Sunday, December 9, 2012

Celebration Day by Led Zeppelin

My musically formative teen years were dominated by two bands: Genesis and Led Zeppelin. Genesis was my gateway into the progressive rock world and Led Zep satisfied the metal-leaning side of my young tastes but may also be the root of my recent forays into progressive metal.

So there was zero hesitancy when I heard about the pending availability of Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day, a live recording of a 2007 reunion concert in tribute to Atlantic Records' founder Ahmet Ertegun. I immediately placed the 2-CD set on pre-order at and waited patiently to add it to my collection of Led Zep recordings on LP, CD, and box set.

The show's lineup includes the three surviving members (Robert Plant on vocals, Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards) and (in a plot twist that no one would believe in a book or movie) the son, Jason, of deceased drummer John Bonham.

This concert was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a reunion of one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time performing classic music. Ticket demand was so high they were sold through a lottery for which over 1 million people registered. Knowing there'd be no second performances the pressure was on for everything to go just right.

Sorry to say it takes about 3 songs for the band (and maybe the recording engineers) to get their act together. In fact, Good Times Bad Times, Ramble On, and Black Dog sound like they're performed by a Led Zep tribute band. There are technical problems - feedback, a compressed feel to the sound, inconsistent mic levels - and Plant just doesn't have the pipes warmed up and seems plain tentative.

But when Page pumps out the bluesy opening to In My Time of Dying the band seems to come to life and everything clicks into place including Plant's plaintive vocals. Two songs later they barrel through Nobody's Fault But Mine like it's 1976. The first CD ends with an excellent version of No Quarter, one of my favorite Led Zep tracks.

The guys are not reimagining or reinterpreting their catalog. There's no jazz redux of Houses of the Holy nor a dance version of Whole Lotta Love. They're just playing their music the way it was meant to be played. Yet, probably due to their age, the guys seem to be playing a bit more refined with more of an open, spatial sound that gives each player room to breath.

And as I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate more and more how Led Zep's music is so strongly rooted in American blues music of the 1920s and 1930s. Yes, I know this is obvious. Thinking of it as just metal, as a teen is inclined to do, does it a disservice.

I'll forgive them for including Stairway to Heaven but I suppose it had to be done - it just isn't a favorite of mine, probably due to being overplayed. But the entire 2nd CD, from Since I've Been Loving You to The Song Remains The Same and everything else is simply rock solid. Kashmir is another high point. Page's guitar playing doesn't seem to have lost a lick and although Jason's drumming is not nearly as aggressive as his father's he's technically more than up to the task.

If you're a Led Zep fan or a fan of classic rock in general you owe it to yourself to give Celebration Day a listen.

You can read more about Celebration Day at

[Correction, 09 Feb 2013: After multiple listenings, it's clear that Dazed and Confused is performed slightly down-tempo, drawing out its bluesy feel. Therefore, my comment above about reimagining is not strictly accurate.]

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

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