The Song Remains the Same

Led Zeppelin reunion boot

Nearly 40 years of Led Zeppelin bootlegs prove beyond a scintilla of doubt that the second greatest English quartet were a mixed bag live. Jimmy Page could crack open terra firma one night, then the band would sputter like a Studebaker the next. My lovingly illicited new $28 DVD, 126 reunion minutes in London’s O2 Arena last December 10, hasn’t changed the tune.

Practically shot from atop the flagpole crowning the 20,000-plus seater, Zeppelin’s return to this mortal plane – in this case – initially testifies to (ahem) documentarian resolve, the zoom capabilities of this particularly eye in the sky, and judicious use of the next fellow’s shaggy head as a shield from view. When the band’s Recorder of History issues the concert out of his Les Paul laboratory, the second Led Zeppelin DVD of the millennial age will no doubt rival 2005’s Pink Floyd reunion on the Live 8 DVD box. Until then, this bird’s eye view affords dispassionate observation of a once-in-a-lifetime rock & roll convergence. There may well be a Zeppelin reunion tour as Page has said he wants, but there will only ever be this one show played by these four individuals for a man who changed music history as seismically as the group he put his faith in.

Sound fidelity of unsanctioned audio product never had any bearing on the veracity of a song or whether a band was “on” or “off.” Page, Norseman black shirt Robert Plant, band back bone John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham, sitting in for a 32-year-old alcohol casualty remembered here at his grave site of three decades in a DVD extra, romp through 16 greatest wallops with easy chemistry and natural conviction. That, however, can’t hide the fact that John Bonham’s sole protégé didn’t inherit his father’s cellulite funk. A day job with Foreigner isn’t exactly drumming for the Roots after all; Jason’s catalogued all the parts, and without question completes the quadrilogy of Led Zeppelin II. But Bonzo's swagger filled Page’s Mothership and that balloon popped Sept. 25, 1980.

In parallel measure, Plant doesn’t even pretend to be the “Percy” of lore. Sunday’s Grammy-winning Raising Sand finally funnels the singer into the third act of his solo career, 1982’s Darwinian triumph Pictures at Eleven and indelible Honeydrippers hit “Sea of Love” evolving into a walk on the beach with Alison Krauss. Plant has transcended bulging blues jeans and Viking wails. Better he moan Nina Simone in Sanskrit than question whether anyone remembers laughter. Not until the final song of the set, “Kashmir,” is Plant literally jolted by the music.

Close-ups on the official release will doubtless reveal a thousand magic moments between the bandmates, but frontman convulsions viewed from galactic distances testify loud and clear. Plant channels the Clarksdale heart of musical midwifing brought on by Page, Jones, and Bonham, but he never quite leads his tribe out of Egypt. The band’s lit by the third song, “Black Dog,” and first timer “For Your Life” mortgages souls. John Paul Jones fog-encrusted showcase “No Quarter” bargains even less in 2007 than back in the Stone Age. But “Stairway to Heaven” now belongs to Ms. Dolly Parton and live, “Rock & Roll” lags behind Cadillac in performance.

Bowing towards the finale, nobleman Plant, everyman Jones, favorite son Bonham, and soaked sorcerer Jimmy Page congratulate each other and deservedly so. Their legend remains intact.

“For the memory of Ahmet Ertegun…” dedicates Plant, “in the days when Atlantic Records was the most magnificent record company on the planet. Good night.”

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Led Zeppelin reunion boot

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