critic’s pick 255

So this is what became of the Led Zeppelin reunion show.

Staged nearly five years ago in London, this reteaming of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and, in place of his late father, Jason Bonham triggered hope that what was once one of England’s mightiest rock ‘n’ roll forces might be reborn long enough for a concert tour.

Of course, that ever happened. The concert earned rave notices, but Plant put the kibosh on any longstanding reunion by going off to play folk music with Alison Krauss. The live recordings and film footage of the London show seemingly disappeared. For years, the only evidence of the revived Zep came through bootlegs of unavoidably unrefined quality. Now we get to witness that London evening up close.

What surfaces now as a new CD/DVD package called Celebration Day is the sound of an older, tamer Zeppelin obviously invigorated by the sound of its own past but quite content to stroll through its most fearsome and familiar corridors with a precision and confidence that regularly sounds quite remarkable.

Sure, the banshee wail of a youthful Plant has been replaced by a huskier, deeper vocal charge. But it’s still full of vital emotive detail, whether it is in the more plaintive melodic stride of No Quarter or the looser, more abandon-free groove of Misty Mountain Hop. Best of all, Plant approaches this performance with no youthful pretensions. The fury within the brilliant blues rampage of Since I’ve Been Loving You still chills the marrow. But there is also a sagely cast to it now. The musical sensibility is still blue. But that sense of menace, asleep for so long, has been stirred.

Page is the jawdropper, though. Ever since the semi-Zep reunion with Plant in the ‘90s (when the two were billed under their own names), the guitar heart of Zeppelin has played with a greater strength and proficiency than in the band’s heyday. Sure, the bravado and swagger are understandably absent. But in many ways, Page has it both ways on Celebration Day. One has to marvel at the dark, potent guitar force still at work in this new, streamlined Dazed and Confused as well as within the tremors that surface on Kashmir and the show-opening Good Times Bad Times. But I also lost count at how many times on the DVD that Page grinned with delight like a school kid at the music he was conjuring.

Jones is as trustworthy as ever, playing utility man while purposely remaining out of the spotlight. Bonham’s playing approximates Page’s. It’s technically precise but obviously without the danger element his dad, John Bonham, brought to the band. Still, it’s a pleasing rhythm section, one that bolsters the mighty and way overdue career victory lap that is Celebration Day.

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