Sunday, November 25, 2012

Celebration Day

There have been so many band reunions over the years, but obviously none as big and significant as this one, even if it was just a one-off thing. The sheer monstrosity of this event can't be understated. Year 2007 -- 20 million people around the world trying their luck to get into the 18,000-capacity O2 Arena in London. It was Led Zeppelin's first proper full-length gig since 1979. The pressure on the band to deliver was immense, and man, did they deliver -- if this document is how the band would want fans to remember them, then they have succeeded in maintaining their legacy, leaving with their head held high, no regrets.

When the lights in the arena go out, an old 70s newsreel plays on the big screen behind the stage, in a way introducing the band members. And what better way to kick things off than for Led Zeppelin to do their first song off their first album. The signature opening to Good Times Bad Times was earth shattering. The heavens split, and history was made at that point. The band was on fire, at the top of their game. There were smiles all around, so many interaction and facial exchanges between the band members. You can tell they were genuinely happy to be there. It makes us feel extremely good too. Black Dog is one of those songs that show the ingeniousness of the band's craft and creativeness in taking the blues somewhere new. Here it was played noticeably at least one key lower, so that Robert Plant could sing. He can't hit the high notes anymore, so there are quite a few songs that evening that were played in that respect. But his voice aged like fine wine. Jimmy Page's still a undeniably great guitarist. His playing on Black Dog isn't perfect, but the soul isn't lost. The magic is still there.

Only 16 songs were played, and every performance could be considered a highlight, with even a few considered definitive. In My Time Of Dying was when things started kicking into extreme high gear. The band was locked in, tight as shit. It was a joy to watch, especially Page. I got so sucked in by the music that I didn't mind those quick cuts and frequent 8mm camera shots in the video editing. For Your Life can be considered definitive, because it was the first time they played it live! It's astounding how such a great song wasn't performed back in their heyday. The next half hour is my favorite portion of the show. From Trampled Under Foot to an AMAZING Nobody's Fault But Mine (with Plant playing a mean harp solo), and then to an extended No Quarter, followed by Since I've Been Loving You. WOW. Too good for any words to describe. Just go watch it. John Paul Jones is bloody great, the most consistent player of the night in fact.

Dazed And Confused, another gem any Led Zep show wouldn't be complete without. As expected, the bow got the biggest cheers. Unfortunately, Stairway To Heaven, perhaps the most recognizable tune to even the non-fan, wasn't what I was expecting. Far from the best version I've heard, it looked and sounded to me like the band was a bit hesitant on playing it. May I say it was somewhat uninspiring. Maybe it could be because it was tuned down lower. But for many in attendance, that song was probably the sole purpose what got them there that night. The Song Remains The Same, the original studio version a marvelous showcase of guitar wizardry sounds very different here. It's more stripped bare, but again, Page makes do with what he has and goes for the killing. Misty Mountain Hop is a kinda weird tune by Led Zep standards, one which I've grown to love after hearing it in Almost Famous. It far surpasses the album take here.

Kashmir ends the main set. Wise choice indeed. Plant's shriek during the breakdown sends chills down my spine. I think it's still their greatest song ever, and the minute-long crescendo at the finale is one of the best moments from the film. The band didn't relegate to playing a greatest hits-type setlist. In fact if you wanna be technical, more than half the songs performed weren't originally released as singles. One more thing I gotta mention is regarding Jason Bonham. The spirit of his father was beside him all through the two hours. Plenty of face-time was given to him. Those drum solos, particularly finishing off Black Dog, Whole Lotta Love and Rock And Roll...WOW. I love the final part where the three guys gather close in front of Bonham's kit as he goes crazy with the solo. Goes to show you don't need a fanciful kit to display some insane drumming. He's actually the main reason why I can re-watch this countless times.

Sound mix is excellent for the most part, definitely better heard on the blu-ray than on the cd. Audience noise is leveled just right. The bonus dvd includes footage of the band going through a full dress rehearsal (from start to finish) at Shepperton Studios. It's just that the single camera is placed at the soundboard, some distance away from the action. The plus side is you get to see the whole giant projection screen. And the sound quality (a rare uncompressed LPCM 2.0) is pretty magnificent. So it's worth watching again and again. I'll even go so far as to say several of the songs performed during the rehearsal were better than the actual concert.

As far as concert films go, Celebration Day is right up there with The Last Waltz -- it transcends rock & roll music. And remember the message at the start of The Last Waltz? "This film should be played LOUD."