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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Led Zeppelin : Celebration Day review

It seems a lifetime ago that the clock on the Led Zeppelin website started counting down to the big announcement. Now, a worldwide cinema screening later, Celebration Day has hit the high street.

The band’s sensational 2007 reunion for the Ahmet Ertegun memorial concert at London’s 02 Arena (that’s the Millennium Dome in old money) has been captured on two CDs and a DVD – and it’s a barnstormer.

It sits comfortably alongside the previous landmark live sets, The Song Remains The Same and How The West Was Won, bringing the Zeppelin story to what many still believe is a premature conclusion.

Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham – son of late, lamented John – are on fine form as they power through a setlist of classic Zeppelin anthems, and the odd surprise.

As befits a great gig, it’s a memorable movie, too. Director Dick Carruthers keeps camera trickery to a minimum, allowing the music to do the talking, only occasionally inserting mobile phone fan footage.

So how can they possibly still cut it? After all, the original Zeppelin high-fliers are spring chickens no longer.

Plant’s vocal isn’t what it once was, hence his more melodious work of late with Alison Krauss and Band Of Joy, and some of the songs have been lowered in key to make things just the right side of comfortable. Page’s fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be either.

Sure, some of the guitar solos are sloppy – he admits as much himself – but they emerge gloriously messy in very best live rock and roll tradition.

Jones, however, is the constant. Solid, sure-footed, the glue that binds his bandmates to the revelatory powerhouse drumming of Bonham Junior, whose Rock And Roll concert closer is a man-made thunderstorm.

Opening with Good Times Bad Times – you won’t be able to wipe the smile off your face – Zeppelin serve up Ramble On before letting the song ramble on into the opening of Black Dog, rock’s most impossible guitar riff.

There’s a spine-tingling In My Time Of Dying, during which Plant and Page excel, then the first curiosity of the night: a live debut of For Your Life, unprepossessing in the Presence studio but better onstage.

Trampled Under Foot, with Jones’ keyboard funk, ups the game again. After the bluesy Nobody’s Fault But Mine, he’s back with No Quarter, shimmering soundscapes slowly unveiling the underlying riff.

Since I’ve Been Loving You is nostalgia incarnate, Dazed And Confused gives Page the opportunity to bring back the violin bow, and Stairway To Heaven, well, Stairway To Heaven brings the house down.

The Song Remains The Same races along like a runaway train before Misty Mountain Hop boasts a surprise vocal duet between Plant and Bonham, Plant explaining how John loved to sing.

They save the best ‘til almost last. Kashmir proves an epic performance, Led Zeppelin after all checks completed, surely ready for take-off again. The gig closes with a playful Whole Lotta Love and that Rock And Roll thunder.

Don’t let this be their swansong.

* There are all manner of versions of Celebration Day, by the way, ranging from a basic double-CD to the deluxe edition which boasts a bluray, DVD, two CDs and a bonus DVD tracing rehearsals at Shepperton Studios.

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