Strangely enough in my idiosyncratic record collection not a single Led Zeppelin album is to be found, not even a song on a compilation. It's not that I ever disliked Led Zeppelin, it's just that their sound was so heavy and ominous that it never really connected with me when I was younger. There was a darkness to their sound those pounding drums and screeching guitar with Robert Plant wailing like a banshee on vocals, the sound being dragged along on insistent bass rhythms courtesy of John Paul Jones.
Another funny thing I happened to be living in London when it was announced that Led Zeppelin were reforming for one London show at the O2 Arena, it sent the city into a frenzy, I contemplated the ticket ballot but assumed the chances were astronomical. Fortunately we now have a live recorded document and a DVD to capture what was a special concert and in turn a brilliant double album. The concert took place as a tribute and celebration of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun who had passed away just prior to Christmas 2006. It may also have been seen as a fitting final chapter in the band, they were joined on drums by Jason Bonham son of the late John, that giant of the toms.
Celebration Day doesn't just bask in nostalgia, it's about a band reconnecting and showing the world that the thread is still there, the same power and chemistry is there for all to hear on this album, each member stands tall and they stand tall collectively. Good Times Bad Times from their debut self titled album shows their blues heritage, Page still capable of those blinding riffs that hang in the air. What is surprising is how strong Plant's vocals are, sure he might not be able to hit those screeching notes but he commands and beseeches everything from himself and the band that is typical of his career. The band still blast out that beautiful riff from Black Dog with John Paul Jones understated but powerful, and Jason Bonham stepping into his late father's shoes and giving a flawless ball tearing performance. His drumming is at times eerily reminiscent of the thundering pounding his father gave the kit. In My Time of Dying from Physical Graffiti has Page at his bluesiest best, commanding the spirit of Robert Johnson with ferocious slide. For Your Life which they had rarely performed has that familiar strut that made Zeppelin such a unique rock band, they had such a powerful rhythm section that no other band could come close to the power of their sound. The funky drive of Trampled Underfoot gives you an idea of what bands like Jane's Addiction, Nirvana etc were tuned into during their formative years.
Side Two is classic Zeppelin the band turn to their third album for the bluesy and intense Since I've Been Loving You, starting off with those familiar sinewy lead rhythms, Page was underestimated as a blues guitarist, I think there is a tendency to think of him as player with a predilection for heavy riffs. John Paul Jones fills the space with his roaming keyboard sounds but always ensuring there is an anchor. The majestic Dazed and Confused with that ominous bass opening before Page spreads out these wild melancholic riffs, then it descends to the depths Bonham pounding away as Page paves the way. Plant with voice strong, despairing and pleading as only he can do on songs like these. In a similar vein to Cream Zeppelin took classic blues and gave it a darker edge, still raw but with a deeper intensity and sound so full that it's amazing to think it was created by only four. Page's solos never seem to verge on pyrotechnics everything just adds depth and feeling to the song in a way only he can. Stairway to Heaven is almost like an albatross for the band, can they capture the same feeling and depth of the song after all these years, whilst Plant can't quite reach those high notes his delivery is every bit captivating.
Song Remains the Same shows Zep are more than capable when the tempo goes up a notch and the same for Misty Mountain Hop from their fourth album. The shimmering Kashmir from Physical Graffiti gets a rousing reception as those familiar opening chords build, it's a brilliant song in its construction, the mysteriousness of the lyrics is matched perfectly by the robust music that builds and dips in an imaginative crescendo. All good things however must come to an end and what better way to bring things to a close than with Whole Lotta Love, once again the crowd in raptures at those striking chords, Plant wisely has saved his voice to the last few songs and some of those familiar wails are present. Bonham nails that drum lead in as Page bends those strings and Jones plants the rhythm. Rock and Roll has a bit of a distorted opening before finding it's feet driven along by Bonham's brilliant rock drumming. His solo at the end is all Bonzo, a fitting end to the album. Celebration Day is a fantastic album and one of those releases that you never think will happen but when they do you aren't disappointed.