By Alan Light
Special to MSN Music
It may have been a long time since they rock and rolled, but it sure didn't feel that way Monday night in London at Led Zeppelin's long awaited, wildly anticipated reunion concert. Headlining a show paying tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the late co-founder of Atlantic Records, the three surviving members of one of rock's biggest bands - singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards - joined Jason Bonham, the son of their legendary drummer, John Bonham, for their first full-length performance since the elder Bonham's death in 1980.
There were numerous questions hanging over this show: Could Plant still hit
those signature high notes? Could Page still pull off his magnificent, complex
parts, especially after a finger injury that delayed this appearance by two
weeks? Could Bonham possibly fill the chair of his larger-than-life and
endlessly inventive father? Over the course of a two hour-and-ten minute set,
the 21st Century Zeppelin answered all of those doubts - and then went
Interview: Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on Zep's return
Following a motley, uninspired hour of music by other British acts on Atlantic (including Foreigner, former Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman, and a prog-rock all-star team with members of Yes, Bad Company, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), Zeppelin opened its show with "Good Times Bad Times," the first track on its 1969 debut album. The 15 songs that followed read like the playlist of every classic rock radio station: "Black Dog," "Whole Lotta Love," "Misty Mountain Hop," and, of course, the band's magnum opus, "Stairway to Heaven," which Plant gave a surprisingly intimate and heartfelt treatment.
It took a few songs for Zeppelin to fully find its feet, and to find the right sound mix. By the fourth number, though, a thunderous version of "In My Time of Dying," the foursome reminded everyone in the O2 Arena (who had reportedly traveled from 50 countries for this night) that no other band ever sounded like this one, merging blues, rock, and folk into a noise that was purely their own. Other than a torridly funky "Trampled Underfoot," the faster songs generally felt like they could have used another week of rehearsal - without the full access to his upper register, Plant sometimes struggled to be heard about the glorious din.
But the heart of the show stayed firmly in a slow-to-medium sweet spot, demonstrating once again that it was Led Zeppelin that truly put the "heavy" in heavy metal. Page was in command of his full arsenal, from swooping slides to slashing, angular flurries, and Bonham more than held his own propelling this mammoth sound, confidently navigating the precise stops-and-starts and shifting tempos that define Zeppelin's attack. It climaxed in a majestic, thrilling version of the Middle Eastern-tinged epic "Kashmir," which closed the main set.
For a band once known as rock's holiest terrors, this reunion created a full-on case of Zep-mania in London: Newspapers were blanketed with coverage, buskers in tube stations were playing Zeppelin songs. The band members have been carefully noncommittal about whether a tour will follow this show, saying they needed to see how the O2 date went before making any decisions. From the grins on their faces, don't be surprised if we see them again soon. But regardless, fans should rejoice - at least for this one night, Led Zeppelin was truly back. Like the song says, dancing days are here again.
Alan Light is the former editor-in-chief of Spin, Vibe and Tracks
magazines and a former senior writer at Rolling Stone. His writing has also
appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, GQ and Entertainment Weekly. His
book "The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys" was published
in 2006. Alan is a two-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for
excellence in music writing.