whole Lotta Love' and 'Rock and Roll', and the curtain seemingly comes down on Led Zeppelin's career, as it is unlikely that they will perform together again. With 'Celebration Day' not only have they made amends for the shoddy reunions of the 80s, but have added a very worthy live album that stands up with the best of their prime performances.
The only gripe I have with this is the sheer number of formats on which it was released. There's the CD version, the CD+DVD, the Blu-Ray, the digital download, the deluxe, the vinyl... and probably more. Check the Amazon listings, but seriously take care if you're going to order this.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Good Times Bad Times
2 Ramble On
3 Black Dog
4 In My Time Of Dying
5 For Your Life
6 Trampled Under Foot
7 Nobody?s Fault But Mine
8 No Quarter
9 Since I?ve Been Loving You
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Dazed And Confused
2 Stairway To Heaven
3 The Song Remains The Same
4 Misty Mountain Hop
6 Whole Lotta Love
7 Rock And Roll